Roadrunner Records, 1998
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/06/1999
How does one improve on greatness?
One would normally (and rightfully) say that you shouldn't tinker with something that works... and normally, I'd agree with you. But in the case of Fear Factory, adding songs onto a strong album only makes it that much better... and the end result is the recently upgraded Obsolete.
The band - vocalist Burton C. Bell, guitarist Dino Cazares, bassist Christian Wolbers and drummer Raymond Herrera - has been recently touted by other media outlets as being one of the best hard rock acts out there these days, and Obsolete in its original 10-song form was being called one of the best of the year. After listening to just the first 10 songs, this is something I wouldn't dispute.
Fear Factory are unique in that they know how to pulverize your spine with crunching chords, but they're also just as interested in creating a melody to their songs. That's a concept that not many hard rock/heavy metal/industrial bands dare to examine, but it works well with Fear Factory. Bell gets a chance on many occasions to show he can do more with his pipes than try to blow them out on each verse - and he does sing remarkably well. Cazares, on his soul-shaking seven-string guitar, is a master of the riff, and utilizes his guitar skills well throughout the album.
From the opening chords of "Shock", Obsolete sets itself out as an album you're going to remember for some time to come. Tracks like "Edgecrusher," "Descent," "Freedom Or Fire" and "Smasher/Devourer" all display a level of musicianship and intensity that burn themselves into your brain. Even the use of strings on the "closing" songs, "Resurrection" and "Timelessness," seems right for Fear Factory, and were the perfect way to wrap up the original album.
One note: Obsolete is a concept album (which you can follow in the CD booklet), but I found it hard to follow the storyline without having it in front of me. In a sense, that's not necessarily bad; I was able to develop an appreciation for the songs themselves without wondering how they fit into some plot. Of course, Bell and crew might think I missed the point by not tackling the album as a story in progress. To each their own, I guess.
Obsolete has recently been enhanced with five additional songs, including a surprisingly excellent cover of Gary Numan's '80s hit "Cars". Numan himself joins with Bell on the lead vocals, and both are able to turn a song I absolutely hated in the '80s into something I enjoy listening to. The other tracks, including "Soulwound," "Messiah" and "0-0 (Where Evil Dwells)" are just as enjoyable... but don't try to work them into the concepts of Obsolete.
It takes guts to pick up an album that is excellent on its own and try to make it better. Fortunately for Fear Factory, they succeeded with Obsolete... in both its versions.