With one foot firmly planted in their roots, and one stepping ahead to the future, Sepultura have concocted their most challenging release in years.
Before getting into the meat of this review I feel compelled to establish two things:
- Every Sepultura album since the departure of Max Cavalera has always been compared and scrutinized with every album the band previously released up until 1996’s Roots. This always seemed somewhat harsh on current frontman Derrick Green, who has been in the band far longer (19 years now) and has been on hand for far more albums than the Cavalera brothers- at this point now its just not worth going to great lengths to make comparisons.
- As a pimply faced juvenile that was born after Roots, and only really discovered Sepultura in 2011/2012, I’ve never felt overly attached to the band. Having never experienced the supposed “golden age” of the band, its hard for me to get excited about something that I’ve never seen or was in the moment for, and so the whole Max versus Derrick argument feels irrelevant on a personal level.
On that basis its worth stating that none of this review can be taken from a pro-Max or pro-Derrick perspective: after all, it’s the music that ultimately matters.
With that being said, Machine Messiah is still a difficult listen.
The problem is that Sepultura have opted to throw in plenty of different musical styles and influences atop their thrash/groove metal template that has served them for the best part of two decades. The result is a collection of songs that are at times eclectic, briefly brilliant, yet ultimately unsatisfying. Take for example lead single “Phantom Self”, which opens with Eastern strings and a beefy breakdown riff as the verse, before developing into a dark and epic chorus- a combination that is refreshing at first, but is quickly undone by the song’s long running time and indulgent instrumental section. Similarly the title track that opens the album envelops the listener in a dark, yet progressive, atmosphere that recalls Gojira at their most pensive- but the track lasts over 5 minutes and soon feels directionless. Unfortunately in their effort to explore a wealth of ideas the band becomes crushed under the weight of their ambition.
This bold ambition also results in some songs feeling completely out-of-place. Album closer “Ultraseven No Uta” is a thrashy skate punk number with heaps of upbeat sung melodies that is completely at odds with the dark, sinister music that preceded it. It comes across like Children Of Bodom’s cover of “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” by Creedence Clearwater Revival- fun but too cheesy for its own good. However, the worst culprit is “Iceberg Dances”, an instrumental track that throws together flamenco guitars and a Hammond organ to channel a 70s prog band vibe- a sound that just does not work within the context of Sepultura.
When the band opts to pare things back a bit do they find a suitable middle ground. “Sworn Oath” and “Resistance Parasites” marries the band’s guttural death metal riffing with black metal darkness to create sinister and foreboding atmospheres, whilst there are definite Meshuggah-isms (with varying degrees of success) on “Alethea” and “Cyber God”. Straightforward songs such as the political thrash of “I Am The Enemy”, the twisting groove of “Silent Violence” and the mid-tempo stomp of “Vandal’s Nest” show that the band haven’t lost sight of their rhythmic sensibilities. Even though these songs may not be especially original or memorable, they prove far more effective than the band’s more confusing efforts.
Whilst Sepultura should be commended for still trying to explore new territory and retaining a crushingly heavy sound (particularly for a band that has been around for such a long time), it would be fair to say that the balance between the two needs to addressed. Keeping the brutal guitars and drummer Eloy Casagrande’s frenetic drum work is integral for the Sepultura sound, but there still needs to be room for exploring styles and textures. That being said, such experimentation needs to be carefully tailored and considered to a format that is neither excessive nor insufficient. Not an easy task, but one you would hope that a band that is over 30 years into their career would have a grasp of by now.
On another note, the artwork for Machine Messiah is one of the worst I’ve seen- keep it simple and easy on the eye next time.
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