Retro-review: ‘Obsolete’ by Fear Factory

Obsolete is admittedly the first album I bought by Fear Factory.

I was kind of late when it came to finding out what they were about. I was aware of their existence and their popularity, but the stars were never aligned for me to pick up any of their albums until the internet became a thing.

Obsolete wasn’t in my hands until the early 2000s, a few years after its release in 1998. I was familiar with some of the songs on the album as they were on a sampler, called Pure Concrete (I think), distributed by the local record store.

So, going into this, I was familiar with a couple of songs.

Fear Factory, you could say, is a cross between death metal and industrial music. Vocalist Burton C. Bell both growls and wails while he is backed up by the band’s driving force, guitarist Dino Cazares.

The band is rounded out with Christian Olde Wolbers on bass and Raymond Herrera on drums. Both do their job adequately, supporting the focal points of Bell and Cazeres as well as having a few moments where they shine themselves.

But, whatever you want to say about the lineup, it worked. Obsolete remains Fear Factory’s most accessible and successful album to this day.

Upon listening, it’s easy to tell why.

The album

If there’s one thing you can say about Obsolete, it’s that the good songs are really good and the others, well, they’re just forgettable.

Obsolete goes into high gear right from the start with blistering “Shock” and the mosh-friendly “Edgecrusher.” Both of the songs are hard-hitters and both compliment each other well. It’s a good way to go into the album, setting the stage for what’s to come. Though, most of the songs on the album are not going to hit the high marks of these two tracks.

The third song, “Smasher/Devourer,” comes close, standing out primarily for its chorus and strong arrangement.  Another standout is“Freedom or Fire,” which is a fast number that finds Fear Factory balancing the industrial and the metal pretty well.

Resurrection” is by far the best track on the album. It’s got a large feeling to it that makes it feel quite epic. Bell’s performance on this is excellent, particularly the chorus, which just has quite an emotional impact. It has its slow parts, but those parts enhance the impact of the heavier, faster parts even more, giving you a gut punch you wouldn’t have if it were like that all the way through. Best song on the album and probably one of my favorite songs from 1998.

Their cover of “Cars” is probably the most famous track on this album. It helps that they have the song’s original performer, Gary Numan, switching vocals with Bell on it. It’s a great cover, taking on the original without feeling like an imitation. The dueling vocals and the keyboard melody that was a trademark of the original version just enthralls the listener for the duration and is one of those songs that you’ll spend listening to over and over if you buy the album.

As for the rest of the tracks, they’re fine. They just don’t really have anything that makes them as memorable as the songs I mentioned. Sure, Fear Factory tries something different with the slow-moving and soft-edged “Timelessness,” but it fails to make a lasting impression on the listener.

The verdict

Over all, Obsolete is not a bad album. It has two spectacular tracks and four good tracks, which makes it an above average album in my opinion.

Now, I’m not sure I’d recommend buying it, but I would recommend at least checking out “Resurrection” and “Cars.” Sure, the hardcore fans will probably dis me because these are the two most commercial songs on the album, both having been released as singles with music videos, but that doesn’t mean they’re not the best.

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