Unfathomable as it may seem, Max Cavalera has now been in Soulfly longer than he was in Sepultura. Although his musical output in his dozen years in Sepultura absolutely dwarfs that of Soulfly, you have to give the musician credit for not resting on his laurels. It’s been a fairly inconsistent seven album run for Soulfly, ranging from the ambitious (1998’s Soulfly, 2000’s Primitive), raging (2004’s Prophecy), murky (2005’s Dark Ages), and formulaic (2008’s Conquer), but what Cavalera lacks in creative inspiration is at the very least made up for it by a resilience that his fans continue to admire. Predictable as his shtick might be these days, his music is nothing if not spirited. However, it wasn’t until he formed the supergroup Cavalera Conspiracy that longtime Sepultura fans got a glimpse of the Cavalera of old as he, his brother (and former Sepultura drummer) Igor, and Soulfly guitarist Mark Rizzo went back to the bruising post-thrash sounds of early ‘90s fave Chaos A.D. and came out with a shockingly good record. It was so good, in fact, that it completely overshadowed Soulfly’s own Conquer, which came out four months later.
Sure, we all know Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy are supposed to be two completely different entities, but it’s impossible to not wonder how Cavalera and Rizzo could sound so inspired on one record and so tepid on another. Soulfly’s seventh album Omen boldly seeks to capture the magic that Cavalera Conspiracy harnessed, and at the very least, we can give the guys credit for trying. The question of whether this is a successful effort or not, though, is a different story entirely.
Clocking in at a tidy 40 minutes, Omen is trimmed of a lot of the bloat that has plagued past Soulfly records, and indeed there are some very strong moments. Featuring guest vocalist Greg Puciato of the Dillinger Escape Plan, “Rise of the Fallen” is an immediate standout. Featuring a slinky ascending hammer-on lick by the talented Rizzo, the track takes Soulfly’s trademark blend of world music (in this case, a sitar break) and solid mainstream metal and tosses in progressive-minded touches that echo Dillinger, and bolstered greatly by Puciato’s charismatic presence, the song turns out to be surprisingly contagious. “Great Depression” is an all-out thrasher that shifts from breakneck verses to a wicked mosh-inducing chorus that includes a well-timed string bend reminiscent of Celtic Frost. Prong frontman Tommy Victor lends a helping hand on “Lethal Injection”, and the tune’s mechanical riff is not unlike his band’s Beg to Differ album, only with Rizzo adding lithe melodic touches throughout. The chugging “Kingdom” boasts a galloping riff that feels inspired by Swedish greats Amon Amarth, while the wonderfully dynamic “Counter Sabotage” brings the album to a ferocious climax.
Frustratingly, Omen is still plagued by lapses that would be inexcusable from a young artist, let alone a prominent metal veteran. Not only is “Bloodbath and Beyond” a two-and-a-half-minute burst of d-beat punk that clashes with the rest of the album, but it swipes its title from GWAR’s DVD of the same name, completely failing to see the title’s tongue in cheek humor in the process. It’s one thing to write a song based on a serial killer’s exploits, but to actually name a track “Jeffrey Dahmer” and use the name as part of a shout-along chorus is tacky (paling in comparison to Slayer’s great, similarly themed sing “213”). The traditional closing instrumental “Soulfly VII” sounds as bland as a soft Joe Satriani song, and “Vulture Culture”, meanwhile, is just plain silly for obvious reasons.
There’s a fair bit of material to like here. Cavalera sounds more focused than usual, his lyrics are more angry than spiritual, the band leans more towards thrash than nu-metal, and the production keeps things rather simple, clean and loud as all mainstream metal, but always emphasizing the physicality of the rhythm riffing. Still, Omen remains a near miss thanks to those inevitable brain cramps that have plagued practically every Soulfly album for the past eight years. Hopefully the forthcoming second album by Cavalera Conspiracy will once again establish Max Cavalera as a relevant metal artist once again, because try as he might, Soulfly just isn’t getting it done consistently enough.
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