On their second full-length album, 1995's Demanufacture, Fear Factory evolved from an industrial-tinged death-metal band into something much more ambitious, complex and hard to define. For their follow-up, 1998's Obsolete (spelled oBSΩLE+e on the cover), Fear Factory had to take things even further, so they ramped up both the industrial aspect of their sound and the conceptual nature of their lyrics. Front Line Assembly programmer Rhys Fulber served as the sole keyboardist for the album, which featured more electronic elements than Demanufacture did, and while that LP contained loosely connected lyrics about a war between man and machines, Obsolete was the band's first full-fledged concept album complete with a cinematic plot line. The liner notes even presented the whole narrative with the lyrics intertwined.
"Basically, Demanufacture was loosely about this situation where machines have gotten so advanced they've developed intelligence and started to rebel against the people who made them," guitarist Dino Cazares says. "By the time we get to Obsolete, the war is pretty much over and the machines have basically won. They have taken over and made man obsolete. We've become slaves to the machines and are no longer controlling them."
Fear Factory co-produced the album with Fulber and Greg Reely and recorded it from February 21st to May 10th, 1998, at Mushroom Studios and Armoury Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia. Obsolete came out July 28th, 1998, and driven largely by the popularity of the band's radio-hit cover of Gary Numan's "Cars," the album — which would be reissued as a deluxe Digipak with bonus material in March 1999 — eventually went gold. Decades later, it still stands as Fear Factory's best-selling release.
In appreciation of the groundbreaking record, here are six things you likely didn't know about Obsolete.
1. Ozzfest 1996 delayed the making of the album
Fear Factory were psyched up to start writing new material after they finished touring in support of Demanufacture. But when Ozzfest invited the band to play the main stage, they put their follow-up record on hold. As it turned out, waiting was a good move. "We were definitely in a groove after that tour," Cazares says. "Everybody was getting along, we had made enough money to take our time and make a great album. We spent six months writing it and then we started tracking in 1997. Recording was fun and we had a good time making that album."
2. The Twilight Zone inspired the title and much of the theme of Obsolete
Fear Factory may have been a forward-thinking industrial-metal band from the start, but vocalist Burton C. Bell came up with the idea for Obsolete after watching an old black-and-white TV sci-fi series. "The album title actually came from a Twilight Zone episode, 'The Obsolete Man,' about a man being accused of becoming obsolete and being put on trial and sentenced to death," Bell says. "The album story was futuristic-based, and The Edgecrusher [also the name of the album's second track] was the protagonist taking it to the man and fighting not to be obsolete while fighting the machine, itself. It was a very much like The Terminator in that way. I was also reading a lot of Philip K. Dick and Aldous Huxley, which inspired me."
3. One song on the album's expanded version pre-dates the formation of Fear Factory
Cazares and Bell met in the late Eighties and the two formed the death-metal band Ulceration. That group didn't last long, however, before drummer Raymond Herrera joined and the band changed its name to Fear Factory. Still, three songs from the Ulceration days landed on the new outfit's records. "We wrote 'Big God' and 'Self Immolation' and those went on our first album, Soul of a New Machine," Cazares says. "We also did a song called 'Soulwound,' which we didn't do anything with for a while. But when we were working on Obsolete I said, 'You know what? That song we did, "Soulwound," kinda works with this album.' So we recorded it and it ended up being a B-side that went on the Digipak."
4. The song that introduced Fear Factory to the mainstream, a cover of Gary Numan's "Cars," wasn't even on the original album
When they were on the Demanufacture tour in Europe, Fear Factory heard a beer commercial that featured the Eighties song "Cars." In fact, they heard it so many times it got stuck in their heads, so Cazares suggested the band cover it as a B-side. "We just had fun with it," he says. "For some reason, Roadrunner decided to send it to college radio and they picked up on it right away. So Roadrunner took it to modern rock radio, which was pretty easy because the program directors already knew the song, so they loved it and started spinning it. That's when we saw the band really take off, and that's when we got our first gold record." The cover would eventually appear on the Digipak reissue.
5. Fear Factory never expected Gary Numan to agree to both sing on their "Cars" cover and appear in the music video for it
"It was one of those situations where you go, "'Oh, my god, really? Hell yeah!'" Bell recalls. "He is a super-cool human being. He's generous with his time and was friendly, sincerely interested in what we were doing and great to work with. That song and video definitely propelled the band into another level of popularity and radio play. But in a lot of ways, it was the beginning of the end for the band. We became pretty popular really fast and some of us didn't know how to deal with it."
6. Sarah McLachlan almost wound up on the record
Since the album-closing track "Timelessness" was already an atypical composition for the band — an ethereal hymn featuring a 20-piece orchestra — Fear Factory figured they might as well go all out and ask a pop star to guest on the melancholic cut. They chose Sarah McLachlan since she had previously worked with co-producer Greg Reely. "We got hold of her and asked her if she would sing on the song and she said, 'That sounds like it might be kind of cool. Send me the track,'" Cazares says. "So we sent it to her and she listened to it and was like, "Well, let me see. Maybe I'll do it. Lemme get back to you.' Then we did something that was kind of a mistake. We sent her some songs from Demanufacture. Those were way too heavy for her and she got back to us and was like, 'Sorry. No way.'"