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Soulfly have never had it easy, largely because most people still hated Max Cavalera for bringing Sepultura to its knees and then leaving the band to go on his own musical journey. Until 'Dark Ages' in 2005, Soulfly were mostly still persevering with the tribal influences and crunchy modern nu metal sound that had appeared in Sepultura's 'Roots', so ॐ (that's the album's name, and it's a fucking pain to type) was met with a fair bit of shit-flinging back in 2002 and even more bad weather in the following years when the Cavalera brothers got together again and Soulfly started to put out stuff like 'Conquer' and 'Enslaved', which had some fairly decent and more conventional metal songs. I was a nu metal fan for some time (it was my entry phase to metal) and I never quite understood Soulfly back then, but listening to this album now I think that they weren't aiming for many of the same targets as Korn or Slipknot or Deftones and probably shouldn't be judged by the same criteria.
From a metal point of view, ॐ has its roots in nu metal and dabbles in a little of the post-thrash that Sepultura used for 'Chaos A.D.'. Around half of the songs here merit inclusion on this website while the others wouldn't qualify if they were stand-alone pieces. The album starts out in a much more straightforward manner, with 3 bruising metal cuts to open, the clean-then-heavy approach of 'One', and the thrashing 'L.O.T.M.'. The playing doesn't reach a terribly high standard for this kind of material, though the point of Soulfly's heavier songs has always been about passion and anger, never finesse, which one should instantly recognize upon reading Max's lyrics. The downtuned grooving riffs in 'Downstroy' and 'One' don't satisfy from a nu metal point of view, since they just aren't catchy or bouncy enough to be memorable, nor flat out crushing in their tone and atmosphere. 'Seek 'n' Strike', on the other hand, really gets it right, with a mid-paced crusher of a riff and great vocal rhythms, even if the actual vocals aren't much to write home about. 'Enterfaith' has some of the most traditional metal riffage on the album and sounds cool in parts, particularly the cruising tremolo riff after the verse and a tasteful solo.
Much of the rest of the album delves deep into other genres, combining the tribal and South American folk elements of previous Soulfly efforts with influences from funk, pop, rap, and some kind of ambient, relaxing parts. Regarding these elements, I'm not sure exactly how much metal fans are going to appreciate the frequent digressions, since they are more or less pure examples of these other genres, though many bands have tried the same approach and not fallen completely flat. 'Soulfly III' and 'Zumbi' are the only purely instrumental tracks and push the other genres the most, with no metal content and chilled traditional and ambient sounds, while 'Tree of Pain' and 'Four Elements' both contain long sections of gentle lamenting pop and ethnic (Asian) music respectively. The sitar section of 'Four Elements' is pretty good, as are the funky verses of 'Brasil', which make use of a rumbling bass presence and upbeat drumming.
What really remains the problem with this album is that the two parts of Soulfly's sound never come together. 'Four Elements', for example, begins as a nu metal song (in fact it begins with a Slipknot riff from the 'Iowa' album, but that's really a moot point) and completely stops after a minute or two, at which point the sitar motif developments for about 100 seconds, at which point it too comes to an inconclusive end and the nu metal song picks up where it left off. Ditto 'Tree of Pain', which starts off as a tolerable pop ballad and throws two other songs into the middle, one sung by Max and sounding fairly typical for the band, plus one sung by his son Ritchie in a hardcore vocal style. 'Brasil' and the heavier opening tracks have the same kind of issues, but manage to at least sound like one song, even if they don't gel very well, throwing in random parts at will. 'Soulfly III' has the distinction of being the only song to actually keep its focus for the entire length, yet that's fairly boring. Then there's the trio of 'One Nation', a minute's silence, and 'Call to Arms', which is not only counter-productive (the cover actually features members of Sacred Reich playing their own song) but actually offensive, since the general intention is to grieve the deaths of the 9/11 victims and spread hate towards terrorists, yet the lyric 'Drop the bombs in! Wipe out your motherfucking schemes' has exactly the same general attitude that the jihadists had towards the Americans.
The dreadful flaw that this album suffers from is overthinking. Some of the ideas aren't bad, but they aren't presented in any coherent order, have a lot of boring crap thrown in the middle, and also waste so much fucking time in the process. This drags out to almost an hour when it could have been done in 35 minutes and had double the impact. The songs are generally of mediocre quality and the planning is dire, some of the studio effects are worthless and annoying (the end of 'Enterfaith', for example, is Max just shouting "Faith is a weapon" on a loop for a minute), and the decent parts are mostly lost in the resulting chaos. It's a pity, because Soulfly could have made a reasonable album, but we had to wait another 3 years for that.
After reading some interviews with Max and even watching video interviews on the Tube, Max himself stated that this album "ॐ" or "3" or "Soulfly three" (as Max says it) was one of his weakest works he has done in his career. He actually says that he didn't get any inspiration for this one, but I honestly like this album a lot. You'll find way more decent stuff on here than the two first Soulfly albums.
