Pop quiz: what’s the connection between Brit whiners Radiohead, power metallers Iced Earth, supermodel and occasional songwriter Milla Jovovich, and seminal metalcore legends Zao? Answer: they have all leant their creative interpretation to one of the greatest works of literature ever penned – Dante Alighieri‘s epic 14th century poem The Divine Comedy. And now it’s the turn of thrash metal veterans Sepultura to dedicate their work to this complex visionary verse.
I chose to approach Dante XXI leaving aside the thoroughly exhausted and truly tiresome argument that runs along the lines of: “Sepultura just aren’t Sepultura without Max Cavalera…” Instead, I decided to accept at face value the band who chose to continue making music after losing one of metal’s great frontmen from their ranks. If nothing else, respect is due to them for surviving well into the 21st century (even if rumours abound of Igor Cavalera’s imminent departure) and although their output may have slipped at times, with Dante XXI the boys from Brazil have made a solid attempt to return to their glory days.
Dante XXI is Sepultura’s fourth proper release in their current incarnation and the majority of its songs are potent, to the point and nothing less than brutally forthright in their approach. The result is that for the most part, Dante XXI is a relentless onslaught of metal which treads the tightrope of old school influences fused with the force of modern production – with only a few noticeable glitches and hiccups.
First single Convicted In Life provides immense riffs, tempo changes and oozes the kind of shout-along-ability that has contributed to many a classic Sepultura tune since 1991’s Arise album. Ostia contains some seriously intricate musicianship with fully orchestrated string backing, but also manages to stand up as more than a Metallica S&M rip off moment, while the crushingly heavy verses give Derrick Green ample opportunity to provide some of his most brutal vocals on the entire disc.
In contrast, Buried Words is pretty blatant album filler, clocking in at under the two minute mark, with little more to say than: “Your words, I bury them! You’re dead!” To compensate, Nuclear Seven supplies some blistering riffage, an awesome solo and considerably deeper lyrics in which Mr Green relates Dante’s circles of hell to modern day atrocities.
Crown And Mitre stands to be yet another crowd-pleaser, exhibiting discordant guitar work and restoring faith in Igor Cavalera as an innovative force in metal rather than reinforcing fears that he had adopted the human metronome stance so often taken by veteran sticksman.
Dante XXI is certainly not Sepultura’s strongest album, and could probably follow its claimed “theme” a little closer. However, the quartet have produced a set of hard-hitting anthems, a good few of which can be pegged under their already weighty belt of past glories. With many new bands in the wider metal arena struggling to maintain quality and dependability, Sepultura are living examples and benefactors of that age-old chestnut: “If it ain’t broke…”