Released: 2012, Roadrunner
I’ve never been a Soulfly fan. Like most people it was with mild curiosity that I checked out the debut to see what ol’ Max could come up with post-Sep and I wasn’t impressed. I took a stab at PRIMITIVE in 2000 and that pretty much sealed it for me. Not my band. The better part of a decade the band churned out records and I didn’t bother with any of them, too much other good stuff out there to waste time listening to mallcore. Years later, I accidentally heard a track from CONQUER in 2008 and I noticed it seemed to be a mild improvement. I say ‘accidentally heard’ because despite myself I bought CONQUER for my buddies birthday and he played me a cut or two. Yes, despite not liking the band I swallowed my pride and still gave them a sale. Partly because he likes Soulfly and I knew he would enjoy it, and partly because, despite my personal opinion of the music, I do respect what they have been doing; namely churning out the down-tuned, generic, 90’s Pantera-inspired, jock rock for the kids who haven’t moved onto Metal yet. That’s a plus because these types of safe, mainstream bands eventually can help get kids into heavy underground music. So anyway, CONQUER had something resembling some guitars and I made a mental note to revisit the band but overtime the moment slipped away and I never bothered. I suppose I just couldn’t bring my self to listen to them. I just wasn’t interested and that’s why I didn’t even realize OMEN came out in 2010. Time flies. So hear we are with ENSLAVED in 2012 and the hype machine is in overdrive. ‘Devastatingly Brutal’ proclaims the sticker on the front. Uh, huh. “We will see about that’, I thought to myself rather skeptically as I got ready to go see the Jungle Rot and Deicide concert at my local bar. So, I throw it on in the car on the way downtown and you know, it’s not bad!
First (non-musical) impressions were not good. ENSLAVED is a boring, unoriginal title. There are at least a dozen bands with a release called ENSLAVED already. Soulfly are still going with the silly, one-word, pseudo-rebellious, semi-political, song-titles (Resistance, Treachery, Intervention) and the album cover looks similar to countless others. It’s a prisoner chained up with some sort of Borg cube (from the Star Trek movies) mixed with the puzzlebox (from the Hellraiser movies) attached to the guys head. Max has been pushing that whole liberal ‘celebration of the victim’ mentality since CHAOS A.D. I rather see my 500th Power Metal album cover of a hero slaying a dragon, (actually doing something pro-active!) than some poor helpless guy (or girl) blindfolded, tied up, chained-up, bound and gagged, crucified and so on. The whole victim mentality has no place in Metal. Metal is about action, power and defiance but to many of these mallcore bands keep flogging this helpless victim theme. I don’t get it.
Musically this is pretty fast and heavy for Soulfly. It seems Max has discovered that a bit of Gothenburg, melo-death is to his liking. There is some exacto-chug guitar work kinda like Megadeth or recent Annhilator, and some of the songs actually have solos! There are still the remnants of mallcore; the electro-distorted shout vocals, the pinch squeals, breakdowns, industrial sound effects, little hints of tribal drums but those components are really minimized and don’t really adversely affect the songs. Like the last Sepultura records Soulfly are taking a big step in the right direction. The production is loud and clear and the punchy album sustains a pretty good tempo across it’s 50+ minutes.
I don’t usually like to write these somewhat negative reviews that carry a cynical tone and deliver backhanded compliments. That’s why I’ve never reviewed a Soulfly album to date because I think it’s pointless to just make fun of, or insult a band. However, sometimes you have to say what you feel and in the final analysis ENSLAVED is an above average album by a below average band. We can split the difference and call it average and give it a 2.5 out of five.
To me, a non-believer it’s probably the best thing they have ever done. Recently a friend pointed out my hypocrisy of making that claim, because earlier in this review I said I’ve never listened to most of the Soulfly catalogue, so how would I truly know if ENSLAVED is the best they have ever done? I don’t know, but sometimes you have to go on instinct and my gut is telling me this is the album that will help Soulfly turn the corner into a band I will enjoy, follow and support and more importantly this album will appeal to Metal fans who have never given the band a chance before.