There is a car parked in my neighborhood that has Sepultura, Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy stickers on the back window. I see it every day, and I can’t help but feel bad for whoever the owner is. Not just because he probably has a closet full of urban-camo shorts, but because he has been holding out on a lost cause. Sepultura has spent nearly 20 years producing terrible music, and don’t even get me started on Soulfly. Cavalera Conspiracy was supposed to fill the void somehow, but sadly, they seemed content to wallow in pedestrian 00’s-style metal, offering only the occasional flash of brilliance. Still, some fans hold out hope that reuniting estranged brothers Max and Igor Cavalera — arguably the architects of the Sepultura sound — would somehow rekindle the long-lost greatness of years past.
At least in theory, Pandemonium is that album. Nearly all the songs are thrashtastically fast, and references to post-Korn metal styles are thankfully kept to a minimum. The production is deliberately shitty and reverb-drenched, and Max Cavalera’s voice reaches guttural depths unheard since the early Sepultura days. Sounds promising, right?
Opener “Babylonian Pandemonium” kicks things off fast and furious, with a downtuned Arise-style riff and a chorus so buttheaded that only Max Cavalera could sing it with a straight face (hint: yell the word “Babylonian,” then “pandemonium,” repeat four times). “Banzai Kamikaze” is an even more blatant throwback, with genuine thrash riffs and Igor’s pounding drums. “I, Barbarian” is somewhat more punk rock, with shades of Nailbomb (side note: Max missed a golden opportunity to use “I, Barbarian” as the title of his autobiography).
New bassist Nate Newton (Converge/Doomriders) shares lead vocals with Max on “The Crucible,” which is buried towards the end of the album. Igor’s EDM and techno fascination crops up occasionally, mostly in between-song interludes, but most notably in the bulk of “Apex Predator.” The only other surprise is the flamenco-industrial closer “Porrao”, which feels out of place after an album’s worth of brutality, but would’ve been right at home on the last Soulfly album, which was oddly lacking in the Latin music department.
Despite his insane level of technical skill at guitar, Marc Rizzo’s presence is probably my biggest issue with this record. Everything he plays sounds like A) a video game, B) a guitar instructional VHS tape, or C) Soulfly. This record should have no room for any of those things. Given Max and Igor’s stated intent of being “raw,” “old-school,” “grindcore,” etc., finding someone who actually fit those qualities should’ve been their first priority. Morbid Visions would’ve sounded stupid with Joe Satriani on it, and likewise, this album calls for far uglier lead guitar than Rizzo can deliver.
Pandemonium‘s other issue is that it suffers from some extremely predictable songwriting. Almost all these tracks have the same structure. There’s a solo, then Max shouts the title of the song 4 times, then there’s a breakdown and another solo, etc. If they’d gone old school and done an 8-or-9 track album of this, they would have achieved maximum effectiveness, but as usual with Max-related projects, this album’s about 15-20 minutes too long. Also, I wish the production put Igor’s drums more up front. The man is a fucking force of nature, with one of the most distinctive styles in all of metal, and I want to hear more of that (and less of Rizzo).
Pandemonium is the third Sepultura-related album I’ve reviewed in the past year or so. AMG undoubtedly sent it my way in the hopes that I would mock it relentlessly, and I hate to let him down. But despite its flaws, this record is one of the better things that either Cavalera has done in a while, and I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. These guys may not be breaking new ground, or even expending a whole lot of effort, but they sound like they’re having fun being as heavy as possible, and that’s gotta count for something.