2018s Ritual was strong enough to make my top ten of the year, not something another Soulfly album has ever threatened. Despite my soft spot for the main vehicle for Heavy Metal icon Max Cavalera, Soulfly has often been a little inconsistent, throwing in a few savage ‘bangers’ but often drifting with some less exciting tracks. Enough material to bring a savage live set, Ritual was one of the most cohesive albums that Soulfly had produced.
Soulfly – Totem (Nuclear Blast)
Release Date: 5 August 2022
Words: Paul Hutchings
Enter album number 12, Totem. Described by Max as a “celebration of spiritual nature” and “an album all about the joy, fun and anger in Metal,” it’s a return to form, alright. A two-year journey with son and drummer Zyon, Max once more brings his instantly recognisable harsh vocals and relentless rhythm guitar, alongside bassist Mike Leon and producer Arthur Rizk (Eternal Champion), who handles all the lead work.
In general, Totem relies on short, aggressive songs that are typically explosive. The opener Superstition is a tad over three minutes in length, but it sets the tempo for the rest of the release. High octane energy, punishing riffs, intense drumming and Max’s croaking roars combine in a rampaging blast of brutality. Utilising echoing effects, there’s a tribal atmosphere that begins here and threads throughout the record.
Four tracks clock in under three minutes, but Max and co easily manage to cram everything they need in these. Unsurprisingly, given his recent work, this is a return to the thrash roots which Soulfly has avoided almost deliberately for much of their career.
The return to the sheer power that propelled Max to stardom in the 1980s and 1990s is to be welcomed. For many, it is what he does best. The crushing riff on Filth Upon Filth is a joyous beast and one that brings tears to this old head. It strikes deep and the feeling is good.
The title track is the central pillar of the album and the second longest piece. Underpinned by a frenetic groove, it bustles along at pace, Zyon’s drumming simple at times and intricate when needed. Max is at his vocal best, huge roars burst from the speakers whilst Rizk’s blistering solo work is effective without being over flashy.
Maintaining the tradition on every album, Soulfly XII changes pace, direction and style with some more traditional approaches, this time the use of synths being the surprise as it veers to almost electronica in feel.
This paves the way for the real curved ball, the nine-minute plus album closer Spirit Animal. It opens with eerie echoes of creatures unknown before a bludgeoning riff carves out a huge chunk, supported by Zyon’s machine-gunning behind the kit. The next nine minutes see an expansive track that flips everything around, dropping to a steady grinding riff with tribal chanting.
It doesn’t remain like this with son Richie joining Max in an emotion-filled duet before Rizk imparts more blistering guitar work. The track slows apace to a doom-filled segment, more akin to Candlemass than Soulfly, with a Machine Head style guitar chug that fades to an ethereal mid-section that relies on effects and a gentler direction with some clean vocals. It’s a song that has multiple dimensions, challenges the thoughts, and lingers long after it concludes.
Max has maintained that his reunion with brother Igor will remain restricted to Cavalera Conspiracy. When he can continue to forge his own path with albums that continue in this vein, why would he do anything else?