Fear Factory - Obsolete
Roadrunner Records
Industrial Groove Metal
10 songs (48:57)
Release year: 1998
Roadrunner Records
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Fear Factory, like Sepultura, Pantera and Machine Head, is one of several Metal bands that managed to find commercial success in the mid nineties despite being what would be termed ‘quite heavy’ by normal standards. Although the self-crowned elitists of the underground Metal world have never really respected any of the above, the contribution that these and others like them have made is immense. Sticking to our main four examples, it’s fascinating to see where their success has landed them in modern times: Pantera split-up, Fear Factory and Sepultura struggling to remain relevant to a practically contemptuous modern crowd, and Machine Head writing long songs and moving in a distinctly progressive direction. Although going back a little over ten years you could have predicted Pantera’s withering from The Great Southern Trendkill, few would have predicted Sepultura’s nosedive in favour after the Brazilians were riding high on Roots. Elsewhere around 1996, Machine Head was preparing for the follow-up to the acclaimed Burn My Eyes, whilst Fear Factory were at a bit of a loss...

This is conjecture, of course, but a year after the release of what is generally given the title of the band’s best album, Demanufacture, Fear Factory released only a single. The next significant release from the band would be 1997’s remix collection Remanufacture, suggesting that Burton C. Bell and co. were reluctant to leave their first major success behind. A real new album wouldn’t appear until 1998, leaving three years between albums, a pattern repeated throughout the band’s career. When, for example, in 2005 Transgression was released a mere year after the band’s big comeback album Archetype, critics universally panned it as being rushed and confused, even if the willingness to step out of the ‘Fear Factory’ comfort zone was proof that the band didn’t want to repeat themselves ad infinitum.

Industrial Metal is a funny old genre. Although the more mainstream bands can always count on being popular with the kids (how else can you explain washed-up druggie Trent Reznor’s self-sympathy project still being popular despite his main inspiration, and superior group, Skinny Puppy going relatively unknown to most of today’s youth?) the heavier bands that use the urban bleakness of the music to actually make a statement merely hover on the sidelines, kept alive only by the persistent props of a noble few. Pages could be written about how Justin Broadrick’s heart-rendering Jesu should be a household name, untold reams used to praise the white-hot intensity of Norwegian cyber-nutters Red Harvest… You could argue that this is as much down to the datedness of ‘cyber-‘ in the public imagination as anything else – the Terminator films being a brilliant example of this. Yes, the first one was a chilling warning of man’s destruction at the hands of its servant (paging Dr Frankenstein…) but the pathetic sequel featured not only Edward Furlong in one of many hateful, dreadfully-acted roles but Arnie’s re-imagining and ultimate downfall as a kid-friendly father-replacement figure. The less said about the third instalment’s self-parody, awful dialogue and Claire ‘great’ Danes the better, even if the action scenes are worth it after a few beers…

Despite the attempt of the Matrix series to resurrect the 'evil computers' theory (and since this is rapidly turning into an editorial and someone’s bound to ask: 1 = decent, 2 = poor, 3 = dreadful) robots simply aren’t as cool as they used to be, perhaps because we’re used to the idea of mechanical men running our lives for us. Yet open the newspapers and you’ll doubtless find a wealth of stories about robots that can do everything from play the violin to have sex, to use recent examples. Perhaps they are infiltrating us after all, the scamps…

What this (self-indulgent and rambling) introduction is trying to get at is that Obsolete, despite the odds, is still relevant. As mankind progresses ever further into the new millennium and what Arthur C. Clarke predicted would happen in 2001 looks more ridiculous as time goes by, there’s that persistent thought in the back of your head that surely all this sci-fi stuff has to happen sooner or later! The future is still unknown, and who’s to say mankind won’t become obsolete, driven to extinction by overpopulation, global warming and organised religion?

