Max Cavalera has certainly kept himself busy over the past couple of years. The man has been releasing at least one album per year since 2008, and since September 2013 has released 4 albums, including “Savages”, Cavalera Conspiracy’s “Pandemonium”, Killer Be Killed’s long awaited debut and now “Archangel”, an album that takes the patented post-thrash Soulfly sound to biblical territory.
While the overriding themes of this album are around Abrahamic religion and mythology, the album opens up with an oddity of a first track, “We Sold Our Souls to Metal”. Generally, if you’re not a NWOBHM band or Manowar, lyrics directly addressing heavy metal music and the accompanying lifestyle are derided by fans as somewhat contrived and cheesey, and unfortunately this song is no exception. The music is fierce and fast but the lyrics are just awful. Thankfully, the following tracks pick up as we truly start to approach the main themes of this album. The title track, “Archangel”, is a real behemoth of a track (and not just because it sounds like a certain Polish band) and Todd Jones’ guest spot in “Sodomites” is a strong addition to a heavy as balls track. When we reach “Titans” Soulfly show what they’re capable of when in full flow and all musicians are on top of their game. The group employs use of orchestral music and choir-like singing in the background, in keeping with the biblical themes, to give these songs more depth and atmosphere, and Max even attempts high shrieks at times, with somewhat mixed results.
A lot of talk has been with regards to how short this album is relative to Max Cavalera’s normal output, with this album clocking at just over 36 minutes. This has led to fears that the creative well is starting to run dry and there are moments, like the previously mentioned “We Sold Our Souls to Metal” and “Live Life Hard!” (featuring rapid fire vocals from King Parrot’s Matt Young that almost sound like something Maximum the Hormone would do), where Max does seem to be short of lyrical ideas and may need a break before the next project he involves himself in.
However, the rest of the album is full of life and energy that previous effort, “Savages”, lacked. The band picked up the pace for this album and Zyon Cavalera’s drumming has improved tenfold over the past year or so, with blastbeats, time changes and tight grooves starting to show themselves and give us a look into how far Zyon can still go as a drummer. Notably there is no lead vocal spot for Tony Campos on this album, who left shortly after the recording sessions had finished to join Fear Factory, but this is not a major loss and his bass contributions on this album more than do their job. The presence of bass in the production is much appreciated in this album, as most death metal albums tend to neglect this instrument in their final mixes.
There are times on this album where the music sort of plods along and loses its energy, such as around the second half of the album and track “Bethlehem’s Blood”, which in some parts feels awkward in its transitions from mid-paced grooves to aggressive thrashing, with acoustic moments thrown in. Max has worked hard to make sure the tracks are varied in their pacing and challenges the band to keep up, but if the transitions into each passage feel forced, the effect becomes somewhat jarring instead of clever.
Overall, however, fears of Max running out of steam should be put to bed, for now at least. A couple of misfires aside, Soulfly have put out a very competent release so soon after their last effort, and when they’re in their element, it’s hard to beat them in the groove metal genre. This album is not quite “Dark Ages”, but it definitely ranks as one of Soulfly’s better records in recent memory. I would recommend that Max take some time out of the studio before writing anymore albums, though, else we get subjected to any more lyrical masterpieces like “We Sold Our Souls to Metal” any time soon.
Soulfly’s Archangel is released on the 14th of August through Nuclear Blast Records.