Suffice it to say, SOULFLY is hardly the same band it started out being. Over the course of its existence as Max Cavalera’s primary base of operations, we’ve seen SOULFLY drift from a post-SEPULTURA, “Roots” minded style of groove metal with tribal percussion and occasional hip hop that no longer applies. SOULFLY became more about dark thrash, sometimes flirting with death metal. Of course, Max has had more than his share of adversity in life, and a man creating already aggressive music will reflect accordingly in his work.
Still, we love Max Cavalera as the metal shaman he is and all-around nice guy to meet in person. Whenever he shows up with product, these days in SOULFLY and CAVALERA CONSPIRACY, we’re wont to pay attention. Bassist Tony Campos departs SOULFLY for FEAR FACTORY on the heels of the former’s tenth album, “Archangel”, an album finding Max changing things up again while retaining his primary thrasher’s identity. This time, he consults the scriptures for a quasi-concept, and he dresses up “Archangel” with cataclysm-heralding choral outpourings. Between these intended mini-epics come, well…
“We Sold Our Souls to Metal” opens as a whimsical thrasher with a determined hook. While it barely has a connection to Max’s biblical overtures on “Archangel”, it’s designed to suck the listener in with a grabbing chorus that will no doubt be shoved at live gigs. Contrasted against the songs that supersede it, however, “We Sold Our Souls to Metal” rings like a pretty kickass B-side instead of a leadoff song.
The title track is one of the more detailed songs Cavalera has engineered over the past handful of SOULFLY albums. Mingling thrash and death metal grooves, there’s a lot more going on here with random digital rhythms, coldwave and planted choral sweeps producing a bit more elegance than we’ve seen within SOULFLY in a while. Any intended grace from “Archangel”, however, is immediately smothered by Max’s ugly spewing on “Sodomites”. More choral plants manifest amidst the nasty riffs and Max’s nastier vocals. Max goes to a truly terrifying place to pull the demonic ralphs he forces into the song like, you know, overt sodomy, since hollering at his side on this track is Todd Jones from NAILS. While lumbering on the verses, expect “Sodomites” to rocket off.
“Ishtar Rising” likewise hangs in a mid-tempo pocket until the abrupt “Live Life Hard!” picks up the pace for most of its duration and features an F-bomb-laden vocal cameo from KING PARROT’s Matt Young. The song is dumped in the midst of Max Cavalera’s metallic theology that’s picked back up by “Shamash” and “Jerusalem’s Blood”. Once more, choral embellishments arrive within “Shamash”’s dirge march and once more does it jettison away. “Jerusalem’s Blood”, which outlines Passover in metal form, is the exact opposite, raging out with a thrash blast, then pulling back at the edge of a trumpet’s horn.
Marc Rizzo being one the best (and least recognized) guitarists on the metal scene, it’s the decision to have him devote more attention to coatings, accents and pummeling riffs versus his trusted spectacular soloing through the first half of “Archangel” that’s bewildering. Even Rizzo’s solo on “Live Life Hard!” takes a back seat to his own and Tony Campos‘ shredding. His decorative fret wizardry on the breaks for “Shamash” are great, as are his solos, the first being checked down and the second going full-frontal. Rizzo’s smoker solos come on “Jerusalem’s Blood”, “Deceiver” and “Titans”. He’s a dizzying mofo on “Deceiver”. Still, there’s less Rizzo razzle-dazzle until the second half and that hurts “Archangel” a smidge.
To its credit, “Archangel” is a much more compact SOULFLY album than Max Cavalera’s assembled in latter years. It’s over within thirty-five minutes and that’s to the good. “Archangel” has a lot of fire and brimstone smoldering beneath its Old Testament narratives, as it has a grander vision than the past few SOULFLY albums. Instead of stuffing “Archangel” with thrasher after thrasher (a mode perfectly suited to Max’s son, Zyon, who’s been tearing it up through two albums now), there’s more thought to production and songwriting. Max’s other sons Igor and Richie check in with gang shouts on “Mother of Dragons”, and you have to figure there was an extra proud papa in the recording studio for this one.
“Archangel” is the most daring and freshest album SOULFLY’s come up with since “Prophecy”, but there’s something slightly remiss and somewhat disjointed in this leaner yet embroidered shift toward yet another new order in this band. Somehow, it all seemed simpler and more vivacious with “Bumba” bringing the drums, bringing the roots, bringing the freedom and bringing the sound of thunder.