Twenty-five years ago today, Fear Factory released the brilliant record Obsolete. Based on a idea written by then lead vocalist Burton C. Bell, it tells the story of a far flung future set in the year 2076 where machines have taken over humanity.
At the time, it was feared that humanity had become too reliant on technology and humans themselves have become obsolete. Fast forward 25 years and some might suggest that the machine takeover has already happened. I mean, looking at our analytics, it seems most of you are likely reading this on your phone… which you probably can’t live without. Thankfully though, we can easily listen to this gem of record with ease on those same devices. The irony!
On Obsolete, the band changed their tuning and increased the industrial elements. In the full throes of the late 90’s and the explosion of electronic elements in metal that came with it, Fear Factory found an opportunity to capitalize on the trend.
Songs like “Descent” sounded fresh and connected with so many who felt disconnected from society. Such was the magic that the band was able to create with this new sound.
My personal favorite song on this record, I must admit, isn’t even an original song. Rather, it’s their cover of Gary Numan’s “Cars.” Originally released back in 1979, it was considered a groundbreaking track back in the day. I still remember seeing the video on the early days of MTV and being blown away by how “modern” it was and how different it sounded from nearly everything else that was being played on the channel. Numan created so many sounds from non-traditional, electronic instrumentation. Thus, it was no surprise then that Fear Factory chose to cover the tune. Both Numan and Fear Factory embraced tech and became trendsetters just a couple of decades apart. What makes the cover on Obsolete even grander is that Numan actually appears on the track (as well as in the video).
The irony about “Cars,” however, is that the cover wasn’t originally supposed to be on the LP at all. The band didn’t think that it fit with the rest of the concept and originally intended for it to a B-side or something else. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately in their eyes) it was actually that cover that drove record sales as it was placed with a special edition digipak. Roadrunner Records eventually took the track to commercial rock radio after it was getting a lot of play on college radio.
And while the popularity of “Cars” certainly drove many to the band, it was the rest of Obsolete that drew audiences in once they realized there was much more going on than just a really cool cover. The title track, for example, was an experience that grabbed hold really hard. There wasn’t much out there at the time that sounded like this. Sure, there was industrial metal, but it didn’t have the depth of songcraft and the overall heaviness that this record possessed. In a true testimony to the track, “Obsolete” still sounds amazing after a quarter of a century.
Perhaps the pinnacle of the record is the brilliant track, “Resurrection.” Heavy — but with such deep groove and incredible melody carefully woven into the song. Additionally, vocalist Burton C. Bell demonstrates a vast range on this record that few metal vocalists really had at the time. Yes, the video is very 90’s, but the song still takes my breath away when I hear it now.
Obsolete is a stellar record and I still listen to it often. Fear Factory is one of those bands who were a bright spot in the bleak late 90’s and they kept the flame alive for those of us who still appreciated the sound of heavy guitars, even if it meant industrial elements were mixed in.
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