For some reason, I seem to be the go-to reviewer for anything Sepultura-related here at AMG. This is a pretty unrewarding “honor,” given that the band has been releasing underwhelming albums for many years now (and don’t even get me started on Max Cavalera’s various projects). The band’s latest record Machine Messiah is their fourteenth overall, and marks their first collaboration with celebrated Swedish producer Jens Bogren (Opeth, Katatonia, Fates Warning).
Title track “Machine Messiah” opens the record with an almost trad-metal clean guitar intro, reminiscent of something Metallica or Testament would’ve done back in the day. This leads into some plodding groove riffery and, eventually, some baritone clean vocals from frontman Derrick Green. While not terrible, the song is pretty low-energy and sounds nothing like any iteration of Sepultura, making it an odd choice for an opener. This is quickly rectified by the speedy hardcore of “I Am The Enemy,” which sounds like one of the fast songs from Roots or Chaos A.D., but with a few blastbeats thrown in courtesy of recently-added drummer Eloy Casagrande.
Per usual, Sepultura grabs at seemingly random bits of other musical genres, like that claw machine down at the laundromat. The claw picks up power metal cheese on the instrumental “Iceberg Dances,” orchestral accompaniment on “Sworn Oath,” and off-timey Meshuggahisms on closer “Cyber God.” (Side note: the word “cyber” should be retired from use by any band that is not Fear Factory.) Green’s lyrics on “Phantom Self” about loss of identity are sadly appropriate, as he delivers them over Brazilian samba drumming and screechy synths. Granted, there are a couple of token “faster” tracks, “Silent Violence” and “Vandal’s Nest,” but it feels like the band’s collective heart isn’t in it. As always, Sepultura‘s forays into uncharted waters are brave, and sometimes yield interesting combinations of sounds, but the resulting album is anything but cohesive.
It is equal parts fascinating and frustrating to observe how faceless Sepultura has become in recent times. These guys can sound like a completely different band from record to record, depending on who’s producing it and what mood Andreas Kisser is in. In this case, Kisser delivers the most conservative, ’80s-metal performance of his career. I’m honestly impressed that he can shred to this extent, but the playing lacks the rough edges that are his calling card. Casagrande’s presence still feels odd too, despite this being his third album with the band. He’s a fantastic technical drummer, but when you’re replacing one of the most iconic percussionists in all of metal, fancy footwork alone is not going to cut it. Bogren’s mix is pretty heavy-handed as well, minimizing the band’s sonic signature in favor of his own. This results in 45 minutes of music that bears little resemblance to even Sepultura‘s last album, much less their early ’90s heyday.
While Sepultura‘s willingness to evolve is admirable, their evolution has mostly occurred via loss of band members and haphazard appropriation of other musical styles. Machine Messiah is certainly ambitious and even progressive at times, but the net result is still as unsatisfying as the band’s last few records. I still maintain that Derrick Green-era Sepultura has yet to top 2006’s Dante XXI, which took a similar route but had the riffs and songwriting to back it up. However, for those who are on board with the band’s recent output, Machine Messiah should provide at least a few worthwhile curiosities.