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Friday, March 9, 2012

Album Review: Soulfly – Enslaved

is Max Cavalera’s teddy bear. It’s clear he not-so-secretly wants it back and he’s going to bloody stomp around until he gets it.

Ever since he joined forces with drumming brother Igor and guitarist Marc Rizzo to form in 2007, his songwriting has regressed – power is in, style is out. He appears to be dragging both bands back through time in an effort to recreate his best work with . ’s latest album, Blunt Force Trauma, drew multiple comparisons with both ’s Chaos A.D. and Arise and, now, new drummer David Kinkade (, ) has happily described this eighth album as “Arise on crack”. Of course, many might find this quote thrilling (obviously Kinkade’s intention), but I’m afraid it’s activated my hypersensitive cynicism chip. Let’s face it, the differences between Max Cavalera’s projects have never been exactly numerous, but it starts getting ridiculous when his own band finds it easier to identify their new album with a whole other band’s back catalogue.

A legend Max may be, but his vocal delivery and songwriting is becoming just too formulaic and indicative for his bands not to all sound like one another. It’s all aggressive delivery, blast-beats and gang-chanted inflammatory words; words like, I don’t know, “Intervention” (from Enslaved), “Dictatorshit” (from Roots) or “Thrasher” (from Blunt Force Trauma). Three songs, three different bands, one style of writing. Of course, all this pontificating would count for shit if this album rocked like a bastard. So does it?

Well, the hellfire that is unleashed from the beginning certainly shows they mean business. Crawling panic gives way to hints of black Viking metal in the startlingly effective introductory piece, “Resistance”. Then “World Scum”, featuring the demonic bellowing of Travis Ryan (), attacks the subject of the atrocities performed by mankind with Max’s usual brand of directly astringent lyricism in effect – “Hiroshima, Nagasaki, brutality”. Along the same lines, “Redemption Of Man By God”, featuring the vocal of ’s Dez Fafara is even feistier.

Kinkade and new bassist Tony Campos () pretty much set fire to everything they touch which, if you’re a fan of battering thrash, should get those pits spinning nicely. Sadly though, the hellishly quick tempo too often results in over-simplification, and doesn’t allow space for much of that famous tribal influence to kick in. Punch is in, refinement is out. In fact, unless you merely want brawn and no brain, it’s easy for boredom to slip in having heard this all before so many, many times.

In the past, have always been the most likely to seek adventure but there’s only mere hints of that here in the tailored sound effects (rattling metal during “Chains”, gunfire and marching during “Legions”), Rizzo’s guitar solos (even these have shrunk from their former glory) and, most notably, for the track “Plata O Plomo” – a Hispanic version of ’s “Warlord” with tassels on. It all serves as a makeweight for the missing instrumental “ VIII” whose obligatory excellence only features on the album’s Special Edition. The small section of Spanish guitar is exactly the reason why, in the past, I have preferred over Max’s other bands who simply walked along the path of least resistance – moulding hardcore and thrash into an oversimplified, twisted death metal shape.

Of course there are both high and low points. The fighting duo of “Gladiator” and “Legions” are a microcosm of the album’s successes and its failings. The former has a solid crack at grasping the theme of slavery, breaking the pace, shifting rhythms to inject much-needed structural complexity and diversity, whilst the latter rips it and grips it only to thrash itself up into a repetitious, cyclical frenzy.

In automotive terms, this is like hearing the band forget they are driving a vehicle with a manual gearbox. They are ignoring the stick-shift and simply pumping their foot on the gas, making the engine whine like a wounded animal. When they do crunch through the gears, some of the decisions taken are head-scratchingly odd – why “American Steel” tries a limp, warbling, psychedelic guitar effect after running into a brick wall is beyond me. It’s completely at odds with what’s gone before it.

If you’re looking for a reason why Enslaved is a step backwards for though, try “Revengeance” on for size. It’s a bit of a personal vehicle for Max and his family, featuring all three of Max’s sons, and is a tribute to his other son who died in a car accident back in 1996. It doesn’t feel much like a part of this album; a vitriolic stand-alone with several clashing vocal styles. With little personal quirks featuring throughout, it’s hard to know quite how to react to it.

The main trouble with creating these heavier, less risky albums is that they are slowly making themselves redundant and, as a by-product, potentially putting fans out of pocket. We’re beginning to ask ourselves, “Why should I buy the new when I can buy the new and get more-or-less the same album?” Let’s face it, you’d always pick the one with Igor in, right? It wouldn’t be so much of a problem if continued to pump out stone-wall classics but following the lapses in quality displayed by both Conquer and Omen, the band really had to nail this one… and they haven’t. Plain and simple. So, Andreas Kisser, please give Max his teddy back; it might just save his .

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/soulfly-enslaved
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