It really doesn’t feel like fifteen years since Max Cavalera first unleashed Soulfly’s self-titled debut album into a world still reeling from the frontman’s split with Sepultura. In that time Soulfly have evolved from the aggressive nu metal sound and attitude that characterised that album into a sleeker, thrashier unit, still undoubtedly incorporating Cavalera’s world music influences and devotion to cutting-edge metal but now content to cast a look back to his extreme metal heritage to remind you where they came from.
Despite a relatively stable period during the middle part of the last decade, where Soulfly released four albums in succession with the same line-up, 2010’s “Omen” began to show signs of stagnation, with the bulk of the material sounding a little forced and a little samey. Last year’s “Enslaved” readdressed the balance slightly with a line-up change – replacing bassist Bobby Burns and drummer Joe Nunez with Tony Campos and David Kinkade respectively – and some straight-up death metal with tracks like ‘World Scum’, but with the line-up changing again can ninth album “Savages” offer up something fresh to bring to the Soulfly sound?
Well, sort of. Let’s start by saying that “Savages” is no game-changer; opening track ‘Bloodshed’ (featuring backing vocals from Max’s son Igor) could be called something of a ‘traditional’ Soulfly song, a (very catchy) mid-paced chugger that harks back to the band’s earlier days but without the hip-hop/rap metal connotations. It’s a rather low-key start considering the bowel-quaking openers that the previous few albums have began with but maybe it’s time to mess around with the structure a bit.
Max’s other son Zyon (remember his unborn heartbeat at the beginning of ‘Refuse/Resist’ twenty-one years ago?) replaces David Kinkade on drums and makes his presence felt with the ferocious death metal of ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. Maybe not as technical a drummer as the band’s previous two sticksmen (or his uncle!) but he has the right feel and the knack to orchestrate a solid time-change, like in the turbulent ‘Fallen’.
Guests have always played an important part in Soulfly’s output and “Savages” is no different in that department, as Clutch’s Neil Fallon adds his laid-back drawl to ‘Ayatollah of Rock ‘N’ Rolla’ before the song goes into groove metal overload. Hopefully touring schedules will be aligned so the song can be recreated live, as seeing Fallon and Cavalera trading vocals on the same stage will be a major highlight by anyone’s reckoning. Napalm Death’s Mitch Harris also pops up to provide vocals on ‘K.C.S.’ and the band accommodate him accordingly with some mighty riffing that wouldn’t sound out of place on any of the grindcore legend’s recent output.
Produced by Terry Date (Pantera/White Zombie), “Savages” sounds more polished than anything the band have recorded before but still keeping the extreme edge that has crept in over the past few albums. The drums are a little louder in the mix than the guitars, which again harkens back to their earlier years, but overall “Savages” is a potent mix of groove and heaviness that stops short of the brutality of “Enslaved” and keeps things interesting with the input of its guests. There’s nothing here that the band haven’t done before but the energy of the playing, the injection of some younger blood in the line-up and Terry Date’s production seems to have given Soulfly the lift they needed to get out of something of a rut and, although “Savages” isn’t as inventive or innovative as the band’s best works, it’s certainly not a plodder.