without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
After hitting a solid note with Demanufacture, Fear Factory set their sights on making a name for themselves in the metal climate of the late 1990s. This would give us Obsolete, a concept album that reads out much like the script to a sci-fi movie with tales of monstrous machines lording over humans in a dystopian future where robotics has become advanced enough to dominate all aspects of life. This being the late 90s, people were obsessing over computerization and the rapid advancement of the Internet, as well as the rise of alternative music. Fear Factory on Obsolete is very exemplary of the times and their concerns. They combine their signature metal sounds with a passionate spin on a possible and quickly approaching future. Obsolete is as strong as they come.
Obsolete sees Fear Factory going for a more catchy and epic sound. The start-stop chug riffing is structured in a way that pummels the listener like a supercharged jackhammer. Some of the heaviest and catchiest riffs and choruses are found on songs such as Shock, Edgecrusher, and Freedom Or Fire. Everything on Obsolete has enough force to blast skyscrapers into oblivion, from forceful growls and soaring clean vocals with a mechanical filter to give a robotic sound to Burton Bell's singing, to earthshaking mechanical riffs, to pummeling drums that put as much gust into the music as they can, often syncing with the guitars for an added robotic kick, Obsolete displays Fear Factory as truly proficient musicians. There are hints of alternative metal in this album with catchier songs and the use of turntables on Edgecrusher, which helps memorability and adds to the futuristic vibe if this release. There are also songs such as Descent and Resurrection which focus on a clean vocal style and catchier lines to give the album some variety and balance. These all help the more accessible and ambitious Fear Factory.
The album itself is structured off of a story the band made that strongly resembles an action movie. With the thunderous intro being handled by the first few songs detailing a robotocracy and the police state it upholds. The middle songs express themes of conflict, danger, and stress as the hero, Edgecrusher, sees the true extent of the horrors and threats he faces from his cybernetic overlords. This makes sense as the most menacing and melancholic tracks are in the middle. The ending is shown by the last two tracks which are the softest and most optimistic songs on the album, as if to show Edgecrusher in relief after his victory. The idea to structure this album like the movie Fear Factory always wanted to make, but never could, is a unique feature for an album, especially a non-progressive one.
Obsolete is Fear Factory's industrial push for the big time, an album that is at the same time accessible and ambitious. They go for a catchier, hook based style rooted in alternative metal and show off a knack for creating powerful and agile songwriting that shows off their robotic style. They also get creative, building a sci-fi world based in cyberpunk film and centering their album and its dynamics around their story. Obsolete is a strong album that any fan of industrial or groove metal can find a lot to enjoy about it.
Not that this is techno… but it is Fear Factory. The typewriter drums of this band have always perplexed me. Too perfect, seemingly, but after seeing these dudes live with drummer Raymond Herrera I can rest assured that it’s real. That was 2001, on a tour for the rather sub-par Digimortal, but despite the weak album, the live performance was aggressive and flawlessly executed.
“Shock” is exactly fucking that, a perfectly named and heavy as fuck opener to a brutal cyberthrash journey into the ionosphere. Here’s the thing with Obsolete, the only real downfall, which indeed becomes apparent within this opening track, is repetition. Coming off the success of Demanufacture, Obsolete finds Fear Factory at a creative plateau; this album may well be the peak of this band’s potential, it’s angry yet polished, but at any rate, probably the darkest and most hateful of what this band would go on to do. Let me reiterate that Herrera is an absolutely crushing drummer. He and Dino seem to be locked into a formulaic system of composition for Obsolete, which lends to this conceptual album its needed feeling of continuity. The synchopated 32nd note machine gun riff of “Securitron” is jaw-dropping in its pin-point accuracy. The soaring clean vocals of Burton C Bell spellbind the listener with Om-like vibration. Say what you will about the ‘uplifting’ melody of the single “Descent,” but the utterly nihilistic lyrics make for an aesthetic dichotomy. This song fucking rules. Fuck it, I don’t care how poppy it sounds, there’s no way I can keep from screaming “NOOOO-THING” when I hear it.
“Freedom or Fire” is where things start to get nice and heavy. Can you say drum 'n' bass? Despite the dancy groove, this shit is fucking heavy, and as much as I hate this fucking word, the ‘breakdown’ that begins at 2:55 is absolutely ball crushing. The schizophrenic and thrashing chaos of the title track will fuck you up. “Obsolete” flows flawlessly into the operatic grandeur of “Resurrection,” a sci-fi disasterpiece that resolves itself in that weirdly uplifting feeling that is recurrent throughout this album.
“Reach for the sky, touch the sky. Reach for a hope for mankind.”
Such is the refrain of “Resurrection,” which is at once an atheistic proclamation as well as a triumphant destroyer of conditioned boundaries. This is a great album. It’s intellectual and catchy. It’s well orchestrated and abrasively heavy. The closing piece, “Timelessness” is a brilliant rendering of the talented Burton Bell. An ambient end to a violent album, but conveys a feeling of closure nonetheless.
