Don’t call it a comeback.
In Max Cavalera’s defense, he’s a busy man. Really busy. In the past five years alone, he’s released seven full-length albums from three different bands. Cavalera’s recent creative output is staggering in its sheer size and downright absurd when compared to other modern musicians. Thanks to the abundance of material from the hardest working man in metal, fans across the globe have had plenty to bang their heads to over the last few years.
Yet even with his flurry of recent releases, one couldn’t help but get the feeling that Cavalera was getting tired. The rapid fire succession of new music may have filled the reservoir, but it started to sound like the creative well was beginning to run dry. Beginning with 2012’s Enslaved, Max’s band Soulfly took a turn toward showcasing a more brutal, death metal inspired sound. Sure, the riffs were still there and Max’s signature growl was intact, but there was something missing from the album. By the time Soulfly’s last album, 2013’s Savages rolled around, it seemed to lack in any sort of direction, coming across as a collection of punishing metal songs but without any clear purpose.
Perhaps Max sensed that something was missing on the last few Soulfly albums as well. Maybe he just wanted to do something special for his bands tenth album. Whatever its origins are doesn’t really matter, because Archangel is Max’s strongest work in years and Soulfly’s best album since 2005’s Dark Days.
Archangel begins with the thrash anthem “We Sold Our Souls to Metal” which will serve as a rallying cry for metalheads for years to come, but it’s an outlier on an album that combines brutally heavy riffs of traditional metal with a sense of spirituality and mysticism that was Cavalera’s calling card in the early days of Soulfly. It’s a fun track no doubt, but not a good representation of what’s to come. Any hesitation that listeners may have had after hearing the opening track will be quelled immediately following the album’s title track which features a bludgeoning riff, breakneck shifts in tempo and enough Old Testament rage to make even the most skeptical of listeners a staunch believer.
This is exactly the point where the last few Soulfly albums went astray. There would be an incredible song that had all of hallmarks of a Cavalera classic, but it would be followed up with something entirely different, providing no continuity for the listener. That is simply not the case with Archangel with each song building on the last creating a cohesive, expansive and punishing metal album with each track. Case in point is the massive “Roots”-ish groove of “Sodomites” followed by the relentless march of “Ishtar Rising” which combine for a 1-2 punch that’ll level anything it their path.
Impeccable instrumentation is another factor that really propels Archangel into the upper echelon of Cavalera-helmed albums. As previously mentioned, Archangel is chock full of memorable guitar riffs which shouldn’t come as a surprise to longtime fans. Throughout his career, even stretching back to his thrash-based origins in early Sepultura, Max has always been able to whip up a hefty four-string frenzy and Archangel proves no different. Cavalera’s longtime lead guitarist Marc Rizzo also turns in a memorable performance throughout the album. Rizzo has long made the impossible look routine, case in point is the guitar lead on “Mother of Dragons” which stretches out for over a minute and is sure to have you hitting the repeat button to ensure you don’t miss a single note.
As stunning as Max and Marc’s work is for the duration of Archangel, the real star of the set is Max’s son Zyon who handles the drum duties for the record. Zyon ascended to the drum throne in his fathers band a few years back, a decision that seemed questionable at the time and while Zyon’s contributions to Savages were serviceable, they lacked in any real emotion behind the playing. But not this time around. Zyon’s technical proficiency and groove has grown exponentially between the two albums. His maniacal handling of the kit on songs like “Bethlehem’s Blood” will silence doubters of his ability and prove that Zyon is the rightful successor to the Soulfly drum throne.
There aren’t many bands out there that manage to release a handful of albums throughout their career. Even fewer is the number of bands that are able to release ten albums. If nothing else, Soulfly should be commended for that accomplishment alone. That Archangel is such an enjoyable album after nearly 20 years and a few missteps along the way is nothing short of a crowning achievement. With this album, Max and company sound refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to reclaim their position as kings of the circle pit.