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Whether or not they are groove, hardcore, nu-metal, or thrash riffs, there are some good riffs here. Even more unbelievable is that they're part of songs that are pretty good, too. Nothing stellar, but on a Sepultura level, they were the best material the band was capable of creating in a decade. That's where this album has an advantage over the previous albums. There's an increased level of productivity and efficiency in the writing. Now of course this varies from song to song, and Sepultura can never help but pad their albums with filler after filler on proportions that surpass that of mind-numbing (just not as far as before).
"Ostia," "Crown And Miter," and (to some extents) "Nuclear Seven" and "Convicted In Life" are what make Dante XXI stand out. The fervor of thrash metal with the bitterness and crunch of metallic hardcore can be heard, and that's the difference between intensity and the meandering shallowness of Sepultura's angsty groove formula. These four songs show Sepultura in some kind of revival with a coarser guitar tone richly executing vicious riffs. Bass follows the guitars with fatness and desiccated heaviness under a polished production job. The groove aspect with slappy bass lines and that massive layering had started to become phased out.
This shift toward a harder edged sound was the right move, but looking at the whole picture shows a band still in a rut. Musically they've progressed in a direction that stuck to proper utilization of riffs and a darker atmosphere, but they only tapped into it. That's why overall this album is a failure. It brought in a rougher approach to the tough guy groove and morphed it into musky imitation of thrash and proper hardcore. That aspect can be enjoyable, but the core of Dante XXI is still firmly rooted in that bro music. That means more tracks than not that are devoted to the stale, caveman groove from before.
Following the aforementioned points, the one that made no improvement is Derrick Green. This jackass has the most primitive, emotionless yell I've heard in these type of genres. They're the same dry harsh-yelling spouting the dumbest shit. They always bring the music down no matter what other percussion fills or downtuned rummaging is going on. His vocals consume the charred tone, the assaulting drums, the floundering tempos, and the rehashed ideas because their prominence dictates what goes on. He's such an integral part of what has ruined this band that there's no way these guys have a chance in hell of surpassing one song off of the late '80s / early '90s material (let alone one whole album from that era).
That is, unless "Still Flame" is brought into the equation. You want a throwback to Roots' lame tribal experimentation, then this is an experimentation gone wrong. Expect tribal, expect bad vocal repetition of a couple words, some folk melodies, and dull electronic beats. Despite what meandering, dark atmosphere it invokes, it's a track that is so ill-fitting and boring on fast and loud album like this. Hearing this reminded me of Cavalera on the rest of the album. For his last offering to this decimated band, he gives an energetic performance. The kit sounds ripe and he rolls and pounds as well as the refined production allowed him. Fine, but it was no tremendous step up from what the last few albums demonstrated. His final albums for Sepultura culminated in an album that has him doing what should have been minimal to his skills. Instead, years of subpar, stock drumming became his standard. That's why this one feels like it's miles ahead of the few peers before this.
So yes, compared to Roots through Roorback, Dante XXI is impressive. It's impressive in that it shows a band trying to get better. It has Sepultura breaking out from their obsession with bad riffs and dick-posturing for some music that lets loose a little. It's a Sepultura that breaks off from the previous era and leads into another. Whether they take advantage of this risk or not is up to them. They were dumb enough to write and record Roots through this album, though, so hell no.