Obsolete also comes in a quite worth-it extended version with five additional tracks. A guilty pleasure, yeah, so what, but Fear Factory’s cover of Gary Numan’s “Cars” is a total feel good rock and roll song, which is great if you feel good, and its waaay better that the original. Wiseblood tribute“0-0” is just plain evil, and very tastefully done, truly scary in its stark and sinister delivery. The other three tracks are FF originals, with “Concreto” being a particularly devastating beast.
I dig this album a lot, though whether that enjoyment hinges more on musical quality or on nostalgia to when I was first getting into metal is anyone's guess. To deny the obvious and pervasive nu-metal leanings of the material here is essentially impossible, but equally impossible is to deny some of the purely excellent songwriting that is indeed present. Well, excellent as far as pop music goes; by this point, Fear Factory had left essentially all vestiges of death metal behind apart from the barest of aesthetics, and was clearly leaning towards a much more mainstream direction. If you can get past that, though, you can find a core of great songwriting, which is not only accessible, but also surprisingly deep and a worthwhile listen for even the more jaded metal listeners among us.
Weirdly enough, I feel that the most ignorant and lame songs on 'Obsolete' are those that stubbornly cling to the 'Demanufacture'-era sound instead of just abandoning that. 'Shock' is a clumsy attempt at an aggressive opener, and it's hard to enjoy beyond a sort of 'WHOA THIS IS HEAVY' adolescent fervor. But it's for that same reason that I can still enjoy 'Edgecrusher', with it's ridiculous tough-guy lyrics and silly hip-hop influence: instead of masquerading as death metal, it finds that big, stupid delight in the new sound and delves fully into it, resulting in what's possibly the ultimate metal 'guilty pleasure'. The title track is similar to 'Shock' in clumsiness, but that's about as far as the particularly offensive tracks go; the rest range from a tad mediocre ('Hi-Tech Hate') to really excellent ('Descent'), and unsurprisingly, the most fundamentally pop-leaning are the best on here.
The trio of ballads- 'Descent', 'Resurrection', and 'Timelessness'- are legitimately great songs that stand as some of the best that Fear Factory ever turned out. Burton C. Bell's clean vocals are used to amazing effect on these tracks, and are woven into the fabric of the music much better than on previous releases. 'Descent' and 'Resurrection' are the obvious standouts, with anthemic choruses and mammoth riffs, but closer 'Timelessness' is a more subtle beast, devoid of percussion and relying on pure, keyboard-soaked melody. It works. Each of this trio is a great example of what stereotypically progressive influences can do FOR an album instead of TO it, and, open mind provided, could likely convince a lot of people that the inclusion of poppy melodies, keyboards, and (to some degree) uplifting things can, in fact, be used to the benefit of extreme metal.
On the more genuinely underground side of things, there's two more standouts: 'Smasher/Devourer' and 'Securitron (Police State 2000)' are particularly of note, with sets of great riffs and memorable song structures in each. Admittedly, a great deal for my admiration for them comes from the past: they were some of the first extreme metal songs I'd ever heard. I have to say, though, that they're still great in their own right, even if they are a very poppy and accessible version of extreme metal. Even in their earliest, heaviest days, Fear Factory was never lacking in catchiness, and in this regard, I can't really accuse them of selling out as much as resorting their priorities in songwriting. Is 'Obsolete' essentially a pop album? Yeah, I'd say that's a fair assessment. However, it is a pop album geared to a metalhead crowd, and it does succeed in the attempt of crafting such a release. Plus, you have to give them credit for attempting such an ambitious concept and pulling it off so well; clearly a lot of time and energy was put into it.
I feel about this album the way many people probably feel about, say, 'God Hates Us All'. I still like it, even though my tastes have 'advanced' past it in a lot of ways. It's a disc that I like to bring out occasionally to remind myself of that feeling of discovery when I was first getting into metal. It makes me happy to hear; transports me back to being eleven or twelve years old, furtively downloading Meshuggah MP3s off Kazaa nonstop and always sharing what new musical discovery I'd stumbled upon with my friends. Such a view is a bad way to critique music. It's a great way to experience it, though.
"Obsolete" is an intersting peace of industrial material. However, it is neither as good as its predecessor nor as its successor.
The album is many times lyric-driven. This means two things: 1 - Burton C. Bell sings like a fag many times in this album, and 2 - basic riffing. Maybe Dino Cazares was too lazy this time, I don't know. For the most part of the album, the riffs are desperately basic and far from original and are used only as background. True, Dino and Christian play in perfect harmony, but that is really not that hard when most of the music is Nu Metal.
Other than that, the album is technically good. In the many parts where the drums take the lead, they do excellent work. Sometimes it sounds like they are forced to, as if the drummer felt that if he wouldn't do something the songs will suck ass. Raymond Herrera is one of the best drummers I heard, and he is fast, diverse and sharp on this album. However - he's not heavy. The album lacks the feel of Metal. If you're looking for headbanging you won't find it here. maybe if you look real carefully. "Shock" and sometimes "Obsolete" are the only exceptions here.
