Soulfly: 'Omen' - CD Review


Metal fans who favor explosive riffage of the most sinister sort have much love for Brazilian virtuoso Max Cavalera, who first staked his claim in the genre over 20 years ago as one of the core members of landmark band Sepultura, before moving on to form or contribute to numerous other outfits – including the new ultra-thrash unit Cavalera Conspiracy, with his brother Igor on skins. But many of us have held a special fondness for Max’s higher profile project Soulfly – a prolific group that managed to blast out seven albums in the dozen-plus years since its inception.

While based mainly on a titanium skeleton of chug-a-riffic thrash, there’s an experimental spirit at work within each Soulfly album: exotic tribal influences (reminiscent of the Sepultura classic Roots) informed their 2004 effort Prophecy, while a lot of 2008's Conquer was infused with exotic Middle-Eastern touches, and each record ends with a free-form instrumental mood piece. That being said, it seems like Max decided to draw more heavily on his formative thrash/punk/hardcore roots for Omen, which debuted this week and is already being labeled one of the best metal records of the year. Turn the page for a review of their latest exercise in sonic mayhem…

While Max operates mainly within the solid, crusty chug rhythms that he handles with ease, one of Omen's outstanding additions is a stronger emphasis on complex soloing from brilliant lead guitarist Marc Rizzo, whose classically-influenced techniques get more opportunity to shine here. This results in a much broader range of guitar tones, distinct from the slight murkiness of their earlier output like Dark Ages, or the down-tuned grooves of Primitive.

Cavalera and company certainly prove they're not fucking around by ripping out of the gate with Bloodbath and Beyond – a simply-arranged, aggressively punkish intro that storms straight into pure death turf – but Rise of the Fallen (the album's first single, and for damn good reason) brings forward guitar structures that manage to be simultaneously beautiful and crushingly evil at the same time, blending dancing-spider leads and thundering riffs. Greg Puciato of Dillinger Escape Plan counter-balances Max's gravel-throated vocals with his razor-sharp intonation, which reaches a peak during the song's deep-grinding coda (after a cool sitar-tinged breakdown). The intensity continues with Great Depression, which sports back-and-forth rhythmic jumps between fierce speed-picking and thudding, sleazy groove-metal riffs.

Lethal Injection features cool mega-drop-tuned chugs – courtesy of Prong's Tommy Victor – and almost video-game-like overdriven bleeps produced by some furious neck-tapping leads, before we drop to a medium-tempo pace for Kingdom, which sports an animal intensity that explodes with a demonic chorus, mid-range chugs with well-oiled smoothness, and a brain-frying bridge solo.

Jeffrey Dahmer is exactly what you think it is – a not-at-all subtle (and maybe a little late in coming) ode to the “Master Cannibal, Master of the Gruesome” that is sure to ruffle a few prudish feathers... but let's face it, any kid who aspired to form their own death-metal outfit has written lyrics just like this in their notebook, and this track's got that same naïve gross-out charm. Off With Their Heads isn't much to write home about, riffing along like a roller-coaster on a fairly level track; it does feature some electric lead lines, but they're too brief to give the track enough of a Frankenstein jolt. Fortunately, the hardcore ripper Vulture Culture lifts the energy back up and throws it right into the pit, and it's nearly impossible to listen to this one without moving some part of your body.

The aptly named Mega-Doom climbs up from a graceful chord pattern and explodes into a menacing, apocalyptic nightmare vision – which of course means it's tons of fun, and a definite neck-snapper; while Counter Sabotage closes out the heavier proceedings with a moodier vibe, complete with satanic tri-tones and a more smoky-sounding riff that fills the sonic center-space – but it still rocks hard enough to send you off with a solid kick in the cojones. As in all their previous records, the band wraps up with Soulfly VII, the next chapter in the ongoing cycle of moody chill-laxin' codas. I’ve always liked these closing cuts for their unique zen feel, and this one’s no exception.

Buyers of the Omen Deluxe Edition get a collection of intriguing covers, including an impressive cover of Sepultura's classic Refuse/Resist, which features Max's son Zyon on drums, and brother Igor handles percussion duties for a version of Excel's Your Life, My Life. There's also a decent cover of Led Zeppelin's Four Sticks. A bonus concert DVD is included, which contains the band's complete set from Germany's Full Force Festival from last July. Both editions feature awesome H.R. Giger-style airbrush artwork; I’m partial to the cover of the standard edition, but both would make for sweet poster material.

Regardless of which version you choose, fans of Soulfly's latter-day output should have a great time with the back-to-basics approach here, because this one dishes out the mayhem straight, no chaser, and sometimes that's exactly what you need. As of this writing, the album is already charting well in its first week, so I’m guessing that plenty of us are satisfying that need right about now…