Good god Max doesn’t mess around these days. With suitably apocalyptic artwork, a run time of just forty five minutes (and then, only if you take into account the three bonus tracks), this latest album is a thrash-infused blast that continues the exceptional run of quality that Max has been on since he unleashed ‘Dark ages’ way back in 2005. Whether it eclipses the stunning ‘conquer’ is another matter and a question that we’ll leave until the end, but there is no question that Max continues to stand at the forefront of heavy metal, proudly flying the flag with all the honesty and integrity that we’ve come to expect from the man whose back catalogue with Soulfly, Sepultura, Nailbomb and Cavalera Conspiracy invariably clogs up metal ‘best of’ lists year after year.
Openign with the brief and brutal ‘we sold our souls to metal’, Soulfly immediately pin their colours to the mast, Max and co. sounding even more fired up than normal. A cataclysmic cluster-fuck of scything guitars, propulsive drumming and Max’s trademark bark, it sets the tone of the album perfectly. Even better is the doom-laden title track which may, possibly, be the heaviest piece of work that Max has yet put his name to. A multi-tiered track, it moves from sludgy distressed chords to nimble, picked passages, whilst Max’s performance borders on the apoplectic. It is an inspired and inspiring performance and it is remarkable that Max retains the vitality and creativity with which he made his name. Once again, alongside Max, we find the insanely talented Marc Rizzo whose guitar work has consistently supercharged Soulfly over the last decade, and his work here is no exception, his fingers flickering over the fretboard as Max lays down a devastatingly heavy foundation. ‘Sodomites’ is up next and it is no less potent, seguing out of the previous track and tapping into that patented groove that Max lays down so well. Almost a throwback to ‘roots’, but with the benefit of greater experience and Marc Rizzo’s ever-inventive riffing, it is a towering metal colossus that incorporates dark choirs, gigantic riffs and a seething sense of turmoil that no amount of head-banging can dissipate. With an atmospheric opening, ‘Ishtar rising’ shows that Max was hellbent on incorporating an impressively cinematic dynamic into the album as a whole, and as the tribal roar of ‘Ishtar rising’ is unleashed over guitars that bubble and seethe, it’s hard to avoid the surge of adrenalin that races through your system. ‘Live life hard’ (surely Max’s official motto), which features Matt Young on vocals, is a fast-paced slab of potent deathly thrash whist ‘Shamash’ emerges from a dark chant before tearing off into thrash heaven. Producer/mixer Matt Hyde (whose resume reads like a who’s who of metal) works his usual magic here, the convoluted mixes never sounding muddy or distorted despite the layers of brain-melting guitar, and his presence clearly enhanced Max’s ability to realise his dark vision for ‘Archangel’.
A scarifying beast, ‘Bethlehem’s blood’ sees Max once again screaming into death metal territory, tearing at the listener with his scything, staccato guitar attack and a brutal bark that sounds ever more enraged. It’s a frighteningly powerful performance that matches steely power with the icon-strewn atmosphere of high Catholicism, and Marc Rizzo’s lengthy solo at the song’s heart is simply superlative. With backwards phased guitar and a riff that threatens to reduce the foundations to rubble at high volume ‘Titans’ is aptly named whilst ‘Deceiver’ offers no safety at all as Max pors all his mighty scorn upon those who would dissimilate. Lyrically it is weaker than the other efforts found here, laden with rather more spite and invective than meaning, but there’s no mistaking the passion with which Max attacks his subject and the riffs are killer. The album proper ends with the immense ‘mother of dragons’ (co-written with son Richie and brother Igor) which is so unhinged it could just as easily have come from the first Cavalera Conspiracy album. Richie has come on leaps and bounds as a vocalist since his earliest appearances on Soulfly albums and his guest spots are now often highlights of each new record and ‘mother of dragons’ with its visceral screams, choral stylings and heroic solo is no exception. It is, in fact, the perfect end to the album.
Those who buy the special edition, however, also get three bonus songs. A cover of the wonderfully brief ‘you suffer’ (napalm death) allowing Max to indulge his grind roots, a brutal ‘Acosador Nocturno’ which features yet more sublime fret work from Marc Rizzo and the lengthy ‘Soulfly x’ which offers a rather more sedate conclusion to the album than ‘mother of dragons’. That’s not all, however, alongside the expanded artwork and bonus tracks, you also get a DVD of the band’s full hellfest set from 2014. It is a typically generous gesture and it adds nicely to the Soulfly DVD collection of those who bought the special editions of ‘conquer’ and ‘omen’ (both of which similarly featured live sets as an extra). It’s more than worth the money to watch the band tear through such classics as ‘seek ‘n’ strike’, ‘back to the primitive’ and, of course, ‘roots bloody roots’.
At the outset I questioned whether ‘Archangel’ could best ‘Conquer’, previously my favourite of the Soulfly canon. The answer is a resounding YES! Archangel is more concise, more inspired, more contiguous as a piece and more brutal. In fact it’s one of the best heavy releases of the year and it shows Max on a rare form of creativity as he continues to explore the boundaries of heavy music. A tireless advocate of metal, a justifiably renowned figure, Max Cavalera could easily have rested on his laurels long ago, but that wouldn’t jibe with a man who has always sought to redefine and refine heavy metal with his various projects. Max has many classics under his belt, but there is no doubt in my mind that ‘Archangel’ stands tall even within such an embarrassment of riches. A dark, conceptual beast, ‘archangel’ is a towering achievement.