Title: Machine Messiah
Genre: Groove Metal
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Length: 46 min.
Label: Nuclear Blast
Producer: Jens Bogren
Personnel: Derrick Green (lead vocals), Andreas Kisser (guitars), Paulo Jr. (bass guitar), Eloy Casagrande (drums, percussion)
Formed in 1984 by Brazilian brothers Max and Igor Cavalera – Max performing lead vocals and playing the rhythm guitar, Igor playing the drums – Sepultura made themselves a major force in thrash and groove metal during the late ’80s and early ’90s, with an early body of work that can easily rival the best of the best. Sepultura’s debut, Morbid Visions, was very much Brazilian death metal, but their sophomore release, Schizophrenia, moved them more toward the burgeoning thrash metal movement. On a new path of their own, the band released Beneath the Remains and Arise to great acclaim, quickly becoming one of the top critically praised death and thrash metal bands of that time and regularly grouped among such greats as Slayer, Kreator, Exodus, and Pantera.
Sepultura’s first departure from their well-known sound came in 1993 with their fifth album, Chaos A.D., which was more of a thrash-oriented groove metal album that also brought in influences from such genres as industrial and punk. Though it was a bit divisive for fans at the time, it has become known as another excellent classic from the Brazilians. Then they released Roots, which truly changed the game and became widely known as their most unique record of all, and their biggest deviation from thrash and death metal. Perhaps their most truly influential album, Roots heralded a new phase of heavy metal music, often referred to as “nu metal.” Here, inspired by the debut LP of newcomer Korn, Sepultura added in generous helpings of Brazilian native music styles and introduced a slower sound with a lot of down tuning.
Amidst their success, however, Max decided to leave Sepultura for various reasons, which led to American vocalist Derrick Green taking his place. The first release after this, Against, sold more poorly and was more poorly critically received than Sepultura had seen for a long time. The same thing happened with their next album, Nation, as well. They regained critical acclaim with ninth album Roorback in 2003, and they went yet another step toward regaining their fan base too with tenth album Dante XXI in 2006. Finally, the new era of Sepultura came into its own. Continuing a tradition of departures after successes, Igor Cavalera then left the group and joined brother Max for Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy. Despite this blow, Sepultura came out with another decent album, A-Lex. Since then they’ve released two other albums, Kairos and The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart, both also good but perhaps inconsistent.
Some people now disregard Sepultura, pointing out that the band no longer has any of its original members since Igor’s departure in 2006. Currently, the band consists of vocalist Derrick Green, guitarist Andreas Kisser, bassist Paulo Jr., and drummer Eloy Casagrande. Paulo Jr. has appeared on every released album, and Kisser has played on every studio album except the debut. So Paulo and Kisser, though not originals, are very much a part of what we know as early Sepultura, and the band has striven to maintain the Sepultura tradition, even if they have tweaked the sound here and there.
And here we are in 2017 with a new release, Machine Messiah. Even now, when Sepultura comes out with a new album, the metal world perks up their ears.
Producer Jens Bogren (who produced Kreator’s excellent Gods of Violence from this year also) helps the band achieve yet another concept album. Of course, concepts and concept albums have especially become a thing for Sepultura under frontman Green. They wrote Roorback to be all about politics and propaganda. They based Dante XXI on Dante’s Divine Comedy. They adapted A Clockwork Orange on A-Lex. Kairos is about time. And they were inspired by the sci-fi movie masterpiece Metropolis to write The Mediator. This time around, their concept is the robotization of society, as if they have expanded on Metallica’s “Spit Out the Bone” number from last year. The story is that a God Machine has created the humanity that exists within Machine Messiah‘s concept, and now he will return that society to its starting point. It’s a story with many real world implications and some interesting ties to philosophy. I have a weakness for concept albums, especially when they are literary or philosophical, but the concept must be executed well, and this one is executed quite decently.
As for the vocals, instrumentation, and overall blend of everything, it’s really good. The album contains some great death and thrash influenced groove that stays in touch with Sepultura’s background and proves that this lineup remains to be reckoned with. We also intriguingly hear exotic, especially Brazilian, influences implemented warmly throughout, resulting in Sepultura’s most truly Brazilian sounding record since Roots. In the vocals camp, we may all miss Max, but Green does his best, and it fits the album well. Green’s vocals are Anselmo like, as if they are part Max Cavalera and part Phil Anselmo, with a nice mix of nearly-clean singing and growls. Also worthy of a mention, Kisser gets to show off his guitar chops more than he has in a while, getting a much needed focus here. He bursts out at multiple junctures with flaming fretwork, in addition to some welcome acoustic playing that contains Spanish and classical styles. Paulo does good work, laying down a solid foundation, and we also hear some neat things like a Deep Purple style organ, Eastern keyboards, and even Tunisian violins. However, by far, my favorite thing about Machine Messiah is the percussion, where Casagrande contributes some amazing drum work with a distinct South American flair. A one-time child prodigy who joined Sepultura at age 20, Casagrande probably possesses more technical proficiency than Igor, but he has struggled to integrate his drums with the guitars as easily as Igor did. Here, Casagrande leaves that problem in the dust for the most part, showing his undeniable fit in the Sepultura lineup.
The music doesn’t necessarily have the aggression of early Sepultura, but it has enough aggression for the subject matter and does change the sound enough to give us some power and flow. However, though the spot-on instrumentation and harsh vocals are excellent, there’s not necessarily a ton of memorable content to take away, and that comes from the songs themselves. That’s not to say the songs are bland as a whole. “Machine Messiah” and “Cyber God” are fantastic bookends for the album, and the compositions are dynamic and feel like a real group effort. Sepultura also benefits from not trying to throw a bunch of ideas in here like some people might, and like Sepultura has done in the past. For the band they are right now, their focus and collectivism provides fans with a quality metal experience, a good move for these guys, and probably their best move right now. I don’t think Sepultura can successfully create a more experimental, creative, and indulgent album without coming across as scattered, self-indulgent, and confusing. Here, they give us a solid release, and that’s absolutely fine, because Machine Messiah suits the band well. It probably won’t win over die-hard, old-lineup-only Sepultura fans, but it will keep current fans happy, and might even bring some new ones into the fold. Each track is average to above average Sepultura, but in addition to the two tracks I mentioned, “Phantom Self,” “Iceberg Dances,” and “Sworn Oath” stood out to me as tunes I will revisit and enjoy.
Despite my negatives with the album, it actually is one of Sepultura’s most vivid and natural records, one that plays to the band’s strengths and is not afraid of implementing Brazilian flavored elements or the tough and flaming beats of their past. For the metal world, its worth a spin at least. As for me, Machine Messiah contains much of my favorite work from the Green days thus far, overcoming one of the main problems I’ve had with Sepultura albums since Roots: holding my interest from start to finish. I even believe it worthy a well-earned spot in the better half of Sepultura’s overall discography. It’s a good metal record for 2017, and another good one to put on the ever growing stack of quality metal releases from the past two years. Sepultura isn’t the band and influence they once were, but they still have much to offer, and I do think they have remedied most of their persisting issues.
I’m going to give Sepultura’s Machine Messiah an 81%.
P.S.: As you can see, Machine Messiah comes from the German label Nuclear Blast, and I am starting to think that if metal is to see a real comeback, Nuclear Blast might be leading the charge. In addition to Sepultura, they have Battle Beast, Death Angel, Exodus, Kreator, Lamb of God, Meshuggah, Opeth, Overkill, Slayer, Soulfly (the current Cavalera group), Testament, and many others. Sure, they’ve been around for a while, but keep your eyes on them in the next few years.