When Max Cavalera left Sepultura amid a war of words in 1996, the metal world was left deprived of one of its leading lights. Granted, Sepultura had started out as a bunch of Slayer-worshipping wannabes complete with the vacuous Satanic imagery that entails, but by the time of their Roots album they’d evolved into a modern metal machine whose Brazilian heritage flowed through their music like no other band.
Of course, Sepultura are still manfully producing records, and Cavalera and his revolving cast of musicians – Soulfly – are now on their fourth, but somehow the suspicion has always been that neither group is firing on the number of cylinders that they could be if they pooled their collective talent.
Prophecy is unlikely to change that picture, but that’s not to say it’s an album unworthy of purchase. No, it hits the highs of old several times and it’s so diverse that it could be classed as Exhibit A should any metal-head ever be accused of having narrow musical tastes. It’s just that Cavalera, well, has a tendency to get carried away sometimes…
First to the good bits. Prophecy and Living Sacrifice are apocalyptic openers that hark back to the days of Chaos AD, with air-raid sirens going off and walls of metallic guitar as Cavalera shouts in that endearing accent of his, “It’s the lee-ving, it’s the lee-ving, it’s the lee-ving sacrifice!”
Execution Style, Defeat U and Porrada are 150 mph, old skool ’80s thrash workouts with 21st Century production – and they sound great for it. Meanwhile, the thrashy hardcore of Mars is possibly the album’s highlight, with clever lyrics about how the world has ended up regressing spiritually through its insistence on warfare (“I am Mars the God of War / You bow to me like you did before”).
If that all sounds fairly non-leftfield, then think again for there all manner of acoustic breaks, tribal percussion and “interesting” musical miscellanea. When they work, they sound grand, as in the Spanish guitars within Mars, the spoken words and reflective instrumentation in I Believe and the crazy percussion of Born Again Anarchist.
However, there are times when it seems that a curveball is being thrown for a curveball’s sake. The dub elements in Moses are okay – just – but Soulfly are no P.O.D., at least not in the metal/reggae fusion context.
The Latin jazz intro to Porrada seems completely random; the cover version of Helmet‘s monumentally fine In The Meantime is faithful but superfluous; the chilled-out instrumental Soulfly IV is cool but too long at six minutes; and as for Wings… Well, if you ever thought you’d hear Max Cavalera release a song that sounds like Sade for the first three minutes, has a brass band playing for the next two, and finishes with some operatic wailing, then you’re as bizarre as this track is.
So Prophecy ends strangely, but its first three-quarters still stand as a testament to one of heavy metal’s survivors, and most talented ones at that. As if to prove how far Cavalera has come from those late ’80s thrash days, the albums is dedicated “to God, the Most High”, and is littered with religious art and professions of faith. If Cavalera can rein in the over-experimentation next time then he could produce a truly classic album. Let’s pray that he does.