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Since 'Roots' and the departure of Max Cavalera this band has gone from strength to strength on each release; from having no good songs, to having one, then two and now arriving at a release that has a staggering four decent songs. I tip my hat to you, Sepultura, unfortunately the rest of the album is drivel; boring and uncreative groove metal mixed with large doses of half-cocked hardcore aggression. I can understand the natural progression from their tribal nu-metal chimera back into their Chaos AD groove, but I can't see why Andreas Kisser can't emulate his previously ball-busting style he wowed us with back on releases such as 'Arise' and 'Beneath the Remains'. I feel the pangs of guilt as a fall back on the tried and true method of slagging off a band for not being what they once were; the times are a changin' as they say, but damnit, some things just shouldn't give in so easily.
Sepultura are doing their best to find a new sound, and I suppose they're getting better but these growing pains are lasting an awfully long time, there is a sense of apathy in their gradual steps forward; simply giving up because people won't think the same way about them without the return of Max, which is bollocks to be quite fair. More likely than not, people want his return to be triumphant to forgive him for past transgressions, however gauging his musical creativity and aptitude by his latest work in Cavalera Conspiracy, one should not be too optimistic at any sign of his return nor at the prosect of future Soulfly releases. Irrelevancy and wank aside, this current band incarnation is of its own and its fruition is nigh, or so I hope.
The improvements from 'Roorback' into 'Dante XXI' are quite obvious; the riffage is strong and fast in a lot of places and when it slows down it's still somewhat effective although it suffers heavily from the lack of innovation and the atavistic sense of sticking to banal groove-based power chording restricted to a single area. Drums are a top-notch affair although the snare drum production is a bit obnoxious in places, but I suppose that the guitar tone could be blamed for not being heavy enough to overpower said snare drum. The solos have made something of a stronger comeback but they aren't particularly virtuosity is questionable, for now they are merely good and serve the purpose of being a solo; nothing more, nothing less.
Of course song writing is where it's these days, and apparently this album takes heavily from the concepts espoused by Dante as referring the circles of hell, purgatory and all that afterlife nonsense. To be quite honest, barring song titles such as "The City of Dis" and "Ostia", the song lyrics never really struck me as pertaining to a set pacing and their allusions to the book are shallow at best. The average pillock's knowledge of the book in question is regurgitated and then swirled amongst personal beliefs and social commentary, it's bearable but I would not be recommend that you bust your balls reading the liner notes and lyrics as you listen to this album. Derrick's barking vocals make the lyrics very incoherent but who cares, besides he's quite effective as a loudmouthed counterpoint to the groove. The song structures themselves are set in stone, and deviation or aberrations do not occur very freely except within the filler tracks that utterly superfluous in every sense of the word and its synonyms too. Intro - riff - chorus - riff - bridge - solo or weird melodic bit - riff - finish; it does not get any more complex than that, not to say that Sepultura were ever a hugely complex band back in their heyday but they had somewhere in the region of e to the power of nine thousand riffs to draw attention from their awkwardly written lyrics and lack of variance.
Therein lies the problem with this release however; as it has been said quite a few times now, it is definitely an improvement and helps to establish the trend that Sepultura are moving forward even if it is at something of a haggard and drunken pace, but despite these improvements the band lacks the riffing power that was ever present in their earlier works whilst backed up by a decent rhythm section and with one or two shredding solos. The riffs can be fast but there's maybe five styles to the riffing, and when they're slow they drag the songs down the pits of mediocrity and conjure images of the more forgettable songs on 'Chaos AD'. The solos allude to any sense of purpose when they attempt something melodic or potentially tribal-esque. The songs blend together and their distinguishing features are usual banal moments such as choruses or slightly different riffing in juxtaposition to a drum fill. Most unusual in this cavalcade of groove is the final song however; 'Still Flame' which seems to be conjuring up their tenuous tribal links from the past, this song is just disappointing through and through, and only cements the opinion that Sepultura have this masochistic desire to hold onto musical style that never meshed effectively with their music and was popular if only for the drop-D and the gimmick nature of the entire thing. Sepultura is a band that I sympathise with heavily, and whilst this album certainly displays a few promising moments, no matter how simplistic and suspect they may be, there is always the future but it will only be successful if they turn their backs on the past.