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Yes, I said it, and I meant it. In the days of recordable CDs I don't listen to many actual albums very often, and this is one of the few metal CDs which I do listen to all the way through. Quite simply it is the best CD from the most original heavy metal band since Black Sabbath started the whole thing.
Fear Factory's music is at its best when Burton C. Bell's ability to jump from a thrashy roar to his surprisingly beautiful natural singing voice is displayed. In fact, while I normally focus on guitar and drums, Bell outshines both Raymond Herrera(D) and Dino Cazares(G) and makes Fear Factory one of the few bands in existance which I will reccomend primarily on the basis of the vocals. Christian Olde Wolbers(B) is hard to hear since he mostly plays along with Cazares note for note, but his playing is quite good nonetheless.
(Note: All songs are rated on a 1-4 * scale)
The album opens with "Shock" (****) whose intro makes it impossible to put anywhere else. This is not only one of the best songs on the album but in all of Fear Factory's catalog. "Shock" serves as an introduction to the story (it is a concept album), introducing us to the resistance against a futuristic police state. Bell takes on the character of a resistance leader declaring himself to be the one who will deal a crushing "shock to the system" that will destroy the establishment. The music is pretty generic thrash, but that is more than made up for by Bell's performance.
"Edgecrusher" (***1/2) tells of the prison break of the title character, who also happens to be the main character of the story. Bell and Cazares are both in fine form, as Bell provides some great agression in his vocals, while Cazares provides us with a surprisingly old-school riff as opposed to his usual palm muted speed picking. In addition to this Wolbers provides a stand-up bass (!) riff to the verses.
"Smasher/Devourer" (**1/2) describes the government's enforcement droid as it encounters a protest during its search for Edgecrusher. The song is not bad per-se but apart from Bell's heavily processed vocals during the chorus, there's nothing much to make it memorable.
"Securitron" (**1/2) is the "mission statement" of the fictional regime: "There is no place to hide/Plugged in your mind/Conformed design." This is one of the few tracks where Wolbers is audible due to the arrangement of the intro, which leaves him to finish the riff while Cazares only plays the first half.
"Descent" (***) is arguably the "hit" on the album, getting a decent amount of airplay on hard rock stations. Considering that the best part of the song is Bell's smooth performance, which is virtually devoid of screaming and contains quite possibly his best "hook" ever with the "I am nothing" chorus. In the song Bell portrays a tired and despairing Edgecrusher as he ponders his place in the world, and winds up sleeping alone and forgotten in an abandoned building.
"High Tech Hate" (**1/2) is the low point of the album. Bell takes on the character of a resistance leader berating what he sees as sheep for their complacency. In keeping with this character the song is all agression and has very little melody, although Bell's screamed "Cowards you all" is somewhat catchy. Still, while it provides little as an individual song, it serves a very important purpose in the storyline of the album.
"Freedom or Fire" (****) is obviously the climax of the story, as the orator from "High Tech Hate" douses himself with gasoline and decides he'd rather set himself on fire than live one more second in the world of Securitron. Musically the song has that "big" quality that I personally love.
"Big" is a hard quality to describe, but it involves full sounding production, and heavily layered musical elements. Synthesizers and/or orchestrations usually add to a songs "bigness." Queen's "The Show Must Go On," X-Japan's "Silent Jealousy," and (don't laugh) Elton John's "Believe" are the best examples of this "big" sound.
The title track, "Obsolete" (**) finds a Securitron enforcer telling the crowd that their cause is futile, and that mankind is a lost cause which is not worth their efforts to protect it. The song, like "High Tech Hate" serves more as a narrative element than as a good song in and of itself.
"Resurrection" (****) tells of Edgecrusher's rediscovery of his purpose and meaning as he witnesses the events of the previous three songs. Bell's narrative (included in the liner notes) describes Edgecrusher walking into an abandoned building, which based on Bell's description is obviously an abandonded church. Bell takes on the character of Edgecrusher, singing the surprisingly hopeful lyrics as he gazes curiously at the crucifix. The music of the song is an odd twist for Fear Factory as it includes a real string section in addition to Bell's tremendous singing talent.
Bell's narrative provides us with a stirring image as the "dampness in the air" makes the Christ figure appear as if He had been weeping. He backs this up with the string driven, and guitar/bass/drums free, "Timelessness" (**1/2). This is probably the main flaw in the album, as it would have been better off closing with "Resurrection." "Timelessness" comes off as "Resurection-lite" and is somewhat of an anti-climax both musically and in terms of the story.
Overall this album has just about everything going for it, and what few flaws it has are easily overlooked in the context of the concept album.