Brazilian thrash metal legends Sepultura are back with Machine Messiah; a loosely hung concept album based around the domination of humanity by technology. It's not a unique idea by heavy rock standards but Sepultura give it their own spin.
The opening title track sets the scene with menacing arpeggios and clean vocals from frontman Derrick Green. As Green lets loose his growl on the refrain, “Bow down to machine messiah”, the vibe is something like a Slayer tune written by Fear Factory. While much has been made of the departure of original singer Max Cavalera twenty years ago, particularly by the man himself, the lineup of the band has been remarkably stable. Green replaced Cavalera in ’97 and guitarist Andreas Kisser shouldered the songwriting burden left behind. Green, Kisser, and bassist Paulo Jr. can boast over 80 years in the band between them.
Now on their 14th album, the Brazilians were always a bit different to their metal peers. They brought Native American rhythms and the ferocity of hardcore punks like Discharge and Doom to the thrash template. Sepultura weren’t afraid to break the mould and play slow, doom-laden riffs amidst the speed metal. And that attitude of openness and experimentalism serves them well on Machine Messiah.
The main emotion on first listen is one of pleasant surprise. Sepultura sound vital. I missed their previous effort, the widely acclaimed The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart, because the 2011 album that preceded it, Kairos, had sounded flat and unimaginative. I mistakenly thought that the band were out of ideas. I am delighted to have been proved wrong. Sepultura have never repeated themselves and have striven to alter their sound and approach with each album. The downside of such an attitude is that their back catalogue is hit and miss. The upside is an album like Machine Messiah that is unique.
Kisser’s variation of tone and dynamics keeps things interesting, while surprises abound in the instrumentation. The chorus of ‘Sworn Oath’ soars on a Michael Kamen style orchestral swell. The Latin brass and tribal percussion of recent single ‘Phantom Self’ would sound ridiculous for most metal bands but, for Sepultura, such eclecticism is standard. ‘Alethea’ sounds like a Pantera song while light speed instrumental ‘Iceberg Dances’ sees Kisser’s guitar sparring with a Ray Manzarek organ and a Rodrigo Y Gabriela nylon six string. Even when things get generic, like on ‘Resistant Parasites’, the Kamen-esque strings and an exotic breakdown manage to keep things suitably untoward.
What Machine Messiah evokes most of all is the desire to see these songs played live. ‘Resistant Parasites’ and ‘Phantom Self’ have already made it into the live set and hopefully more of the album will too, by the time they hit these shores next month with labelmates Kreator and Soilwork. This is a very welcome addition to the Sepultura canon.
Machine Messiah is available from amazon.
Sepultura play the following dates with Kreator, Soilwork, and Aborted:-
Feb 28th – Manchester, Academy
March 1st – Dublin, Vicar Street
March 2nd – London, Forum