Alright, full Angry Metal Confession time: back in the day, I actually enjoyed the first Soulfly album. To my drug-addled brain, Max Cavalera and co. had created an interesting blend of exotic world music and utterly shitheaded nu-metal. “Eye For An Eye” and “Fire” still kick ass, and a lot of the record is unintentionally hilarious (sample lyric: “No bullshit/No slave ship/No muthafuckin’ Hootie and the Blowfish!“). Many years and countless lineup changes later, Cavalera remains the creative force behind a heavier, more self-conscious Soulfly. The band’s core sound remains intact — if anything, he’s learned to incorporate other styles as they came into fashion, be it throwback Sepultura-ish thrash (Dark Ages) or pseudo-death metal (Enslaved). This brings us to the current record, Savages, which is thrust into a world dominated by djent and deathcore, where Soulfly‘s foundation is seen as hopelessly outdated.
The songs themselves are decent enough. It’s clear that Max has been watching the deathcore movement — check out the super-downtuned chugs and slow-motion drumbeats on “Bloodshed,” for instance. “Cannibal Holocaust” manages to channel some Arise-era thrasher madness, while “Master of Savagery” and “Soulfliktion” approximate the Chaos AD style. “Spiral” somewhat recalls Soulfly’s earlier years, with a bouncy groove riff and some embarrassingly dated guitar effects. Oddly, the latin/world music element is all but absent, except for one guitar solo and some transitional bits.
I always get a good laugh out of the talent gap between Cavalera and guitarist Marc Rizzo. Imagine half a song written by a virtuoso guitar shredder, and the other half being written by a fucking caveman, because that’s pretty much what’s going on. But the real surprise on this album is the band’s new drummer — Max’s son Zyon Cavalera. He may not be the most technical player, but he puts on a hard-hitting, groove-laden performance that would make Uncle Igor proud. It’s a trip to think that the kid whose in-utero heartbeat opened “Refuse/Resist” is now full-grown and behind the kit — and the fact that he’s damn good is an added bonus [Now I feel really fucking old. — Steel Druhm].
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Soulfly record without eight thousand guest appearances. Napalm Death guitarist Mitch Harris contributes vocals to “K.C.S.” Neil Fallon of Clutch degrades himself on “Ayatollah of Rock ‘N Rolla,” an ill-fated attempt at Pantera-style southern metal. (It’s fucking terrible.) And in an extra-special moment, Max’s other son, Igor Cavalera Jr., performs a touching duet with dad on the track “Bloodshed.” Oddly, for as much as he’s associated with ’80s thrash, Max Cavalera seems to feel more of a bond with late-’90s rap/groove metal. Sure, he’s half-heartedly embraced more recent styles, and he’s paid a lot of lip service to the old school. But deep down, it seems like he wants to keep making stuff that sounds and feels like Roots, and the band’s current direction has one foot in the present and the other firmly planted in 1996.
I guess my main problem with Savages is that it’s kind of faceless. If not for Max’s endearingly thick accent, these songs could be mistaken for any early-’00s metal band from any suburban town. The album certainly has some high points, and hearing Rizzo shred is always a pleasure. But as Soulfly distance themselves from what makes them unbearably corny (“tribal” parts, stupid lyrics, nu-metal) they also lose a little of what made them distinctive. That said, Max can still bring the heavy shit when he wants to, so if that’s what you’re after, Savages may be worth checking out.