Over the past six years, Max Cavalera’s post-Sepultura project Soulfly has been a challenge to devoted fans of his old band. After his very acrimonious split with Sepultura, Cavalera headed off on his own, eager to take the metal-goes-tribal sound of the classic 1996 album Roots even deeper into the realm of world music. If there was one guy who could pull it off, it was the talented and ambitious Cavalera, but despite putting out three fairly good albums, they were sloppy pieces of work, as he tended to go a bit overboard from time to time, catching listeners’ attention with some terrific, brutally heavy songs, and then leaving them bewildered with odd guest appearances and surprisingly mellow musical interludes. It’s the classic case of an ambitious artist not having anyone around to tell them that they’re not far from going off the deep end. With the band’s constantly rotating lineup, one could imagine Cavalera ultimately winding up like Klaus Kinski at the end of Aguirre: The Wrath of God, with no one left to boss around but a bunch of monkeys. With a little self-control, Soulfly could accomplish great things, but as every album has come around, the probability of such a thing happening has seemed less and less likely.
Which makes it all the more shocking when you hear the title track from Soulfly’s new album, Prophecy. After a screeching guitar intro, the song explodes out of the gate, with a truly bestial guitar riff, and layered drums and percussion pounding away. Even better is Cavalera’s voice, which has never sounded better on a Soulfly record, as he howls away, full of piss and vinegar: “I see the Red Sea part in front of me/ I see the desert clouds bleed above me/ I’m with the prophets on the final destiny/ We’ll fight the heathens and the ghost enemy!” It is a glorious return to form, as Cavalera revisits the relentless sounds of Sepultura’s 1993 album Chaos A.D., and is sure to give older fans goosebumps. This is the Max we all know and love, and this album’s opening three minutes is enough to make you forgive his more self-indulgent moments.
So the question that remains is, can he control himself for an entire album? The answer? Yes, and no. It’s the first half of Prophecy that provides the most instantly-gratifying thrills, the first six tracks delivering a searing attack of Soulfly at their best. “The Living Sacrifice” cruises along at a ferocious pace, following the opening track’s lead, as the meditative last three minutes delivers that trademark blend of tuned-down chords and Brazilian percussion we’ve come to expect. “Execution Style”, with its yell-along chorus of, “READY! AIM! FI-YAH!”, and the propulsive “Defeat U” both offer up some great, raw, no-frills metal. “Mars” actually echoes Sepultura’s classic cover of Motorhead’s “Orgasmatron” with its chorus of, “I am Mars/ The god of war,” but breaks midway through into an extended flamenco guitar solo by former Ill Nino guitarist Mark Rizzo, and a couple minutes later, into a strange little reggae break. Max is pushing it here, but luckily, the song somehow manages to keep from imploding. “I Believe” is Cavalera’s most personal profession of his faith yet, as the song brilliantly alternates from insanely heavy to contemplative and melodic in the blink of an eye.
Sadly, the second half of the album puts a serious damper on the fun, staring off with the inexplicable “Moses”, Cavalera’s most befuddling musical experiment to date. An awkward, surreal excursion into dub reggae, it’s absolutely unbearable, as it alternates from horn-driven reggae to metal, a far cry from the seamless, alternating moods of “I Believe”. After batting 1.000 for the first 22 minutes, this seven minute abomination is enough to frustrate even the most discerning listener. Meanwhile, the bland “Born Again Antichrist” and the faithful cover of Helmet’s “In the Meantime”, sound like little more than filler, material that is best suited to B-side status. Thankfully, the album comes to a more dignified conclusion, with the insane hardcore thrash of “Porrada” (with another superb flamenco intro by Rizzo), the beautiful “Soulfly IV”, Cavalera’s latest venture into chill-out music, and the gorgeous “Wings”, featuring perennial Soulfly guest chanteuse Asha Rabouin.
So close! Cavalera came so close to putting out a great album, but instead, we have to settle for yet another merely good Soulfly CD. Granted, it’s the best Soulfly album yet; excellently mixed by Terry Date, and featuring former Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson on three tracks (including the spectacular title track), Prophecy is not as crazed as 2000’s Primitive, and despite the presence of “Moses” (what in heaven’s name was Max thinking?), it’s not as self-indulgent as 2002’s 3. The good far, far outweighs the bad on this album, so it’s worth a recommendation, but like every other Soulfly album, with a caveat attached to it. Still a bit inconsistent, but for about half an hour, though, the magic is indeed back.