Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Album Review: Soulfly - "Archangel"

Max Cavalera is a tireless creator who never seems content to rest on his laurels.  Amidst writing music for World Cup coverage, touring in support of Soulfly’s last album “Savages” and finding time to release a third Cavalera Conspiracy record last fall, Max somehow found a few minutes to put together more Soulfly material for this new album “Archangel,” the band’s tenth studio album and fourth in the last five years.

“Archangel” makes the most of limited runtime, being the band’s shortest record to date at a fast thirty-six minutes.  Where some might conceive that this means the band is cutting corners or taking the lazy road out, the opposite is true – there was careful consideration and meticulous planning for the music of “Archangel,” which is evident from the album’s opening salvo.  Much of the fat has been cut out, turning this new record into a virile, unconstrained fighting machine that is brutal both in its timbre and in its strength-to-strength execution.

Cavalera’s musical mission over the course of his winding career, now fully engaged in its fourth decade, has been to sonically punch everyone in the mouth, and “Archangel” is no different from his other projects in that regard.  Sure, the band has tuned back many of the flairs and frills that caused confusion as to Soulfly’s true genre (as though that mattered in the first place,) but the solid grooves of “Archangel” carry more visceral weight than the noisiest or fastest guitar lick from another band,

It’s a family affair for Soulfy now more than ever, with not only Zyon Cavalera on drums, but now Igor Jr joins, taking the place of Tony Campos on bass (who, for those who missed it, is now part of Fear Factory.)  All metal aside, the recent trend in bands incorporating multiple generations of the same family into one act is kinda weird but strangely heartwarming – I’m not a father myself, but I imagine there’s a lot of pride in having a son or daughter who wants to be their parents, and the opportunity to have them be part of the same project is likely once in a lifetime.

For all its back-to-basics premise, “Archangel” is actually a relatively dense production, trading frequently in ‘big’ moments.  Naturally, the album opens with the boiling iron cauldron of “We Sold Our Souls to Metal,” but the chain-rustling and brain-busting of that lead track seems to get out of the way pretty quickly, in favor of the higher-concept title track.  “Archangel,” as a single isn’t rewriting the rules of groove, nor does it need to, but the cut is comprised of layers of metal discipline that seem, on face anyway, to be carefully plotted, like a sailing ship navigating a dark path by astrolabe and compass.  Continuing the metaphor, the song undulates with groove like the cycling waves of a churning sea, each measured crescendo fading into the next.

The record’s slow-motion crush continues on into “Sodomites,” but if the listener is only paying attention to the surface rhythms, the diverse and academically interesting undercurrent will be missed entirely, which is to the listener’s detriment.  What’s tucked away in the background of “Archangel” but should not be lost under any circumstances, is the familiar but novel guitar tone concocted by Marc Rizzo.  The color of his work for this album is warm but edgy, calling to mind a combination of the heady classic rock days of fuzzy analog and the crispy, broken-glass crunch of early thrash.

The drawback with “Archangel” is that there are some nice guest appearances (Matt Young of King Parrot is particularly good) and a couple different looks that add a little depth, but by and large, the songs on the album have a hard time separating themselves from one another.  Apart from the cuts mentioned above, the songs on this record blend together only too well; even after repeated listens a lot of the meat remains anonymous.  That doesn’t necessarily condemn “Archangel” to the bottom of the bin or anything, as even the album’s lesser cuts are a significantly more palatable listen than much of the similar material out there from other bands, but it does signify that this record may have finite value.

“Archangel” represents another solid entry into the greater Soulfly catalogue.  It’s got some new flairs and a larger presentation within its runtime which are both nice touches, but still maintains the standard that Soulfly fans have come to expect.  A little more variety might have added some spice, but as it is the album is a perfectly worthwhile listen.

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