The name Sepultura carries a lot of baggage these days. A decade and a half after the band’s split with frontman Max Cavalera, the word is synonymous with wasted potential, increasingly questionable legitimacy, and diminishing musical returns. Every album is touted as a “comeback” or return-to-form of some kind, but never quite lives up to the hype, leading to renewed calls for the band’s end — or even worse, total indifference.
The latest chapter of this slow decline is called The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart (a reference to the 1927 movie Metropolis). Mediator is the band’s 7th post-Max LP, and the 3rd since his brother Igor vacated the drum throne. And this time, the sales pitch is that it re-teams Sepultura with Ross Robinson, producer of the bloated, trend-jumping Roots album back in 1996.
Opener “Trauma of War” shows promise, bursting out of the gate with a vicious Andreas Kisser thrash riff and spastic drumming from new member Eloy Casagrande. Even Derrick Green, one of the most generic vocalists in metal, manages to sound legitimately furious. Follow-up “The Vatican” follows suit, and after a choral intro, delivers an even more rapid-fire ass-kicking. So far, this is shaping up to be the most furious Sepultura record of recent memory, and I wonder: can these guys keep up the pace?
Sadly, that crunchy outer shell is swiftly undone by the soft, chewy center of faceless midtempo tracks. Some songs, like “Impending Doom” and “Bliss of Ignorants,” go absolutely nowhere, redeemed only by Andreas Kisser’s increasingly angular soloing. 7th track “Grief” finally breaks up the monotony with some clean guitars and (gasp!) some melodic vocals from Green. “Age Of The Atheist” incorporates hardcore beats with sections of washed-out, somewhat Killing Joke-ish guitar.
New drummer Casagrande strays pretty far from the Igor template — his performance here is full of technical flair, double-kick bursts, and even the occasional blast-beat. There’s no doubt that the dude can play, but his style is so drastically different that he distances the band even further from their own identity. Oh, and speaking of people who are good at drums, Mr. Dave fucking Lombardo stops by for a drum duet on “Obsessed,” which is probably the highlight of Casagrande’s entire life. The album ends with a cover of Chico Science‘s “Da Lama Ao Caos,” a funk-and-rap-infused embarrassment of a magnitude that’s usually reserved for Soulfly [Oh, that was cold, man. — Steel Druhm].
On the positive side, Mediator bears little resemblance to Roots, either in production or execution. The mix is crisp and clear (two things Robinson is not exactly famous for), and the music is fairly complex by Sepultura standards. If anything, it’s a close cousin to 2007’s Dante XXI, another latter-day Sep record that marginally succeeded by combining pseudo-thrash heaviness and heady subject matter. But Dante at least had some damn good songs, something which the band apparently forgot at home this time.
The bottom line is that modern-day Sepultura kinda sucks at writing interesting tunes and keeping listener attention throughout a full record. This is a fatal flaw that no amount of tribal drumming, experimental interludes, or guest appearances can remedy. Mediator contains a mere nine original songs, yet it still feels long and dragged-out. And all this hype about reuniting with Robinson, as though it’s somehow a good thing, is another symptom of the band’s misguided state of mind. Yes, Sepultura, your fans want you to reunite with a certain someone, but it ain’t the guy who produced Limp Bizkit. Figure it out already, or give it up.
One final thought: Between hearing Mediator and the latest Soulfly record, I can’t help but wonder where the patented Sepultura sound went. The current lineup doesn’t have it, and Soulfly sure as shit doesn’t have it. Even Max and Igor couldn’t recapture it on the Cavalera Conspiracy albums. Who or what made those old records sound like that, and what the hell happened to it?