Having buried his first grandson as he began work on Soulfly’s fifth album, it may come as no surprise that the tracks on Dark Ages are the some of the bleakest and most livid that Max Cavalera has penned in years. However, with a somewhat settled line up and absolutely nothing left to prove Dark Ages could just be Soulfly’s most comprehensive work yet.
The follow up to last year’s Prophecy is for the most part a total departure from the eclectic mix of spiritually fuelled, ‘roots’ infused metal that one has come to expect from Soulfly. Instead, Max has chosen a descent into an abyss of speedy, thrashed-out metal that (thankfully) makes no attempt to disguise neither its rage nor its harsh rawness.
Babylon sets a ferocious opening standard with the primal musical brutality beautifully facilitating Max’s agonised, and somewhat less than rose-tinted view of the world in 2005. It is unfortunate at this early stage that the first (and only major) disappointment on Dark Ages rears its head – namely the production, which when stacked up against any of Soulfly’s earlier works, come across as muddy, blundering and dull.
The disparity is slightly eased when I discover that the overwhelming majority of the album was recorded on to analogue tape in an Arizona garage in full, single takes. While this different approach may not produce the ultra punchy, tight knit grind that has become something of a Soulfly trademark, it is (by the second and third listen) still potent.
I And I contains some impressive solo work, although this unfortunately obscures both the drums and an alleged bass solo. The four-stringed element does finally appear with a vengeance on Carved Inside, which shapes up nicely as an old school technical thrash tune, complete with numerous time signature changes and harmonic lead, and puts Max and his boys firmly back on the metal map.
Arise Again is perhaps the high point of the stripped back album, fusing Metallica style riffage and tribal drums into some strong echoes of Sepultura, adding nothing but strength to the theory that Max is a living metal legend.
Frontlines will have you searching for the Kerry King guest appearance in the liner notes, and is certainly a contender for the speediest Soulfly number to date. However,the exhaustive use of four letter expletives does raise questions as to whether there are more eloquent ways of expressing one’s feelings, but then again, high brow is surely not something Soulfly are striving to be.
Despite appearing tagged on to the tail end of the album, Soulfly V is a fabulous example of the band’s musical diversity, while the closing recitation of Psalm 91 – above a subdued track of reversed harmonics and reverb drenched drums – is haunting.
Dark Ages will never contend with Soulfly’s debut, or match up to the catchiness of many numbers on Primitive, but this is the album that Soulfly needed to make now – it documents the experiences and emotions of its members in the present and it justifies its existence as a point in the musical journey of exploration that is Soulfly.