REVIEW: SOULFLY - TOTEM
VETERAN CAVALERA STILL GOT THE KEELLOR REEFS
This new Soulfly record consolidates Max Cavalera’s submersion into the death thrash influences that inspired the early street fury of Septultura. Long gone is the braided beard and dreadlocked hip-hop inflected bounce of the nu-metal era from whence this band emerged. Those infant days of Soulfly were not trouble-free, but they did produce some undisputed anthemic songs that, to this day, shred in a live setting. The sound of that era was, however, firmly superseded in the mid-2000s when a slew of Soulfly releases showed Cavalera rekindling his core bond with underground death, thrash and hardcore punk. Totem complements HISD latter day canon and can be accurately described as a natural and logical extension to the raw savagery of their last album, the excellent Ritual (2018).
The ripping opener Superstition could easily have made the cut for Ritual, being vintage Cavalera incendiary thrash. The rest of Totem is over-spilling with trademark frantic fretwork, explosive percussion while Cavalera's unique vocals sound excoriating - he has been pissed off for a number of decades now. The love of death metal is pretty evident throughout Totem. Soulfly albums always include some form of collaboration and Obituary’s John Tardy lends his vomited vocals on Scouring the Vile a nasty raw thrasher or the abrasive Rot in Pain.
The massive part of Soulfly’s identity is, of course, the incorporation of tribal styles. Sepultura tentatively employed this in the early 1990s with the song Kaiwos before full-immersion into indigenous Brazilian tribal music and imagery with the mighty Roots (1996) album – some of which was recorded in the Brazilian rain forest with the Xavante tribe. The tribal and ethno-indigenous influences have not been forsaken but are less in your face nowadays. Totem has tribal blood in its circulation, most obviously in Soulfly XII and the weirded out nine minutes metal of Spirit Animal. This aspect nowadays mostly manifests in bridges, flourishes, interludes, intros mostly or incorporated into leads.
There is an inherently chaotic core to Soulfly albums. Principally it is thrash but not the chromed, polished variety nor the vintage nostalgist sort. It is rougher, vituperative and volatile that swings from death, hardcore, punk, tribalism, spiritual, and experimentalism and it is all packed in a furious, anarchic blender. Totem is a dark and fuming metal record that teems with primal energy, caustic spitefulness and Max’s genuine love of his own life-spanning record collection. There are a surfeit of ‘keellor reefs’ on almost every track here and each song is jammed and alive with ideas. It is a solid collection of songs with a consistent, brooding atmosphere yet it is difficult to pick out anything that is an unequivocal classic or anthem. There is no Refuse/Resist or Eye for an Eye, yet somehow holistically this is a packs a violent punch.
Totem is available via Nuclear Blast.