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Planned Obsolescence

Fear Factory takes rock music to where The Terminator meets Orwell.

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In 2076, three hundred years after the American Revolution, a dapper young reporter informs citizens of Edgecrusher's escape from a Securitron containment facility. In order to bring the rebellious faction's hero back into containment, Securitron releases the mechanized Smasher/Devourer and the Enforcers. They move without emotion, tearing apart buildings and squashing anti-Securitron factions in their search for the outlaw Edgecrusher. The people's hero, meanwhile, stumbles into an abandoned, decaying church in an effort to dodge the Enforcers. It is there that he coldly realizes humanity is lost. The Machines have won.

Such is the tale of Obsolete, the third album from Fear Factory, which continues to play on the theme of Man vs. Machine. Not simply an army of crazed robots, the Machine symbolizes the mechanization of government and a citizenry that views subjugation with as much interest as it does a morning bowl of Wheaties. Writer and vocalist Burton C. Bell warns that while we may not be under such extreme oppression, we may well be on the brink.

"It's a sincere belief, but I'm not afraid of it. That'd be like living in California and fearing for earthquakes everyday. But I definitely believe the United States is going to be coming into a harsh reality check in the next ten years. The way the government is being run, the way media and the law intertwine--it's going to affect the rest of the country very soon."

Even Fear Factory is feeling the oppression lately. The band's equipment was stolen, forcing Bell and his bandmates to cut short their current tour just days before their scheduled stop at Peabody's DownUnder on January 28.

But like many apocalyptics, Bell sounds as if he almost welcomes the conflict. After all, revolution sure beats another day at the office. But to Fear Factory, the feelings behind the pessimistic tale of Edgecrusher are nothing new: The band has been working on the concept since 1992, with its debut Soul of a New Machine, and has now created an unholy trilogy for which Bell directly credits the influence of George Orwell's 1984. "He's one of my biggest inspirations. Also, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, but I must say that 1984 was probably the biggest inspiration of my life. It blew my mind. I just really, really liked that idea of the system taking over."

Bell feels the band has always been working toward Obsolete, and after seven years, he and drummer Raymond Herrera, guitarist Dino Cazares, and bassist Christian Olde Wolbers finally have gotten it right. Bell says the band has regained its organic groove, which it lost sight of with the more techno-based Demanufacture album and the Remanufacture remix EP. For a time, it was as if Fear Factory itself had become reliant on machines. "Ever since the beginning, we've been doing something different," Bell says. "Soul of a New Machine was a very raw, organic-sounding record, and when Demanufacture came on, we wanted the entire thing to sound very mechanical, so it sounded very cold and concise. With Obsolete, we wanted to combine both of those--get that mechanical sound, but get the organic groove back into it. We've finally found the sound that Fear Factory is."

Fear Factory also invited the eleven-piece Vancouver Chamber Ensemble--veterans of the metal circus who have worked with Mstley CrYe in the past--to back up Bell on two cuts from Obsolete. The ensemble allowed him to explore new ranges and move beyond the usual growled and throaty deliveries, adding the perfect human accompaniment for Edgecrusher's church refuge.

The rock opera may never find itself on Broadway, but Bell does have definite plans--and connections--to bring Edgecrusher's desperate struggle to life in another venue. He envisions Fear Factory creating the soundtrack to an epic film, or a series of comic books or interconnected videos. The liner notes for Obsolete even go so far as to present a skeleton script and storyboard. "We've talked about it all. The packaging is almost a screenplay--all we need to do is make the movie. There's serious talk of that, but I need to meet the right people. A director friend of mine finally called me up today, and I'd like to talk to him about doing it."

The story of Edgecrusher is akin to George Lucas's THX 1138, only darker, more violent, and judging by the latest installment of the tale, less optimistic. But while Obsolete may seem like the end of the line for Edgecrusher, Bell is not so certain that Fear Factory is ready to move on to new ideas. "As a writer, I like to have a positive message. For me, this is a message of hope, even if it does seem dark. Humanity can overcome this. There is a way: Get the message out. Promote individuality." We humans can't just sit back and let the machines win, can we

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