Let's start with songs like "L.O.T.M.", "Four Elements", and "Call to Arms". The first one has a lot of a thrash metal vibe, pretty much Sepultura's "Arise" when it comes to the guitars and is pretty fast. Even "Four Elements" has a lot of that vibe, and "Call to Arms" is pretty much of a hardcore song on the album that reminds me a lot of his side-project Nailbomb. I like those three songs. There's even a lot of decent stuff in "Downstroy", "Seek 'n' Strike" and "Enterfaith", to be honest, with a lot of groove in it. And then it has some typical nu-metal stuff like "One", "Brasil", and "Tree of Pain". I actually like the song "Brasil" 'cause it has some great grooves going on and it fits pretty good for a song about his country. "Tree of Pain" is a pretty lame song, though. Well, it's kind of interesting when you put a ballad-type thing in a song and then it just blows you away, but I'm not much of a fan when it comes to drum machines. Yes, it has a drum machine when Max starts singing. Roy Mayorga actually didn't participate in the song and I think that's why "Tree of Pain" is not a big favorite. And then we have "One", the worst song on the album featuring the singer from Ill Niño. First of all, I have nothing against Korn, but this song feels much of Korn-plagiarism, and the Ill Niño singer sounds very irritating to my ears, and yes, I hate Ill Niño. So to me, they could have skipped this one. The cover of Sacred Reich's "One Nation" is pretty funny 'cause members of Sacred Reich are actually playing on Soulfly's version of this song, but I have to be honest, it sounds pretty damn tight and maybe even better than the original that can be found on the "Surf Nicaragua" ep.
Overall, like I said, this album has more interesting stuff than their self-titled album and "Primitive" album, and I have to say that of all these Soulfly albums with the tribal elements (That will say, their four first albums), this one is their best "tribal metal" album they have done.
I could give this album a better rating, but what really bothers me with it is the album cover. I really can't deal with this Om thing on the cover. It just pisses me off when I look at it. According to Max, the album was gonna be called "Downstroy" from the beginning, but what really happened we don't know,and even Max doesn't know why he changed it from "Downstroy" to this. And yes, the song "One" bothers me a lot, too.
With a new lineup (except for Max) comes a new sound, more or less. There's still nu-metal on this album but this is the album where Soulfly starts to move into a more metal direction. Perhaps after six years of creating substandard, boring nu-metal, Max wanted to return to his roots? But there are still elements from the previous two albums here - still nu-metal, still the tribal themes, and a song with another nu-metal musician doing guest vocals. Does One get to join Jumpdafuckup and Bleed in the dunce corner?
The nu-metal on this album is unremarkable. Downstroy sounds like it has a recording of some alien bird whirling in the background and Seek 'N' Strike has a cliche overused syncopated groove that is common in nu-metal. One is somewhat more atmospheric, and I don't mind Christian's vocals. I was even into Ill Niño quite a while ago and consider them a more tolerable nu-metal band. I certainly don't hate this song and find the chorus rather catchy. Brasil is a tribal nu-metal tribute to Max's motherland. Four Elements is only remarkable for the tribal break toward the end heralding the nature of the last several songs on the album.
My first thoughts about Tree of Pain was "Wow! Soulfly has a ballad?", it starts calmly enough and has a soothing melodic voice of Asha (who sang on Flyhigh in Primitive), but in the middle it suddenly explodes into a fury of groove-laden pseudo-thrash and nu-metal with Max screaming overtop about his pain. Richie Cavalera makes a guest appearance here too with youthful screaming more suitable for hardcore before the song returns to the calm, tropical ballad of the start of the song. It seems stitched together, this would have been better as two different songs, instead of a crazy and mediocre nu-metal song smacked in the middle of a gentle ballad. Still, the point of the song is grief, both toward Asha's friend D-Low and Max's stepson Dana Wells, and the song communicates both somber grief and furious anguish of loss.
Soulfly III is truly a shining star on this album as it effectively transports the listener to someplace else. The acoustic sitar sounds off throughout the song with a distinctly Indian melody, fitting as this album does feature the symbol of Om - a sacred syllable for Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Otherwise stylistically it isn't that much different from the previous Soulfly instrumentals, and it's the only song on here that could be worth meditating to. Zumbi closes the album with another tribal instrumental that is rather quiet and laid back.
Nevertheless, there are moments when the band sounds like they are trying to get away from nu-metal, or at least branch from it instead of creating an album that is more or less monotonous on the heavy parts. Enter Faith has some groove metal elements, L.O.T.M is trying its hardest to be a thrash song, and Sangue De Bairro, a cover of a song by Chico Science & Nação Zumbi, is sort of thrashy, but also quite tribal in nature. With the energetic sitar joining in I actually found myself headbanging to this song at the end.
One Nation is a thrash-metal cover of Sacred Reich's song from their Surf Nicaragua EP, and a couple of the members lend assistance to Soulfly on this song - so yes this song thrashes! Is it good thrash? The somewhat-rapped vocals kind of put me off, but the riffs are decent enough despite containing the palm-muted downtuned sound that pervades the heavy riffs on this album. I thoroughly enjoyed the solo though. After this is a minute of silence in tribute to the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks followed a minute of violence in the form of Call To Arms. This song gave me chills, because it is the angriest song on here and having it follow 9-11-01 is a clear message to bomb the shit out of the terrorists. It's a crossover/thrash song, it's frenetic energy is quite refreshing, the only downside being its short length - but its message is clear and concise.
This album is a definite improvement over Primitive, but it's still not something I see myself meditating to anytime soon. There are still some shining moments, such as the beginning and ending of Tree of Pain as well as Soulfly III, Call to Arms and One Nation.