Returning to our main topic, mankind needs a shock if it is to awaken and secure its future, and the first song on the album - suitably named Shock - does a fine job, the electronics restrained to allow pounding beats and riffs to kick your head in, and is the first of Bell’s many great vocal performances on the album. As a concept piece the individual songs don’t matter as much as the album as a whole, and so whilst some tracks might seem a bit repetitive, it’s all about the vocals. Being brutally honest, Burton C. Bell has never been a particularly superior vocalist when compared to others - his growls generally lack aggression, his clean singing is often out of tune - but in some uncanny way his individual sound fits Fear Factory like a glove, and throughout Obsolete especially he is incredible (the screams that close Shock are positively spine-chilling) especially when you remember that his main musical influences are the Post-Punk of Killing Joke and Gary Numan and hear elements of those artists' sounds in Fear Factory.

Edgecrusher follows, one of the band’s catchiest tracks and one that still gets frequent live outings. Yes, it drops the guitar in the verses and features scratching (apparently provided by someone named DJ Zodak, of all things) but it all works perfectly, being much, much better than anything the average Nu-Metal band was putting out simply because it’s heavy. No doubt the haters are hating away like a hateful pack of hate-infested hate-machines by now, but there’s a difference between being ‘extreme’ and ‘heavy’ in the Metal sense, and if Fear Factory isn’t the former, it’s definitely the latter. Forget what you’re told, a little Nu-Metal isn’t always a bad thing, and although the band would stumble with 2001’s Digimortal, Obsolete was still firmly enough in the (Groove) Metal camp to make the modern influences an enhancement.

Throughout the album, there’s not a bad song from the riff-based intensity of Smasher/Devourer, through the Techno-structured Freedom Or Fire (which is virtually IDM) to the bleak harshness of the title track. The riffs are so well put together all the way through that even if you do find the whole experience rather repetitive, you won’t care. Demanufacture fans may be unimpressed, but Obsolete takes the formula from its predecessor and uses it to write actual songs rather than collections of riffs, making it ultimately the superior album.

As with most Fear Factory albums there’s a big, epic track to close the album, and Obsolete delivers in spades with the one-two knockout of Resurrection and Timelessness. At over six and a half minutes the longest track on show, Resurrection starts with keyboards and builds to an epic drive, a string quartet backing the chorus before the next verse takes a softer approach, Bell’s vocals the focal point. The outro electronics lead into Timelessness, comprising nothing but soft synths and Bell’s vocals. It’s the perfect finale, depressive yet with a hint of optimism, and it brings the album to a close with style.

If, like me, you were lucky enough to get your hands on the limited digipack edition of the album you have five bonus tracks to get through, and like most of Fear Factory’s albums, the bonus material here more than rivals the album tracks for quality. First up is a cover, Gary Numan’s Cars featuring the man himself on vocals, and it’s barely changed from the original. Fortunately, unlike some of Fear Factory’s other choices for covers, it’s a great song, having that classic 80’s feel without falling into cheesiness. Next up is another cover, Wiseblood’s 0-0 (Where Evil Dwells), which could easily be a Fear Factory song itself (not knowing the band, I have no idea how the original sounded) but is a minute too long to be really special.

Next up is one of two old tracks that have been reworked for this release, originally intended to appear on Fear Factory’s delayed first album, Concrete. Soulwound is a great song that would have fit excellently on Obsolete if space were made for it, whilst Messiah is a simple yet eminently headbangable blast from the band’s Death Metal past. It’s Concreto, the other reworked track, that’s the best of the bunch however, the primal double bass giving the track a Bolt Throwerish brutality.

Although Obsolete isn’t perfect, and any attempts to argue so would be shot down easily, it’s still an excellent album. Many, especially modern Metalheads, are guilty of assuming the late nineties to be a Metallic wasteland, with little released of worth and even the underground starting to slide towards mainstream acceptance. Obsolete stands to prove them wrong.

Killing Songs :
Shock, Edgecrusher, Descent, Freedom Or Fire, Resurrection, Timelessness
Goat quoted 86 / 100
Other albums by Fear Factory that we have reviewed:
Fear Factory - Genexus reviewed by Goat and quoted 60 / 100
Fear Factory - The Industrialist reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Fear Factory - Mechanize reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Fear Factory - Remanufacture reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Fear Factory - Soul Of A New Machine reviewed by Goat and quoted 81 / 100
To see all 10 reviews click here
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