Calling all metal drummers: Achtung!

From the same label that brought you recordings of such timeless metal acts as Mercyful Fate, Deicide, King Diamond, Suffocation and Biohazard comes one of the greatest industrial/metal giants, Fear Factory. Roadrunner Records, a Dutch independent that recently hooked up with Vivendi Universal’s Island/Def Jam Music division, has been cranking out excessive amounts of nü metal as of late, with the exception of its Glen Benton’s obligatory Deicide releases. Fear Factory, hailing from Los Angeles, has separated itself from the ravenous pack of 20-somethings in search of the next Ozzfest buy-in package—Slipknot, anyone?—by staying true to its sound.

The hour-plus drive to the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, home of wrist-wrestling championships and free-range chickens, proved to be well worth our extended efforts.

Except, well, with metal militia—i.e., some buddies—in tow, I managed to catch an uninspired set by a Puerto Rican combo calling itself Puya, a rap-metal hybrid that managed to create some movement in the 350 attendees. Maybe it’s just me—yes, it is me—but didn’t this genre’s ship sink back in the mid ’90s? Anchors away!

Next up was Fear Factory, a band that’s obviously been taking notes in Lighting 101 class. The band’s stage show—a flood of synchronized spotlights, strobes and smoke—worked well with its dark and menacing aura. With reckless abandon and caution thrown to the wind, guitarist Dino Cazares launched into “What Will Become” from Fear Factory’s latest album, Replica. Burton Bell, on vocals with harmonizer, planted one foot firmly on the monitors and belched out the set in true death-metal fashion. Commanding the huge 60’ X 40’ stage like a drill sergeant, Bell’s onstage banter made the metal masses stand at attention.

Such hi-hat and double-bass workouts as “Scapegoat” and “Pisschrist”—the latter this writer’s favorite—sounded even larger in a live setting, and highlighted the talents of drummer Raymond Herrera. If you’re a metal drummer and you haven’t heard Fear Factory’s Fear Is the Mindkiller or Demanufacture, you’d best trade your Sabian cymbal pack and Pearl Export for a gift certificate from your favorite record store.

Fear Factory is a darling of the U.K. press, but the band hasn’t “broken,” in record-company parlance, stateside. However, by year’s end, this band may be just a lot closer to reaching the goal of worldwide acclaim. If its growth, and the resulting maturity, over the years have yielded anything, that might make for a solid foundation. Burton and company are reinventing this archaic genre into something quite extraordinary. Take heed: Miss this band now and you’ll be kicking yourself later.