It seems that there was never a time when Sepultura were given a chance following their acrimonious split with Max despite the fact that they released several stunning albums including the mighty ‘Nation’ and ‘Dante XXI’. Detractors focused on Derek’s voice and ‘lack of charisma’ yet having witnessed both Sepultura and Soulfly during those formative years I found Sepultura to be the better band not least because Max’s confidence had been so dented following his departure that he seemingly roped any and every guest star he could to help lend his project credence (something it never actually needed). Dropped by their record label, slated by hypocritical fans who were too close-minded to even give Derek a chance, Sepultura found themselves perennial outcasts in the world of metal suffering all sorts of overly-hyperbolic criticism (not least from the fickle UK music press) despite producing a body of work that sits proudly alongside anything they did with Max. A-lex, sadly, will do nothing to change those narrow preconceptions but, having read endless misinformed and downright vicious reviews, I feel it is time to balance the sheets because this is an excellent record.
When Sepultura unleashed Dante XXI in 2006 it was a revelation. Despite ‘Nation’ being an excellent entry in the band’s catalogue and ‘Roorback’ consolidating that success, ‘Dante..’ saw the band develop a thrash concept album (no mean feat) and do so in a style that maximised the impact of Derek’s formidable roar and the songwriting of Andreas Kisser. Sadly by the time of the tour, Igor Cavelera had departed the band but the subsequent live shows (one of which SonicAbuse caught in Poland) were ferociously tight with the band sounding better than they had in years. The follow-up, another concept album based on the final, un-filmed, chapter of ‘A Clockwork Orange’, is equally furious. A slab of pure, malevolent rage channelled into an intelligent story and performed by a band who have been belittled and overlooked for far too long.
One of the main concerns following Igor’s departure was that the drumming, previously one of the band’s strongest cards, would suffer. This has turned out not to be the case. From the opening, brutal strains of A-lex 1 (an intro that segues straight into the punk-metal clash of ‘Moloko Mesto’) it is clear that the band are on astonishingly good form and while the sound may be a little rawer than we are used to, the overall effect is somewhat like finding oneself standing in the middle of a bloody knife fight. ‘Filthy rot’ continues the aggressive feel of the record, but this is Sepultura and they rarely pummel the listener without introducing an interesting dynamic be it a tribal passage, an acoustic interlude or robust solo and here we find all of the above popping up at various points. With Derek’s voice on peak form (and never has a powerful front-man had to tolerate so much abuse simply for not being his predeccessor) we are treated not only to his monolithic roar but also to various clean vocal sections which highlight his versatility.
Musically the band vary between extremely fast, short-lived blasts of brutality and the more mid-tempo metal that made up much of ‘Nation’ but there are also interludes and segue passages that bring the story forward (in the form of the A-lex suite) and even a much-castigated classical piece in the form of ‘Ludwig Van’ which is much less of a surprise than many claimed given the classical ending that the band gave to ‘Nation’ (with a suitably bombastic Apocalyptica in tow).
With the band now signed to Nuclear Blast, let’s hope that Sepultura finally gain the respect that they deserve. They have released a wealth of great material post Max, and while Soulfly’s star may now be burning brightly, let us not forget that Sepultura never sunk to the depths of that band in the first place (try comparing Prophecy’s nu-metal posturing to Nation’s out-and-out aggression) releasing album after album of great material. ‘A-lex’ may not be a masterpiece, but it as an excellent, intelligent and perfectly performed piece of work that the band should be rightly proud of.
Sepultura are currently undertaking a headline tour of the UK culminating with their appearance at the Hevy Music Festival in Kent on August 8th.