And once again this intrepid reviewer ventures the 30-odd miles to Wolverhampton for a night of total metal goodness at the intimate (read: tiny) The Slade Rooms, only this time it’s with a childlike niggle of excitement. You see, I’m not just going to see any old club level band try and muster an audience together to promote an album that probably isn’t out yet; oh no, I’m here to see metal heavyweights Soulfly – yes, that Soulfly – have a bit of fun after supporting the mighty Black Sabbath in London last week.
But before that I have the pleasure of seeing three other bands try and warm the slightly partisan crowd up with sets of unfamiliar material that nobody except their families and the road crew knows the words to; it’s a hard life being the support act but hey ho, that’s where you learn your craft. First up is the oddly-named Enemo-J, a five-piece from the metal mecca of Burton-on-Trent playing the sort of bass-heavy metalcore that did the rounds during the middle years of the last decade as nu metal stagnated and the bands realised they had to stop pratting about with hip-hop. They play hard, make a lot of noise, have a very solid drummer and play a cover of the theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air but five minutes after they leave the stage the only thing I could remember about them was “In West Philadelphia, born and raised…” and it’s not even their song.
More memorable, however, was local band Husk, whom I got talking to whilst waiting outside the venue and were clearly stoked about getting to support Soulfly. This positive energy worked well for them as they played a set of original songs that brought together a plethora of different influences and mashed them together into something quite refreshing. Think Carcass but with a more progressive attitude and a huge Sepultura/Soulfly-esque groove mixed with just a touch of System of a Down‘s eccentricity and you’re getting somewhere in the right ball park. Vocalist/bassist Bob Taylor plays his bass in a variety of ways and makes an interesting visual focal point that would be better exploited on a bigger stage, and guitarists Jak Shinner and Lawrence Elcock lock into each other’s playing like a (very) young Tipton/Downing-style tag team but it’s drummer Scott James who is the busiest member of the band as he pummels his kit whilst throwing his sticks in the air and never missing a beat. It’s an impressive set of death/groove metal tunes that deserve to be played in metal clubs everywhere and hopefully Husk will get more opportunities like this to prove what they can do.
Lody Kong hit the stage next and are notable for featuring Zyon and Igor Cavalera in their ranks; see, it’s who you know. However, despite such credentials the band’s music didn’t really go anywhere after they hit their first beatdown, which seemed to go on for the rest of their set. They did throw in the occasional few bars of blastbeats but it wasn’t enough and their set of samey-sounding groove metal just seemed to be there like background music in a pub.
And so to the main event. After a long wait and some restless chants of “Soulfly, Soulfly…” followed by a couple of “Sepultura…”, a looped intro of the schizo riff to ‘Prophecy’ fired up and the band hit the stage to run through the song proper. Max Cavalera grins with approval as the whole place seems to take off in a mass of bouncing bodies and flailing hair, which isn’t a problem when you’re in a festival field but within the confines of The Slade Rooms it doesn’t leave a lot of room to steer clear of the carnage. Max shouts for a circle pit and the crowd oblige – impressive in a 500-capacity venue – and as the band attack ‘Back to the Primitive’ the sense of sheer excitement, from the band and the crowd, is almost palpable. However, this pit action was nothing compared to how bat-shit things got as the medley of ‘Arise/Dead Embryonic Cells’ and a ferocious ‘Territory’ (during which drummer Zyon Cavalera dropped his stick but nobody on the stage seemed to notice as he corrected himself) cemented the feeling of celebration in the room.
To be honest, at gigs I normally make a note of the set-list but on this occasion I got totally swept up in the moment and reverted back to my teenage self as the band tore through a set that included incendiary versions of ‘Refuse/Resist’, ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, ‘Blood, Fire, War, Hate’ and debut album favourite ‘Tribe’, featuring a cool reggae breakdown with some dazzling guitar work from Marc Rizzo. I also remember ‘Bloodshed’, ‘Rise of the Fallen’ and ‘Fire’ but what order these came in I really couldn’t say as I was too busy “fucking shit up” on the orders of Max Cavalera. As expected, ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ nearly took the roof off as the exhausted crowd went mental and the band left the stage, clearly delighted at the chaos they had instigated.
However, they weren’t done and they returned, with Max teasing a riff from Diamond Head‘s ‘Am I Evil?’ and Black Sabbath‘s ‘Paranoid’ before asking “What do you want to hear?”. Regardless of the shouts that flew back at him the band played Sepultura‘s ‘Attitude’, which set everybody back off again like a pack of rampaging maniacs. After a brief verse of ‘Jumpdafuckup’ the band end with a brutal yet joyous ‘Eye For an Eye’, a clearly delighted Max Cavalera having the satisfied look of a man who came, saw and conquered as he leaves the stage, the rest of the band flying into a spirited run though Iron Maiden‘s ‘The Trooper’.
And then they were done. Soulfly may be sixteen years and nine albums old but on current form they played like a band with it all to play for. Tonight was proof that, despite veering close to treading water territory with their past few albums – although latest release “Savages” has proved to be something of a grower – Soulfly are still as vital and relevant to the modern metal scene as they were back in 1998, matching the intensity of Sepultura at their mid-’90s peak but with an added sense of enjoyment that comes from having such a huge back catalogue of sure-fire killer tunes to choose from. Make no mistake – Soulfly know what we want and in Wolverhampton tonight they gave it to us with both barrels. Metal gigs don’t get any better than this.
Read Chris’ interview with Soulfly guitarist Marc Rizzo here.