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It’s 2:35 in the AM and I’m sitting at my computer, yet again. My right hand glides about, forefinger tapping here and there with a reverberant *click* as accompaniment. My left hand never far from a frosty lager, my feet propped up on a subwoofer that’s slowly churning out some obscure Scandinavian metal I’ll probably never have time to review as I lean back in my chair and mindlessly scour the world wide web: this is my life at this moment, I am content. But my serenity is illusory, maintained by a veil of ignorance that, once lifted, will have me yearning for merciful nepenthe. Truly, I am not prepared for the horror of the thing. My eyes grow wide and stare forth, yet I do not see. My teeth clench involuntarily, painfully, as my mouth becomes uncomfortably dry. Aware only that I’ve been stricken by an unnamable ailment as my body begins to convulse, my thoughts turn grim. This…is this how my life ends? Blood pressure rising, every synapse firing, forming disjointed impulses, my mind basically pleading with my hands to strangle the consciousness out of my frame. Limbs turning against body, senses dull and ever-fading, my will resigning itself to its fate…when out of the blackness, my reasoning returns with a silent crash, shattering my moment of weakness and bringing hope where before there was none.
All is not lost. I do not spill my beer.
This was my instinctual reaction, and in my opinion, it is a fairly reasonable one to have when finding Soulfly featured amongst these Metal Archives. I’ve never claimed to be an old-head around here; it’d be tough considering my life experience is limited to a mere quarter-century. But come on now…there’s got to be some standards, lest we open the floodgates to the whole host of unholy horrors. What’s next, an entry for Stuck Mojo? Body Count? Or maybe even… dare I say…. Hatebreed? I mean this is Soulfly we’re talking about here; the band that assembled all of nu-metal’s loosely gathered grown-man angst into a collective monument to its own stupidity. A band whose founder, Max Cavalera, might very well be the personification of the “sell-out” mentality. This band, no matter how overtly “metal” they could be these days, is still responsible for turning Fred Durst’s otherwise innocuous suggestion of audience participation into the almighty Gospel of Jumpdafuckup. For these sins, any ostensible repentance would have to be pretty damn repentant. We’re talking the musical equivalent of ending world hunger, curing HIV, and resurrecting Hitler just to kill him again.
Does Soulfly achieve this? Not really. But they’re certainly working on it. And I begrudgingly admit that I guess they sort of have earned the right to maybe be considered on this great slab of internet. Kinda.
Things open without any degree of promise. “Resistance” is a very skip-worthy opening monologue in the usual Cavalera anti-establishment vein; ambient non-music to these ears. But soon enough the actual songs begin, and believe it or not Toto, we’re not in mallcore anymore. Somewhere in the decade between 2002 and 2012, Max Cavalera got back in touch with his roots (not to be confused with his Roots) and focused his efforts towards crafting extreme music once again. I imagine this was a slow and difficult process, considering the intense intellectual atrophy he must have suffered writing material like that on those first three Soulfly records (and his last two Sepultura albums for that matter). We must suppose that lead guitarist Marc Rizzo (acquired back in ’04) had something to do with this, as his obvious technical skill could not be shackled to the primitive conventions of nu-metal. For this most recent album, the rhythm section is also brand new, and the fellas by the name of Tony Campos and David Kinkade seem to know what they’re doing as well. All this fresh talent must have rubbed off on ol’ Max and pointed him down the right path for the first time in ages.
Not that he doesn’t wobble off the path on occasion. There’s still an emphasis on slow groovy parts and the “atmosphere” that comes with it, if we wish to be generous. Lyrical content, though infinitely improved from the brain-dead ramblings of old, still does not make the same impact as the roar from the man delivering them. There are also some weird, unnecessary production gimmicks that come in now and then and the mandatory sitar part or two that Max has to include to be “diverse,” but now I’m just nitpicking. There are no more hardcore breakdowns, no more rapping or turntable scratches, and no more tribal bullshit; the mandatory “Soulfly” tribal jam got demoted to bonus-trackdom on the deluxe edition. No really, I’m serious, they’re not completely fucking off on this one. I’d be speechless if I didn’t have a review to write here.
So now that they aren’t pandering to the mall crowd, what are they playing, the ravenous death/thrash of Cavalera antiquity? ‘Course not, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. If there was a physical scale displaying these two styles as opposite extremes, Enslaved would fall squarely in the middle as a bizarre amalgam of melodic death metal and groove metal in a Crowbar meets The Haunted kinda way. It’s the metalcore sound in a sense, but something about the delivery makes it a bit more extreme and legitimate than the typical delinquent Americans robbing Swedes that we usually get to hear ‘round these parts. One minute there are slow, dissonant metalcore-reminiscent sections, simple, repetitive choruses and plenty of riffs that are too easily described with onomatopoeia (chug chug……ch.chug chug chugga chug…… recycle and repeat) and the next minute there’s bouncy mid-paced head-bangage, ripping death fetish tremolo blasting, and even the occasional thrash nightmare relapse. What’s impressive is the uniformity between the opposing styles that many modern bands fail to achieve. Where a somewhat similar band like Lamb of God, Chimaira, God Forbid or whoever might have the occasional neat passage quickly ruined by their usual bullshit, the strong compositional elements here are solid and numerous enough to pull up the weaker bits out of the mire. See “Treachery,” “Plata O Plomo,” or “Gladiator” as samples: Rizzo’s attention-worthy solos, Max’s fierce vocal approach, and the constant percussive battery will clang around in your short-term memory much longer than you’d probably care to admit.
