SOULFLY, Savages (2013, Nuclear Blast)

The skull:
I’ll tell you what’s savage: this guy’s dental regimen, am I right? He should have spent a little less time with a tattoo needle, and a little more time with a brush and some floss. But I guess when you’re decked out as fabulously as this guy is, with a black feather fright wig and a massive collar necklace (is this skull a drag queen?) then maybe you can get by with half a mouth of choppers. Probably they all get covered up with a jewel encrusted grill before he goes out anywhere.

The music:
It’s kind of weird to think that Max Cavalera made good music for only about six years, and that’s generously including his formative years in Sepultura. Since Roots he’s basically made nothing but shit (although that first Cavalera Conspiracy album was okay), and while I haven’t been following Soulfly closely over the years, I’ve seen them a couple times and heard enough of their music to give them a wide berth. So when I first saw this cover, I thought, “Of fucking COURSE Soulfly would do a BDS!” and I licked my chops at the prospect of tearing Max a new one. But then something funny happened. I listened to the album, and I… I didn’t hate it. It feels dirty to even admit that. I listened to a Soulfly album and it wasn’t complete shit. I mean, it’s not awesome. It’s not the second coming of Arise. It’s probably not even as good, overall, as Chaos A.D., which I consider to be a fairly rotten album. But, it has a certain swagger, and while, for sure, it’s still got its fair share of idiotic breakdowns and thumpy nu metal grooves, it’s also got a lot of genuinely cool riffs. Max, for a change, sounds like his old self, not some bloated, dreaded, knapsacked caricature, and the production is heavy. The first two songs, especially the second, “Cannibal Holocaust” are rock solid, and while the third starts to reintroduce the breakdowns and 90s-style harmonic riffs, it’s not until the fourth track (featuring the dude from Clutch) that this becomes obviously Soulfly and not some mythical not-awful Max band. Track five, “Master of Savagery” pulls out of the nosedive a bit before the next number goes all in on the numetal Soulfly stupidity I was expecting all along. That song, “Spiral,” is every bit as bad as I know, deep-down, Soulfly to be. But then the album rebounds a bit with “This Is Violence,” which would rank pretty high in the Machine Head ouvre, before taking another bad turn with a tune that brings in Mitch Harris from Napalm Death, and another featuring the bassist from Static X (worst guest spot ever?) The last tune, the atrociously titled “Soulfliktion” dares to echo the memorable “who”s of “Beneath the Remains”, but isn’t a completely rotten tune on its own terms. To say this is the best Soulfly album is certainly no great compliment, and the middle is an unpleasant slog, but I would never have imagined when I first hit play that I’d have made it to the end at all. I won’t be buying this, so it’s not like Max has won me back, but for the first time in a long time, I guess I’m willing to consider the possibility that the old dog might still hunt.
— Friar Johnsen

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