Friday, January 13, 2017

Sepultura - Machine Messiah (2017)

I can't sit here and tell you that Machine Messiah has rid itself of all the vapid, bouncing, predictable hardcore grooves that the band more or less mastered and subsequently exhausted with the albums Chaos A.D. and Roots back in the mid 90s. I also can't promise you that I've suddenly become a fan of Derrick Green's vocals; granted, the guy's been with the Brazilians now for almost 20 years, and his style has never deviated too far from the original, roughshod and grunting and barking aesthetics of his predecessor. No, despite the fact he has always been technically sound on the many releases he has fronted, his harsher vocals have always felt played out to me, lacking individual distinction against the hundreds or thousands of other groove metal or nu-metal growlers you'd have found at the corner bars during the Ozzfest era and forward. His sound has not changed much here, and it simply lacks the viciousness or raw, murderous quality that I associate with and love from early Sepultura.

But here's what I CAN tell you...

This is the most engaged I've been with a Sepultura record since 1993. That's not to say that albums like Dante XXI, Kairos and The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart lacked any semblance of highlights. Sure, I could string together a solid album's worth of content between 1994 and 2013. Maybe even a double disc set. But Machine Messiah manages to strike an eclectic range between the band's tribal instincts, their LCD grooves and then a slightly tighter and more technical Sepultura which offers a lot more candy for the ears. A lot of this comes directly through Andreas Kisser's writing and performance...when he leaves behind the stolid attempts to ape the success they had with such simple mosh components in the 90s post-Arise, he explores some more compelling and busy picking sequences that really tipped the balance for my desire to listen repeatedly. It makes me wish this were the norm for this band in the 21st century, that they had expressed a desire to become increasingly more progressive like a lot of their international peers had already achieved by the late 80s. I realize that would seem anathema to a core of their audience that just wants to reel around violently and crush each other, but it's a damn shame...

It even carries forward to the leads, which are very well executed, never extended beyond their welcome and almost unanimously catchy whether they just be frenetic and spontaneous, atonal, Eastern inspired and exotic, or all of the above. Having these licks riding atop even the most banal of rhythm guitar breakdowns instantly adds some levity and depth which I feel a lot of albums they've put out have largely lacked. Eloy Casagrande also turns in a spotless performance here, effortlessly putting up a level of energy that would be fit for most modern thrash or death metal records, but constantly applying that primal, ethnic, 'jungle' spread of fills and rumbling grooves that will remind many of the more (and only) interesting moments of Roots; only here, I like the riffs better, and that goes a long way. Bass-lines are perfectly mixed, just fat enough to register against the clean but punchy rhythm guitar tone and often a little busier than you've come to expect from that area. In truth the album sounds really great overall...polished but not lacking some force where required, and also leaving some room for the more elegant lead tone, cleaner guitars and so forth.

So with so much going for it, the few flaws here are quite easy to forgive. The vocals are acceptable, even when he's doing his lower range Layne Stayley-meets-Nick Cave crooning like in the titular intro or "Cyber God". Would I like it better with Max? I'm sure a lot of folks would, but that's not to discredit a reasonable effort from Green. The grooves in tunes like "Iceberg Dances" are straight from the Chaos A.D. playbook, or reminiscent of other bands from Machine Head to 90s Ministry, and even if a lot of them weren't so interesting, they do at least tap into that same, sweltering testosterone center in the brain that makes you want to riot a little. The lyrics are honestly pretty bland, the usual self-help sociopolitical stuff which is supposed to make you feel good but just doesn't possess enough grasp of imagination, metaphor or catchy phrasing to make that difference. Also it has a song called "Cyber God" and I really wish we were through with everyone having a song dubbed "Cyber" something. That feels 1998 at best.

But it's the strong variation in pacing between thrashers and slower bruisers, and the willingness to toss out a few new ideas like the colorful orchestration synthesized into "Phantom Self" that kept me paying attention through the entirety of the disc, and that give me some further hope that all sparks of inspiration and creativity have not fled the band across the decades, and maybe they're on the verge of producing something great again. That said, I'll gladly take stuff like this in the meantime.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (facing the blind of collective delusion)

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