Still, I’m not going to praise this new Soulfly to the high heavens, as it’s stylistically modern without being extreme enough for my tastes, most comparable to latter-day Exodus. But holy hell is it a big step in the right direction and it could slay contemporaries like Unearth, Trivium, or Killshit Engayge like Charles Bronson punting kittens off the Statue of Liberty: easily. Okay…maybe I’m not making any sense, but neither does this, a Soulfly album that doesn’t eat feces. Good is bad. Black is orange. Left is pineapple. It’s imperfect and flys well beneath say, the last Slayer album, but I’d gladly give this another listen over anything Machine Head, Austrian Death Machine, whoever else the kids think is heavy these days, or post-Max Sepultura have bothered to release. And this coming from a usually strident philistine in matters of this sort of “untrue” metal. That said, it might be worth a look.
When I was just a wee lad I had discovered Sepultura and was blown away by the intense thrash attack they provided. I loved their classic thrash/death metal albums, and I even liked a few songs from “Chaos A.D.” and “Roots.” But, once Max Cavalera left them I got off of the Sepultura Kool-Aid and haven’t looked back. Once I had heard about Max starting a brand new band called Soulfly that was supposed to be more of a continuation of the “Roots” sound I was intrigued and wished to check it out. I’ll freely admit that I liked a few nu-metal bands back in the day, so the first few Soulfly albums gelled with me pretty well. However, I was beginning to tire of their repetitive “Jumpdafuckup” nature and finally had to abandon them in the way I did Sepultura around 2004, with the release of “Prophecy,” which brought a whole new meaning to the word ‘boring.’ After 8 long years I have decided to stumble back into the Soulfly world and explore their brand new offering, “Enslaved.”
I’m sure by now a lot of us are acquainted with Max’s insufferable lyrics and album concepts, and things are no different with “Enslaved.” Can you take a guess as to what the this album is about? If you guessed how free market economics and capitalism are the best way to ensure equality among all people, then you would be wrong. The real answer is slavery. That’s one hell of an original concept, right?
Dumb and cliche album concepts aside, Soulfly opens up the album with a short introductory track in ‘Resistance,’ with a simplistic two-note riff that is continuously played for much of the song on top of a double-bass attack. It’s a better way to open up an album than just another two-minute ambient track that serves no purpose, but Max’s voice is modulated in a way where you are unable to tell what he is saying, and it all comes out garbled except for him yelling “resistance” a few times. Now, this is where things begin to throw me for a loop.
In all honesty, I was expecting my face to contort into multiple disapproving expressions, but as soon as I heard new-comers Tony Campos (bass; Asesino) and David Kincade (drums; ex-Borknagar) open up ‘World Scum’ with an energetic performance I couldn’t help but feel my neck involuntary nodding up and down. Once the rest of the band kicks in I realize that this album might actually have some death metal influence to it, especially once I hear Travis Ryan’s (vocals; Cattle Decapitation) growl make an appearance I was put on my ass. I really was not expecting to hear his vocals in a Soulfly song of all things. This is by no means close to anything that Sepultura would have put out in the ’80s, but there was no possible way I could have anticipated a thrash/death metal song on this record.
As “Enslaved” continues onward, you are met with a healthy mixture of death, thrash, and groove metal. Soulfly wanted to create a diverse record, and so far it is definitely holding up to their visions. You’ll have more catchy and groove-oriented tracks in the likes of ‘Intervention,’ ‘Legions,’ ‘Treachery,’ the first half of ‘Chains’ and ‘Revengeance.’ I think those four songs are the weakest of the bunch as there is just nothing memorable about them. The more thrash-centric tunes such as ‘American Steel’ and ‘Redemption Of Man By God’ (featuring Dez Fafara (vocals; Devildriver, ex-Coal Chamber)) are okay at best since they are cleverly disguised as Testament b-sides from “The Formation Of Damnation,” except without the eccentric minds of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson. Although I will say that it was interesting to hear Max and his boys doing the entirety of ‘Revengeance’ themselves, with each of them on vocals, guitar, and drums. The song itself is mid-paced groove and doesn’t really get anywhere meaningful. His kids do have some talent, but they are obviously not ready for the music industry quite yet.
Besides ‘World Scum,’ I thought that ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Plata O Plomo’ were the highlights of “Enslaved.” ’Gladiator’ has a great mixture of melodic death, groove, and thrash metal infused in it. Max and Marc Rizzo (guitars) do a phenomenal job of packing memorable melodic leads over the rhythm guitar. ’Plata O Plomo’ is one of the more groove-oriented tracks, but it’s sung by both Tony and Max in I believe both Spanish and Portuguese. The groove metal is good, but what I really love about it is the Gaucho-style acoustic guitar that comes in, giving the music a classy flair that sticks with you, plus it is ridiculously cheesy to hear out-dated gun shots that came from John Carmack’s classic first-person shooter, Doom. Those are the stars of “Enslaved,” and I was actually surprised that Soulfly had it in them to make songs like this.
Honestly, “Enslaved” could have been so much worse than it actually was. I was prepared to tear Soulfly a new one, but I came away appreciating what was on this disc. Not because it is groundbreaking in any meaningful way, but the band did a decent enough job of blending death, thrash, and groove metal together. While the album certainly has its faults, it has a good bit of charm to it, too. I never really got any emotional response from it, but I suspect that people who are fans of this more light-hearted and accessible style may feel differently than I do, and in a world where we are able to cherry pick whatever type of heavy metal we want, that is perfectly okay with me. ”Enslaved” will definitely surprise the naysayers like myself, and it will continue to appease the Soulfly fans that have somehow stuck around for the past 8 years. I am actually tempted to stick around and check out their new album whenever they record it. I never expected that to happen again.