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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.