Style: Groove Metal
Release Date: 7 Feb 2020
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The older I get, the more I appreciate Sepultura. They've continued to grow and evolve over three and a half decades and I have respect for that even if they didn't always evolve into places I liked. They got more respect from me when I saw them live in a dive bar on their thirtieth anniversary tour and they performed as hard as they would have done at a festival. The audience was energised and the pit was lively. It was a good night.
And this is a good album, their fifteenth studio release and, in many ways, a conglomeration of all the styles they've worked through, like Medusa was for Paradise Lost. The most prominent is groove metal, of course, but it's no difficult task to find thrash, industrial and experimental, not to forget the tribal drumming they've become known for. That really comes out to play at the beginning of Capital Enslavement.
Isolation kicks things off at high speed. It's an out and out thrash number, with less hints of groove than symphonic metal, of all things, there being a few sections with choral backing. As thrash should be, it's pure energy and I dug it a lot. Means to an End maintains the energy but shifts it over to a groove metal framework, Derrick Green's vocals not changing much but enough to matter; instead of gruff clean thrash vocals, these are hardcore shouts. This song even finds time to get experimental in the middle.
Last Time does all the above within one song. Capital Enslavement does too, adding that tribal drumming intro and some electronica for good measure. It starts to feel like they band is continually adding layers to each further song. Ali firmly shifts to industrial with effects added early onto Green's voice and Eloy Casagrande's drums finding a neat, emphatic rhythm halfway through. However, it still finds its groove sections and its thrash moments, even an early Sepultura death growl towards the end.
The catch to this, of course, is that, while Sepultura have played in a lot of sandpits in their career, we aren't even halfway through the album yet so they're going to run out pretty damn quick if they continue this approach. I wonder if that's why Raging Void goes the way it does, being more of a scary loud pop song with a rambling solo. I wasn't sold on this one and maybe it's representative of one of those albums in the middle of their career that I'm not familiar with but, even though I kinda liked it, it feels rather like a roadblock to the album's build.
Fortunately, it promptly picks up again with Guardians of Earth, perhaps the most symphonic track on the album. It's almost Sepultura covering Tristania and that's not a combination I ever thought I'd write. The Pentagram buzzes rapidly through melodies kind of like it's an insane medley of imaginary TV theme tunes. I actually liked this instrumental a lot, not least because it gives the musicians, especially Andreas Kisser, opportunities to show off.
The song that really allows people to show off, though, is Agony of Defeat, which throws everything but the kitchen sink into one six minute song. It's heavy and it's soft; it's fast and it's slow. It features strings and middle eastern textures. It allows Derrick Green to flex his vocal cords in quite a few different directions. And the song really builds in layers until a fade on a single low piano note. It's the best thing I've heard from Sepultura in a long, long time and easily the best thing I've ever heard from Green.
What I haven't mentioned much is the experimental side to this album, which does a little during a lot of songs and a lot during a few of them. Autem is one of the more experimental tracks on offer, but Raging Void is up there as well and Fear, Pain, Chaos, Suffering does interesting things too, with guest vocals from Emmily Barreto of Brazilian alt rock band Far from Alaska.
All in all, there's a heck of a lot to work through here and it's well worth the effort. I haven't been too impressed with a bunch of Sepultura's recent albums, but this one is destined to be described as "the best since..." but with critics debating how far back we should go to find something better. It has to be the nineties at least, but there's a strong case for Arise or even Beneath the Remains. Now I really want to go see them live again!