Soulfly – Totem

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Soulfly - Totem
Soulfly – Totem

Reviewed: September 2022
Released: 2022, Nuclear Blast
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Simon Wiedemann

Soulfly are an American groove/thrash/death metal band who were founded in 1997 by once Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera. He left the Brazilian super group a year before. ‘Totem’ is the former band’s twelve full length album, and it was released on August 5th, 2022, through Nuclear Blast. The group has had several different line-ups, Cavalera being the only constant member. The band originally played nu metal, but updated their sound in the early noughties. Max comments, ’Totem is a celebration of the spiritual nature. It was a 2 year journey writing with (drummer) Zyon. This album is about all the joy, the fun and the anger in metal.’

First thoughts? ‘Wow, the rhythm guitarist has a seriously fast right hand at times.’ (Or left if he’s left handed). As a guitarist, I’m jealous. The stamina and precision he has! The speed picking is often so fast it’s blurry in fact, but the effect certainly isn’t overdone. However, let’s face it, the guitar riffs on the whole aren’t anything new. Far from it. You also get typical moderate paced chugs, pedal tone ideas, power chord abuse, and sludgy tones. The peaceful and eerie clean guitars (kind of like in Iron Maiden’s ‘Strange World’) and light yet busy drumming in the last track make a nice change but they’re a bit under developed. On another note, it’s a simple idea, but the reverb on the vocals really does create a cool and slightly eerie atmosphere. The singer has a great shout at times, too. It really does pump the adrenaline, he’s not one of those (many) people who scream just because everyone else does it, he definitely knows how to be dramatic without coming across as excessive or self-absorbed. 

This will annoy classical metal fans (by that I mean pre-death metal era), but I think in this case, the shouts are far better than ‘nicer’ clean vocals ever could be. Usually I’m critical of albums like this, in that I often think similar bands try to be as exciting as possible, whilst neglecting the songwriting, but whilst not exactly adventurous, the compositions here seem to be in the sweet spot – easy to get into but not too intellectual. The shred guitar solos aren’t thought out by a musical Einstein, but they’re great at adding to the excitement. However, you can be exciting whilst playing complicated ideas, and the simplified scalic ideas Soulfly come up with may disappoint guitar geeks. For me, the energy of it all mixed with the ever so slightly spooky vibe was a really nice combination. The drummer has a great groove that is far from mechanical, too. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve complained about other groups sounding like robots, so maybe I should zip it.

In conclusion, I found this album to be very enjoyable, BUT it’s too simple and cliched to get a higher score. It’s great for what it is – a non-serious thrill fest that has tons of personality – but is it a classic in the way ‘The Blackening’ by Machine Head is with tons of great ideas that develop constantly and seem to keep getting better and better? Not exactly. Sure you get plenty of riffs, but they don’t really wow too much. As most of the songs are around the three minute mark, there isn’t really too much opportunity to get the most out of the ideas. On the plus side however, it gives the music a punky edge that the young partiers will love. There isn’t too much variety in the playing time of forty minutes, but do you want to listen to a symphony? If you’re reading this, probably not. Style-wise, it’s not so different to their last album (but Totem is sludgier with more atmosphere), so if you have it already and you’re not too much of a fan, maybe get something else.


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Tracklisting:

1. Superstition
2. Scouring the Vile
3. Filth Upon Filth
4. Rot in Pain
5. The Damage Done
6. Totem
7. Ancestors
8. Ecstasy of Gold
9. Soulfly XII
10. Spirit Animal

Band Line-up:

Max Cavalera – Vocals, guitars
Mike Leon – Bass
Zyon Cavalera – Drums

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