Album Title: Machine Messiah
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 13 January 2017
I remember the days of being a fan of Sepultura just like it was 20 years ago. That’s because it was 20 years ago when last I would have referred to myself as anything approaching a fan of the Brazilian thrash metal band. And yet ‘Chaos AD’, ‘Arise’ and ‘Roots’ remain very important albums in my personal collection, dating back to a time when my obsession with heavy metal was still relatively new and fresh.
Since then, I don’t believe I have listened to any of the quartet’s releases, other than at a passing, cursory level. The reasons for this are quite simple. First of all, there was all that to-do with the Cavalera brothers. I mean, if I wanted to indulge in a soap opera, the TV is full of options. Flippancy aside, it meant that, for me, much of the magic started to disappear once the brothers’ relationship started to go down the pan. And with the magic, along went the quality of music as well. It’s hardly surprising but suddenly I just felt that the albums lost direction, lost heart and to these ears, were just mediocre, the sound of a band going through the motions.
So why have I chosen 2016 to return to Sepultura and pen a review of their new album, their fourteenth, entitled ‘Machine Messiah’? Again the answer is simple – it was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I value and trust. And when they used the words ‘prog’ in their reasoning, I felt I had to check it out.
I am genuinely glad I took the advice but on the whole, my opinion has not changed an awful lot if I’m entirely honest. ‘Machine Messiah’ is ok, but not much more than that as far as I’m concerned.
Sepultura 2016 is comprised of guitarist Andreas Kisser, vocalist Derrick Green, bassist Paulo Jr. and drummer Eloy Casagrande, with Kisser taking a lead role in the band he joined back in 1987. Together they have crafted an album that threatens much but actually delivers something that falls a little shy of its promise.
When I think of Sepultura, I must admit that I’m not thinking of a band that is overly sophisticated. They have some cool riffs, a strong attitude and they can groove with the best of them. But their output is not always littered with variation. From what little I’ve heard during the past 20 years, Kisser has tried to mix things up a touch in terms of a more progressive sheen but a prog band they are not. And neither should they have to be. That said, ‘Machine Messiah’ is most striking in terms of the variety that it offers within the ten songs on the record. This is certainly the most adventurous that I have ever heard Sepultura and kudos to the band for doing this.
The problem is though that the positives are undermined too easily by the negatives. The opening title track is a near six-minute composition that begins quietly before exploding with a slow, doom-esque riff and subtle vocals from Green. ‘Is this really Sepultura?’ I ask myself as I listen. The pace gently increases and the melodic aspect is actually quite strong, before the foot is once again taken off the pedal. It takes until the half-way point for Green’s more recognisable gruff delivery to make an appearance atop a dirty, groovy riff as the intensity grows, along with it a sense of anticipation and surprise on my part. I like this.
Unfortunately, this excitement is short-lived as ‘I Am The Enemy’ reverts to type with a frenetic two-minute punk-infused thrash workout. It’s alright but it doesn’t inspire me as much as the preceding track.
Those tribal and Latin influences for which Sepultura are known show up in several of the compositions alongside something altogether more Middle Eastern in tone. ‘Phantom Self’ is an example, with its ethnic melodies that flit in and around huge but largely average riffs. I’m not a fan of the guitar tones or the clumsy-sounding chorus either.
The opening organic drumming of ‘Alethea’ is rather nice, although the remainder of the track fails to live up to the extended intro in my opinion. ‘Iceberg Dances’ however, is a rather entertaining instrumental that toys with some interesting guitar effects and has a playful and experimental vibe to it, not to mention a very nice classical guitar section that raises an eyebrow in appreciation.
‘Sworn Oath’ is also an interesting composition. It begins with the sounds of a thunderstorm accompanied by a heavy, slow beat and a menacing lead guitar line. The riffs here are full of groove and the filmic, Middle Eastern flavour comes through in what is arguably the most satisfying and ambitious track on the record.
But again it is a momentary blip as the standard fare of attitude-laden thrash metal returns elsewhere. And in tracks like ‘Resistant Parasites’, I can’t be the only one who can hear the similarities between Green and Machine Head’s Robb Flynn, right down to the vocal effects that are employed, can I?
Sadly, I must report that Sepultura still remain a bit of a miss with me. ‘Machine Messiah’ has its moments where I am genuinely impressed but the overriding feeling I get from it is a band that aren’t entirely sure about their approach or what exactly they are trying to achieve. As a result, it is a bit of an unfocused and frustrating listen. I don’t love it but I don’t hate it either. And at least it made me listen to a Sepultura album again, so it can’t be all bad, can it?
The Score Of Much Metal: 7
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here: