Metal fans living in Cambridge can be forgiven for feeling a little hard done by these days when it comes to seeking a fix of the devil horned variety locally; (a glance at gig listings for venues in the city will reveal that fans of heavier music are hardly catered for at all), so it was both pleasing, and unexpected when promoters Green Mind announced they were bringing the living legend that is Max Cavalera, and his band of merry tribal metallers Soulfly, to The Junction as part of their first UK tour since the release of their latest studio album ‘Savages’.
Sporting an already impressive CV of support slots with bands such as Orange Goblin, Viking Skull, Feed The Rhino and Devin Townsend, openers UNIT NINE (7/10) provide good evidence that despite a lack of regular quality touring metal acts paying a visit, the local scene is in fact alive, kicking and in good hands. The Cambridge based 5 piece confidently fill the stage, and put on a stage performance full of conviction and heart, that compliments their brand of big sounding groove driven metal perfectly, and I’m suitably impressed. Noticeably, as their set continues, more and more people are vacating the bar area to join the swelling crowd, increasing the atmosphere and noise levels massively, resulting in a fantastic show of appreciation from all corners of the Junction when they finally walk off stage to echoes of guitar feedback – a job well done!
If your denim jacket, mullet and musical soul belong somewhere in the early 80’s, still shining in the afterglow of the NWOBHM scene, then Londoners SAVAGE MESSIAH (9/10) are your ticket for a tight trousered trip down metal memory lane! The face shredding solos, galloping base lines, melodic dual harmony lead guitars, relentlessly driving drum patterns and high pitched vocals will be familiar to anyone with a Maiden or Priest record in their collection, but the dynamic and exciting elements of classic thrash (think Testament), and symphonic metal present in the Messiah sound are what elevate this 4 piece above mere copycat status. They are a revelation as a live act, and showcase a staggering level of musicianship, showmanship and stage presence during a blistering 30min set – boy can these guys play! Vocalist/guitarist Dave Silver has an incredible set of pipes on him, and with a rhythm section as tight as any I have ever seen backing him, he proves to be a hugely charismatic and engaging frontman – the audience are lapping this up and he knows it! In fact charisma seems to run through the very veins of this band, with lead guitarist Joff and bassist Mira getting in on the stage show as much as they possibly can during, and in-between songs, while drummer Andrea can barely stop grinning full stop. Put simply, Savage Messiah prove here that they are a band that have it all – amazing songs, a great stage presence, bucket loads of insane ability and a genuine love for what they do – you really couldn’t ask for more… Superb.
I have liked Soulfly (9/10) since they first burst onto the scene way back in 1997, and although they aren’t held in the same high regard as the ‘classic’ Sepultura line-up of the early to mid-90’s, the fact they have managed to release NINE studio albums is a massive credit to the prolific song writing skills and longevity of their sole remaining original member Max Cavelera. Forming the band after his departure from the Seps in ’96, Max has continued to draw from his experiences with religion, spirituality, politics and the untimely death of his step-son Dana Wells, to create music for Soulfly and their most recent effort ‘Savages’ is another album in the vein of the more straight up metal approach on display since the release of ‘Dark Ages’. The personnel around Max might have changed over the years, but the expectation in the crowd for this current line-up to deliver the kind of intense live experience that Cavelera is famed for, is running high. As his son Zyon strides on to stage to take his place behind the drum kit to huge cheers, Max can be seen smiling stage left and the Cavelera show is about to begin…
Kicking off with a frantic opening salvo of ‘Prophecy’, ‘Primitive’ and ‘No Hope = No Fear’, a circle pit quickly opens up, limbs begin to flail, the thermometer hits the scorchio mark and the Soulfly Show is in full overdrive from the get go. Marc Rizzo on lead guitar is mesmerizing to watch – effortlessly switching from crushing riffs to finger tapping solos – whilst bassist Tony Campos stalks the stage sporting an impressive beard that Max even refers to as ‘THE beard’ at one point.
The first 25mins are over in a fist pumping blur, personal favourites ‘Seek and Strike’ and ‘Babylon’ follow in quick succession, but before the audience can gather their breath Zyon cuts through the howling feedback with the instantly recognizable drum intro for Sepultura classic ‘Refuse/Resist’ and the Junction goes berserk! It’s a brilliant live version and a timely reminder of just how vital to the metal scene Max Cavelera is and has been over the years. Just to hammer home this point further, Zyon once again lets loose on the drums, and the crowd know what is coming next – ‘Territory’ begins and the nostalgia trip is almost complete. The songs still sound incredible 21 years on from their release on the seminal Sepultura LP ‘Chaos AD’ and it’s fantastic to still be able to hear them albeit with only Max.
Almost inevitably what follows is a little bit of anti-climax – a mid-set slump if you like – as the audience takes a rest after a manic show to this point. The extensive Soulfly back catalogue gets raided, a highlight being the excellent ‘World Scum’ and another Seps tune ‘Straighthate’ brings a few more gruff cheers from the gathered metal survivors club, but the energy levels have dropped a little all-round to be honest. That said it’s mostly because enough energy to run a small town for a week was generated in the opening onslaught – a breather is actually welcome! Not until the intro to ‘Bloodshed’ (lead track from the latest studio album) begins do the audience recover and that’s a good sign that the critical acclaim bestowed on the new record in the media has been shared by fans of the band. This energy is matched on stage and carries on through to a last 20mins that represent Soulfly at their best – the ending trio of another Sepultura classic ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ with two of their own signature tunes in ‘Jump’ and ‘Eye For An Eye’ illustrate that Max is not afraid to pay homage to his own musical roots whilst reminding us he has also written some belters since those heady days of Sepultura success.
I was also hugely impressed with the drumming ability of Zyon throughout the show, for a 21 year old he still has massively unfulfilled potential, and I think this current line-up might be the strongest overall that has assembled under the Soulfly banner. If they can keep producing the quality of song writing in their studio output shown on ‘Savages’, and continue blasting out the brilliant live shows like they have here tonight in Cambridge, the Max Cavelera legacy is only going to grow and further cement his legendary status in the annuals of heaviness. VIVA O REI!!!
Soulfly set-list: Prophecy, Primitive, NoHope=NoFear, Defeat U, Seek & Strike, I and I, Babylon, Refuse/Resits, Territory, Cockroaches, Arise/D.E.C, World Scum, Straighthate, Porrada, Rise Of The Fallen, Bloodshed, Revengence, Roots, Jump, Eye For An Eye.
Photography and Words from Daniel Ackerley