Album Review : Sepultura - Machine Messiah (2017)
Lost. My mind it's gone. That life
Lost. I've been looking for myself
It haunts me everyday
I'm searching for a truth no longer there (Phantom Self)
Every metalhead remembers when Max Cavalera walked away from Sepultura, the band her formed with his brother Igor, over a mysterious misunderstanding with lead guitarist Andreas Kisser following the unfortunate passing of his stepson Dana. He went on to form groove metal outfit Soulfly and that was the end of that. They all kind of waned from collective consciousness afterwards and everybody stopped giving Sepultura the time of day, myself included. They're still together, though and they've been cranking albums with Max's successor Derrick Green for close to twenty years not. They've actually recorded more albums with Green (8) than with Max (6). It's just that nobody's been really playing them. I've given a spin to Sepultura's new album Machine Messiah almost by chance this week * and I had a revelation. We've had the post-Max Cavalera Sepultura wrong all along: they're not a burnout outfit living from the glory of days long past. They retooled their sound and became awesome again.
I have no knowledge of what Sepultura sounds like from Against to The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart, so please forgive me the occasional leap in logic. The band that recorded Machine Messiah is quite different from the one who recorded Roots in 1996, though. The album opens with dramatic mid-tempo hard rock banger Machine Messiah, which opens with clean vocals and evolves to a downright infectious hook: "The soul is dead/Your savior bled/The soul is dead/Bow down to machine messiah" blared out by Derrick Green with thunderous energy. It's simple, efficient and quite original for a band that made its reputation for its in-your-face aggression. This is a source of debate among metal fans as uncompromising aggression is often perceived as a mark of integrity, but I think Sepultura make a great case for varying tempo and lyrical content with the opened to Machine Messiah. It prevents their more aggressive songs to blend into one another.
The follow-up to Machine Messiah is the explosive I am the Enemy, a short, punchy and once again very simple thrash metal song with strong punk influences reminiscent of Divine Intervation-era Slayer. That leads us to what I believe is the crown jewel of this album Phantom Self. Not only this is the kind of song that makes you want to fight shirtless in the rain, there's also really cool experimentation with Arabic rai. Phantom Self sounds like the lovechild of Hatebreed and a James Bond soundtrack. It's not like anything you've ever heard. Sworn Oath is another brutal anthem that shrewdly mixes influences that will get you off your seat. Malmsteenesque instrumental Iceberg Dances, Cyber God and closer Ultraseven No Uta (yep, the Ultraman theme) are three other highlights of Machine Messiah, which really stands out by its adventurous character. Whenever Sepultura try to emulate their earlier, let's say Beneath the Remains-era, sound like on Alethea or Silent Violence, they come up short of who they once were, but when Andreas Kisser lets his creativity loose, Machine Messiah becomes a special album.
I want to take a moment to discuss Derrick Green's stellar vocal performance on this record. That guy is GOOD and much of Sepultura's post-Max identity relies on his charismatic presence on each song. Green is an atypical growler. The singing style is meant to be dehumanizing, so a major problem that emerges its practice is that most growlers sound exactly the same. This is not the case here as his voice and - dare I say - character peaks through and injects emotion in his performances. I don't want to necessarily compare him to Max who is a great growler in his own right, but Derrick Green is elite. His voice has a dramatic and commanding edge to it that carries songs like I am the Enemy, Resistant Parasites and Cyber God on Machine Messiah. I am confident to say that without him, these songs would just not work as well. There's a reason why Sepultura chose Green over the likes of Phil Demmel and Chuck Billy to be their lead singer. He has a unique and compelling vocal identity.
So, Machine Messiah fears the future lyrically and yet embraces it musically. This album is adventurous, diverse and oddly emotional, thanks to Derrick Green's spellbinding vocal performances. Most important, I don't believe Sepultura compromised on the brutality one bit. If anything, Machine Messiah feels like a well-planned, deliberate assault on your eardrums. It overdoes it at times. Some of the songs stretch a little thin and blend into one another, especially on the second half. Their most straightforward thrash metal song don't work as well, but there are treasures on Machine Messiah and I mean TREASURES. Andreas Kisser has done right by Sepultura all these years. The band has kept its integrity and found an enthralling sound that is entirely theirs. If everything lead to Machine Messiah it's all worth it in the end. Sorry for ignoring you all these years, Sepultura. You guys still got it.
* My original plan was to review Marilyn Manson's new album Say10, but the iconic shock rockermysteriously ghosted out on his release date last Tuesday.