Savages is the ninth studio album from groove metallers Soulfly. Max Cavalera recorded six albums with former band Sepultura, so the legacy of his worldly thrash metal is very much swinging in favour of Soulfly. I have to tell you that my knowledge of the band’s back catalogue actually stopped after album number two, Primitive, some 13 years ago. So why am I giving this album my attention? Well, because I fancied listening to some damn heavy music and Soulfly fitted my craving perfectly. I’d forgotten just how absurdly heavy they are/were though so my first listen really was quite an experience. Apologies in advance to long-term fans who may know the back catalogue inside out, at least we’ll agree on one thing, Savages is superb.
Now featuring Max’s son on drums, following the departure of David Kinkade, the ten tracks of intense metal here are as the album title alludes to, utterly savage in execution. But it’s not just all about blasting out furious riffs, Soulfly have a brilliant ability to change tempo in a song and drop into slower grooves, no less intense or heavy. It’s this and the combination of a tribal undertow to their music that appeals to me.
‘Bloodshed’ begins the album with a flurry of sirens and menacing noises before erupting into a gargantuan mid tempo riff. Max gives it serious delivery with his vocal attack, a melodic mini solo over ascending chords leads into the repeated chanted chorus of “Everywhere is Bloodshed”. Once the intensity has started, you know there’ll be little in the way of calm and this is driven home with the all out thrasher that is ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. Over after a swift three and a half minutes, the chorus of “Cannibal Holocaust, all place lost, life is lost” is genuinely unsettling and utterly brutal.
‘Fallen’ is a heavy rumbling groove, the vocals spat out in great rhythm with the riff. Mark Rizzo always manages to get some melodic guitar lines in around the chorus, another aspect of Soulfly that sets them apart. Zyon Cavalera’s drums sound like falling trees on this track and I Declare War’s Jamie Hanks turns in an earth shattering gargle for his vocal turn.
There’s a madness about ‘Ayatollah of Rock n’ Rolla’ that I guess a seasoned veteran like Max Cavalera can get away with. Yes, he does rhyme the two components of the title track. A slow lengthy intro with spoken word, grinding riff and howling guitar line lends a little light to proceedings, soon kicked to one side with the speedy riff of the verse. Then there’s the funky groove of the chorus and Clutch’s Neil Fallon bringing a little respite from the roaring vocals of Cavalera.
Standout ‘Spiral’ is a two part track with a brilliant spiralling groove and chorus, it comes to a shuddering halt half way through before Rizzo rips out another great solo. Whilst probably not the most technical of guitarists he always manages to add simple and effective guitar work that integrates brilliantly with Cavalera’s vicious riffs. ‘This is Violence’ is driven along on a furiously snappy riff, again Rizzo weighs in with a neatly interweaving but menacing guitar line in the chorus.
A major feature of Soulfly albums over the years is the appearance of guest vocalists and ‘KCS’ has Napalm Death’s Mitch Harris performing a duet (of sorts) with Max. His register is higher than Cavalera’s earthly growl and this lends a certain punk sound to the track.
Personal favourite is ‘El Comegente’, the track is divided into two very different sections, part one is an ultra heavy doom riff with a sinister three note guitar line. It’s a fantastic moment when the track stops and the massive chant of “El Comegente!” is shouted over a huge swinging bass groove. Part two is a very mellow acoustic inflected section were the fury totally subsides. Closing track ‘Soulfliktion’ is another thrasher, I can just see the manic moshpits this one is going to induce. Sticking to the template, the chorus is a shouted line of “What you die for?” over the heaviest of riffs. The track and album end on a slowed down groove with another one of Rizzo’s ominous guitar lines fading out.
The very fact that Soulfly are still making such commanding albums after all these years, with personal tragedy and band member changes, is down to Max Cavalera’s determination and work ethic. They have unique sound that can only come from the Brazilian roots of their main man, this had become a feature of Sepultura records and has certainly carried on with Soulfly. Musically, Savages is about as heavy as these ears can take, so I was very much pushed to the limit in terms of acceptance, but listen closely and you’ll be richly rewarded with some seriously good heavy grooves and little hidden passages of melody. The riffs are extremely catchy, the album is superbly produced by Terry Date, it’s certainly one of the best metal albums I’ve heard in a long while.