Nuclear Blast
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Superstition
02. Scouring the Vile
03. Filth Upon Filth
04. Rot in Pain
05. The Damage Done
06. Totem
07. Ancestors
08. Ecstasy of Gold
09. Soulfly XII
10. Spirit Animal

MAX CAVALERA wasn't joking when he gave his post-SEPULTURA band such a wide-eyed and hopeful name. SOULFLY have now been around for a quarter of a century, and if the band can be defined by anything, it is that they have been in a constant state of delighted evolution. From those early days when every album featured almost as many surprising guest cameos as they did brutal riffs, to more recent times, when the lines between SOULFLY and the Brazilian's other projects (CAVALERA CONSPIRACY, KILLER BE KILLED and GO AHEAD AND DIE) have become increasingly blurred, the furious, punk-as-fuck spirit that he embodies has never faltered.

Weirdly, SOULFLY have slowly warped back into sharp focus over the course of their last two albums. Both "Archangel" (2015) and "Ritual" (2018) felt designed to restate the band's musical values, albeit with an emphasis on death and thrash metal that was temporarily lost back in the late '90s. "Totem" completes what now feels like a trilogy, and it stands out as the most important record of the three. Essentially written as a duo, with Cavalera accompanied by son and drummer Zyon and recorded with bassist Mike Leon, here on this second Soulfly album, the twelfth SOULFLY album maintains the crushing heaviness of its immediate predecessors while managing to squeeze a bit of invention and perversity into the mix, too. Comprised of succinct and crafted metal songs, with little of the hazy jamming that often popped up on past albums, "Totem" is the sound of family setting new fires.

Leaving no doubts about their intent here, SOULFLY commence proceedings with two of the gnarliest songs they have written in years. "Superstition" is a streamlined dose of pure rage, and one of this band's best album openers since "Eye For An Eye"; "Scouring the Vile" is an overpowering deluge of death metal filth, with a thrilling guest vocal from OBITUARY's John Tardy and some of Cavalera's heaviest riffs since the '80s. Elsewhere, both "Filth Upon Filth" and "Ecstasy of Gold" channel the ferocious violence of old-school thrash through a swirling vortex of blackened disquiet; "Rot in Pain" is merciless thuggery delivered with a shit-eating grin and no compromise.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that "Soulfly XII" strays from the acoustic path of its eleven instrumental forebears and takes its creators for a dreamy, gothic post-punk meander, sounding not unlike THE CURE (but in a good way). It turns out to be a crafty moment of misdirection, however: the closing "Spirit Animal" is an outrageous, nine-minute epic, powered by two generations of Cavaleras, locked together in a crucifyingly heavy fight to the frosty finish. Grotesque, unsettling and overburdened with the kind of riffs that make right-minded people pull that face, it's impossible to listen to without imagining father and son, both sweaty as fuck, staring at each other across a rehearsal room and howling at the ceiling with sheer elation. As ever, the feeling is infectious, and "Totem" is easily identifiable as upper echelon, 21st century Max as a result. 25 years in, he's still flying.

Author: Dom Lawson
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