Obsolete is Fear factory's third full-length album and the follow-up to the awesomeness that was 'Demanufacture'. It also marks the bands foray into the territory known as THE CONCEPT ALBUM. This - for the uninitiated - is where the album tells a story linked by the songs within. Fine examples include Jeff Wayne - 'The War Of The Worlds' and The Who - 'Tommy' and 'Quadrophenia'. I'm not really up on many concept albums so if you can think of any other examples, please leave a comment below. This album would go onto become Fear Factory's biggest seller to date (which was probably more to do with the cover of Gary Numan standard 'Cars' but more on that later) and propel the band into the mainstream. Not bad for an album with a story that basically rips off the likes of 'Terminator', 'Brave New World', 'Blade Runner' or any sci-fi which pits man v machine. Like Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons said, "Is your name Ridley Scott or James Cameron?"
When this first came out, I rushed to the store to buy it. No downloading in those days as it wasn't as widespread. And I felt let down, initially. It seemed that the sheer aggression and heaviness that made Demanufacture such a colossus was replaced by a bunch of stoners who'd read a few Aldous Huxley books and reckoned they were fucking film writers or something. However, teenage impudence gave way to new levels of maturity and now I can appreciate the album on it's own merits. That's not to say I turn a blind eye to it's flaws, oh Hell no! I'm just a bit more appreciative and can see the good in things. Anyhow, enough of my yacking. Whaddaya say we take a listen?
First off, a big up to the design as the booklet contains what looks like a screenplay in between the lyrics which give a view to the story and helps propel it along for the listener. I'm going to go over the story quickly. I wouldn't consider any of this spoilers, as it's not like it's an essential album or anything. Anhow, the story is set in the future where man has created all these machines to help make his life easier, but in doing so has somewhat fucked himself over as now the machines are taking over. It's less of a 'Terminator' scenario and more like, say, 'Blade Runner' but with more machines. There are three main characters in this. The first is called "Edgecrusher" who is the human protagonist, "Smasher Devourer" who are the machine-police who keep order. The album booklet describes them as - and I quote - "a bi-pedal design with an egg-shaped, armoured mainframe with what appears to be arms but are actually weapons for protection". So essentially, it's ED209 off the 'Robocop' franchise. The last character is "Securitron (Police State 2000)" who is basically an all-seeing supercomputer who keeps tabs on everything. So you've got Skynet with armies of ED209 chasing a terrorist all over the place. Anyhow, EC decides to get back at the system, lead a revolution, fuck as many machines over as possible and pave the way for a more human friendly establishment to take over. Does it work? Nope - he dies in the last song, but it sets things up for 'Digimortal', the album after this one. I'll get round to blogging it sometime...if I can be arsed.
The first act is establishing the characters that were mentioned above, the second act is EC wondering if it's all worth it and the third act is humanity giving it one last go but ultimately coming off second best. Still, we get some great songs along the way.
The songs themselves have a bit of balls to them. 'Shock', 'Smasher Devourer' and the awesome 'Freedom Or Fire' certainly capture the moment well, and the atmosphere of futility that only living in an authoritarian government can produce. 'Edgecrusher' is another good song, but perhaps a little overplayed as I remember it being a staple of rock clubs from the moment it came out. There are a few surprises - Burt actually SINGS through entire songs! Usually, he splits his vocals with growling verses and melodic choruses which became his trademark, even though the practice originated from Justin Broderick of Godflesh (Note: It's impossible to review Fear Factory without mentioning Godflesh). The first is 'Descent' which was described as 'the heaviest pop song ever written', a statement which may be true. It's certainly more melodic than anything Fear Factory had written up to this point. The second is 'Resurrection' which caused a stir when played live - it has a very stop/start rhythm which makes it impossible to mosh to (Trust me, I've tried) but it's more about anthem than stomping all over the place. I can remember falling asleep on a coach coming back from Ozzfest 2001 and I woke up in Middlesbrough at 5am while this song was playing. It seemed to fit the surroundings very well, as did walking through Glasgow city centre at 7am on a hot Sunday morning whilst listening to the 'Blade Runner' soundtrack. The last track (Before bonus tracks at any rate), 'Timelessness', is basically all synths and stuff. It's a very meloncholy song which I guess it's bound to be. It sounds like the bit in a film where the hero is gunned down by a small army in slo-mo, but then the small army turns around and a besieged by people rising up and rebelling. Very stirring stuff. Dino Cazares seemed a bit more restrained on this one, his riffs less like a pneumatic drill and more rock orientated. Production is done by Rhys Fulber and it's not too bad. Bit ear-candyish but not too bad.
So, how does the album compare? Well, it's definitely aged better than most other FF albums, that's for sure. It may not be the most original story ever but the band gave it their best shot. Whereas it may not have put them into the commercial stratosphere they hoped for, it put them into the mainstream rock scene. Especially thanks to the cover of 'Cars'. Gary Numan provided a voice-over on the title track ('Obsolete' - an ok song) and after that, he duetted with Burton C. Bell on the aforementioned cover. It was round about the time that 80's covers were becoming like a cancer in the rock scene, done in the name of irony but it was really about chasing a hit. Still, it got the band coverage and that's all that mattered. But thank fuck they never remixed this!
7 - This is good and well worth a check.
You can get this album on iTunes.
You can listen to the album on Spotify
You can buy the album on Amazon