"Descent" is totally Nu-Metal and "Timelessness" is a semi-A-Capella song, totally boring. I assume it is meant to lyrically complete the story (it is a concept album).
One aspect must be pointed out: The production of "Obsolete", as all of Fear Factory's albums, is flawless. Every instrument is audible in its full sound, the bass is felt well and the drums - oh the drums. Every pound of every drum, cymbal and pedal is felt. The sound is mostly metallic-industrial, yet still possesses some grove. The synthesizer parts which are distantly scattered along the album are always in place, tactfull, and never obscure the other instruments.
Eventually, "Obsolete" is mostly a Nu-Metal/Metalcore album, with metal drumming here and there. My personal favorites: "Shock", "Edgecrusher" and "Obsolete", which are the only good songs here. True, fear factory make excellent Nu-Metal/Metalcore, but they better leave it to other bands and focus on the real metal they are good at.
Not a bad album at all, but the combination of repetitiveness and cheese (sweet lord the last two tracks are shit - tastic) brings it down a bit. Tracks like "Shock" and "Obsolete" are why you are happy you bought it, songs like "Securitron" and "Hate -whatever whatever" tire you out, songs like "Timelessness" piss you off.
"Shock" is pure gold, one hell of an aggressive, angry song and the stop - start section at the end with Bell screaming SHOCK! is extremely headbangable. "Edgecrusher" is fucking sweet as well, an actual good use of scratching, I can see why they called it "acid scratching," caustic and hissing sound. I have always liked the more deathy side of Fear Factory as opposed to the melody, but Bell's singing does hold them apart from other death bands. Then again, it was also their downfall into cheese, and while "Descent" is a good tune, you can tell it forebodes dark times of rancid radio filth for FF. "Freedom or Fire" is a good, chaotic and speedy track, "Obsolete" is good as well with an intro by Mr. Gary Numan (who, by the way, is a kind of punky -new wave space alien wierdo whose album with the Tubeway Army is worth checking out), and a very entertaining chorus.
Overall, good, but the fear that Concrete - era FF will become Shitbag -era FF soon overwhelms the listener, and at the end there's no denying which era will soon be dominant.
Fear Factory released two albums previous to this that I thought were good but not great. Then this monster came along and totally realigned both my opinion and my spinal column while it was at it. This is, for me, the heaviest, best-structured, and most cohesive album FF released before they degenerated into nu-metal suckage and is my personal favorite of the lot.
The concept of the album is fascinating and intelligently-delivered, spinning a yarn of one man's (cyborg's?) search for freedom and independence in a post-apocalyptic scenario where individuality is devalued to the point of nonexistence (hmm...sounds kinda like the direction the USA is heading in politically these days...), and the intense struggle within and without he goes through to find it. During this story he questions everything including the existence of god and his own self-worth, and it is actually a pretty cool little story once you latch onto it. I find it really adds to the album's feel.
OK, but is the music any good? Hells yes, it is! Raymond Herrera, although I HATE his drum sound (triggers to the max), is one of the most precise drummers I've ever heard, anchoring every song with grace as well as perfect time and killer double kick chops. Witness the rapid-fire flurries of double kick he tosses into the bridge part of "Smasher/Devourer" right after the second chorus...oh, man, is he TIGHT. Sounds like three-round bursts from an Uzi.
Dino is, of course, the MAN in the riff department--his writing style really defined FF's sound in the beginning, with his crisp yet deep downtuned 7-string (down to A, but this ain't no Korn wussjob). He gets in a nice clean chorused part in the chorus of "Securitron (Police State 2000)" that really suits the shifting of gears to a more melodic feel on those parts, as opposed to the syncopated, Pantera-like verses and the absolutely devastating mosh part that immediately follows the first chorus with a machinegun-like riff that chugs along with gut-wrenching intensity. As if you can't tell, this is one of my favorite songs on this album.
Dino also really owns on "Edgecrusher" with its simple, ultra-heavy riffing that is perfect for the song, and guest DJ Zodok's scratching on that tune adds to the chaotic-ness of it. The title track will compress your head down between your shoulders with its odd-meter verses, frenzied segue riffs, and its chorus is great to scream along to at the top of your lungs ("MAN! IS! OBSOLETE!!! ERASED! EXTINCT!"). Bassist at the time, Christian Olde Wolbers, doesn't let himself fade away, either; he gets plenty of exposure in the excellent and appropriately chilly-sounding mix with a variety of tones--from deep fuzz to clear and resonant, to even a bit of upright plunking and strumming on "Edgecrusher".
My other two real fave tunes here are the last two, "Resurrection" and "Timelessness". The first one is unabashedly melodic and catchy and features some nice and unobtrusive string parts on the chorus that really make the song soar and seem hopeful as the hero talks about finding the courage to go on in the face of incredible odds. And the last track...well, it takes a huuuge set of cojones to end a staggeringly heavy album like this with a song that is nothing but soothing strings and Burton singing his heart out, and it achieves the feel of the title perfectly. Before FF disappointed us all with their "Descent" into suckage, this was their apex--get it, already!