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Max & Igor Cavalera

support Justin Hate
author AP date 05/12/16 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

Whether you count yourself a fan or not, few can deny the importance of Sepultura’s 1996 album, “Roots”, in shaping the topography of contemporary metal. Most controversially, the record was pivotal to the rise of the nu metal scene (it even features cameos from David Silveria, Jonathan Davis, Mike Patton and DJ Lethal, you will recall!), whilst also laying the tribal groundwork for Max Cavalera’s later project, Soulfly. It was seismic news thus, when Max and his brother, Igor Cavalera, announced that the two would commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the album this year with the "Return to Roots" tour of full-album performances, including this long-sold-out gig at Copenhagen’s Pumpehuset. Needless to say, the place is bustling, and the air is thick with anxious expectation even before the local support act has carried out its duty — the stage is truly set for a night to remember.

All photos courtesy of Lykke Nielsen

Justin Hate

Fresh out of taking me by surprise with a venomous performance two months ago, the late addition of Justin Hate onto this bill brings an opportunity to judge how well the Copenhagen-quintet’s strand of grindcore adapts to a larger venue. Bathed in golden light shone from behind, the band appears as silhouettes and seems to be focused on conjuring an atmosphere rather than tearing the place to shreds as they did to BETA’s more intimate confines. The setlist also favours those songs in which a wider variety of extreme metal influences bleeds through, with an assortment of eerie melodies often punching a hole into the grinding mass and making the concert more rounded, less confrontational. Still, there is a constant sense of danger lurking just beneath the surface, one can tell: vocalist Kim Rock’s crouches and slow sways have a sinister, almost demonic character about them, while his colleagues on the guitars, bass and drums twitch and jerk as though threatening to fall off the hinges at any moment.

As intense as Justin Hate’s showing is though, it is marred by the sort of supporting act-temperance that you would expect. The mix has more depth to it than at BETA, which maximises the punch of the music, but the band lacks the wildly unpredictable edge that made them such a thrill to watch in a smaller venue. Judging by the intensity sort of fizzling out before it reaches the audience, perhaps the style of music, and especially Rock’s maddened antics, simply do not lend themselves to a bigger stage? As such, while Justin Hate does a good job at ruffling us awake in anticipation of the main act, it is not the same degree of shock and awe that the band manages to awaken in me tonight.

6

Max & Igor Cavalera

By the time the lights dim to announce the imminent arrival of the Cavalera brothers plus their trusty cohorts, guitarist Marc Rizzo and bassist Johny Chow, onto the stage, the energy of the audience in wait is tangible, prescient; you know s**t is about to go down. Quite right: as soon as the familiar first sounds of “Roots Bloody Roots” envelop the room after a zero-nonsense introduction, the front half of the floor transforms into a kind of tribal moshpit, with especially the Brazilian-looking members of the crowd seeming to have developed an entirely unique way to dance and mosh to the tune of old Sepultura. Plenty of patrons are very pumped indeed, and the enthusiasm seems to rub off on Rizzo as well — all smiles and passionate expression, this faithful liaison of Max Cavalera steals the show, leaving the aging frontman looking rather statuesque and… well, worn.

What is really interesting for a non-diehard fan such as myself though, is to notice how quickly the concert peaks in terms of the quality on offer. You cannot blame the Cavaleras of course, for playing “Roots” in the order in which it was originally conceived. But perhaps it is telling of the record’s overall impact that, in the wake of climactic renditions of “Attitude” and “Ratamahatta”, the setlist slowly begins to grind toward anonymity, with only a handful of exceptions. “Dusted” goes to show just how ideal Igor Cavalera’s Brazilian rhythms and tribal style of drumming for raising people off their feet, while at the opposite end of the spectrum, “Ambush” woos with its shamanic chants and ensuing ritualistic atmosphere. But around them, there is so much uninspiring dross à la “Born Stubborn” or “Endangered Species” that it belies the reverence in which so many people hold this album.

And while the peripheral musicians, Rizzo and Chow, look to be having a blast, rocking out, neither of the Cavalera brothers manages to form a real connection with their audience. What this means is that this ‘Return to Roots’ never feels like the family get-together it was touted to be — it does not feel as special as it should. Instead, there is the sense that, having played these same songs night in, night out, it is difficult for the Cavaleras to muster up the enthusiasm really live and breathe them. Which makes it all the stranger that they then also refuse to take advantage of the freedoms afforded by an encore and bust out a couple of tracks from 1989’s “Beneath the Remains”, 1991’s “Arise” or 1993’s “Chaos A.D.”. In their place are wishy-washy covers of Celtic Frost’s “Procreation (of the Wicked)” and Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” (really?, out of all the options, it had to be that one?), a confusing medley duet with a bit of “Polícia” mixed in, and “Roots Bloody Roots” played again, a little bit faster. To make matters even worse, the sound mix tonight is such a far cry from the vitriolic, dirty jungle-groove that Ross Robinson conjured on the record. It makes you want to bounce, yes, but not thrust a cane in the air like some Brazilian witch doctor tripping on Ayahuasca.

For a casual listener such as myself, disappointment thus hangs heavy over the towering expectations that I had for these proceedings. At the risk of getting lynched by the band’s disciples, I suspect that it is above all the dawning that “Roots” is actually a pretty insipid album that stands in the way of my being thoroughly entertained. A record with so few clear-cut ‘hits’ and so few genuine nuances seems to me to be unsuited for a live full-album performance, especially when the band in charge of it does nothing to make the show distinctive.

5

Setlist:

  • 01. Roots Bloody Roots
  • 02. Attitude
  • 03. Cut-Throat
  • 04. Ratamahatta
  • 05. Breed Apart
  • 06. Straighthate
  • 07. Spit
  • 08. Lookaway
  • 09. Dusted
  • 10. Born Stubborn
  • 11. Itsári
  • 12. Ambush
  • 13. Endangered Species
  • 14. Dictatorshit

— Encore —

  • 15. Procreation (of the Wicked) (Celtic Frost cover)
  • 16. (medley)
  • 17. Ace of Spades (Motörhead cover)
  • 18. Roots Bloody Roots (fast version)

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