Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
Written by: AP on 01/02/2017 20:14:34
It is hard to contest the suggestion that, in the 20 years since Max Cavalera’s sudden and hostile exit from Sepultura, the band has been struggling to replicate the indelible marks left on the metal genre by 1993’s “Chaos A.D.” and 1996’s “Roots”. But what often goes unrecognised is the hunger with which the post-Cavalera (Max’s brother Igor abandoned ship in 2006) manifestation of Sepultura has pursued new frontiers and pushed their sound into myriad subgenera of metal. Not all of the endeavours have yielded successful results to be sure, but unlike Max with his Soulfly project, at the very least the group has not been circling in a holding pattern for the past two decades. With each album, it has thus been hard to predict what formula Sepultura might adopt next — uniform, like 2009’s “A-Lex”, jaggedly dynamic, like 2001’s “Nation”, or something different entirely? It turns out that this latest outing, “Machine Messiah”, falls into the latter category.
Compared to its ultra-intense predecessor from 2013, “The Mediator…”, the record is a more measured undertaking, but it also skirts the threshold between Sepultura’s death/thrash metal past and the mainstream more than anything else in the group’s catalogue. Once again, vocalist Derrick Green laments the accelerating pace of technological innovation and its consequences on our humanity, but in the doom-laden title track for example, his lyricism earns the weight of a plea when he bypasses his usual arsenal of barks, growls and shrieks to try his pipes at melodic singing. Meanwhile, on the standout “Phantom Self”, guitarist Andreas Kisser flirts with modern-day Lamb of God, enlisting a simple yet scorching groove metal riff to do his bidding, and inviting a violin ensemble to weave a pegged Tunisian scale arrangement through it. The best riffs in rock and metal have often also been the simplest, and certainly on the basis of this one’s efficacy, one can hear that Kisser is a keen subscriber to the idea — you will find yourself miming it in no time. The orchestral chord progressions of “Sworn Oath”, almost Dimmu Borgir-esque in their bombast and grandeur, have a similar character and lay the groundwork for one of the most progressive-minded Sepultura track to date.
But “Machine Messiah” is not without its own instances of pummel, either. “I am the Enemy”, “Silent Violence” and “Vandals Nest” all hark back to the blistering crossover style that the band sometimes dabbled in, in the late ’80s and early ‘90s, though within this more aggressive field, it is the trouncing and atavistic “Resistant Parasites” which succeeds the most. The track makes a convincing case for why one should not regard Igor Cavalera with such nostalgia, as the tribal cadence of current kit-man Eloy Casagrande definitively supersedes the work of his predecessor here. Indeed, coupled with Kisser’s ear for a striking riff and Green’s expansion of his vocal texture, Casagrande’s technical proficiency plays a crucial role in capping “Machine Messiah” as one of the better records of Sepultura’s post-millennial output.
The album has its imperfections though, and the most pressing one of these lies within the dynamics. Dropping in a long instrumental piece is not necessarily ill-advised, but here, “Iceberg Dances” does little to support the overall atmosphere. It could be interesting to watch live, but the uplifting, Yngwie Malmsteen-school shredfest, complete with a Deep Purple-tributing organ section, smacks a big question mark to the middle of a record and hurts the limber flow up until. Another issue is consistency — the mentioned highlights can stand their ground against almost any opponent found in Sepultura’s repertoire, but the band has not managed to hold much of the remaining material to the high standard they set. Most of it is quite palatable, but when talking about an institution like Sepultura, you want your eyebrows to be raised. You want to be blown away. Still, “Machine Messiah” seems to herald a serious return to form, and on the basis of the standout moments, we must hope that the ‘samba-metallers’ have not run out of creative juice just yet.
Download: Phantom Self, Sworn Oath, Resistant Parasites
For the fans of: Cavalera Conspiracy, The Haunted, Lamb of God, Machine Head
Release date 13.01.2017
Nuclear Blast Records