Soulfly has been Max Cavalera’s bully pulpit for 15 years now, and with very few exceptions, he hasn’t wasted it. Undoubtedly, Soulfly has been one of the most active and consistent metal bands in the world since 2004’s Prophecy, touring constantly and releasing a new album seamlessly when the time was right. Sure, Max did set aside time for his Cavalera Conspiracy project when he needed to, but Soulfly has been and continues to be his main focus. And while his old band Sepultura maintains only a shadow of its former significance in the worldwide metal scene, Max has shown the world what could have been if his fateful split with the group hadn’t occurred in 1996. Enslaved is the latest example of Soulfly’s dominance, delivering the music that fans want while also sending a not-so-subtle message to the band’s critics.
If you’ve listened to Soulfly’s last few records, then you should know what to expect on Enslaved — thick, pounding groove-riffs blending with searing thrash, mixing in tribal elements, well-placed effects, and dark synth parts occasionally. It’s Max’s trademark sound and composition style, responsible for Sepultura’s rise to fame in the ’90s and for Soulfly’s ironclad reputation today. Ironically, this trademark sound led to criticism of 2010’s Omen, as many wondered if Max was becoming too formulaic for their own good. However, Max has stayed the course on Enslaved, and it was the right decision. Soulfly fans want and need the inimitable Max Cavalera style for a record to work. The lack of that style for much of 2000’s Primitive is why that album remains the sole blot on Soulfly’s record, and Max is unlikely to repeat such a mistake ever again. Furthermore, it makes no sense for Max to even consider changing his style with Soulfly, considering how many veteran metal groups have been verbally annihilated by critics after making a significant style change late in their careers. For Soulfly, the recipe for success remains the same as ever.
The few variations on Max’s signature sound within Enslaved are remarkable in both their execution and their perfect placement. After the introduction, “Resistance”, true album opener “World Scum” brings Max back to the death metal roots of Sepultura, as brutal drums punch back at heaving, meaty guitar chords. Guest vocals from Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation make the death metal atmosphere even more engrossing, and the complete package will dredge up memories of Sepultura’s legendary Beneath the Remains demo in fans that have followed Max’s entire career. A similar death metal section occurs in the closing of “American Steel”, contrasting starkly with the clean, almost sanitized opening of “Redemption of Man by God”, which in turn creates a perfect foil for the rest of the latter song. Once again helped by a guest vocalist, this time Dez Fafara of DevilDriver, Max goes into a full force thrash attack that is unlike anything heard on any recent Soulfly albums, abruptly changing to an atmospheric passage peppered with effects that closes out the song. “Redemption of Man by God” may be one of the best Soulfly songs that Max has ever written because of how unexpectedly the changes in the song occur and how well it still flows together.
As an overall album, Enslaved will be even better than Soulfly fans will expect, a delight for any listener that enjoys Max Cavalera’s composition style. Every song fits into the structure and tone to create a memorable record packed with outstanding content. More importantly, though, it is the only response that Max will ever need to make to critics about Soulfly’s consistent format. With Enslaved, Max has shown, not told, why Soulfly doesn’t need to change. They’re still better than their contemporaries, and will remain so just by staying true to what made them great.