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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

CD Review: Sepultura - A-Lex

Sepultura - A-Lex
2009 SPV/Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



If there's been one undoing to the legacy of Sepultura, one of metal's most innovative and important bands, it's the instability of infrastructure that has chased many of their listeners away. Sad enough most people outside of South America jumped ship after Max Cavalera split and created Nailbomb and Soulfly. Their resistance to Derrick Green has been unfair as the cat can command the mike in his own hardcore-bred candor and Green has proven himself reliable year after year with whatever Sepultura demands of him.

Sure, it took a couple albums of finding their direction sound-wise as of Against and Nation, but you have to hand it to Sepultura for their continued experimentation that made their vintage work Arise, Chaos A.D. and Roots three of the best metal albums of all-time. They tag-teamed with the Japanese drumming ensemble Kodo for a breathtaking collision of crunch chords-meeting feudal Japan with "Kamaitachi" on Against, while Nation was a daring issuance of Sepultura's ideals of one nation (a Sepulnation) living in unity and peace without the threat of annihilation, and featuring Jello Biafra's kicked-in vocals on "Politricks," to-boot.

As brutal as Sepultura's sound may be (thanks in large to Andreas Kisser's monster riffs which show no sign of wearing down), it's that cumbersome heaviness that allows the band to project their messages of utopia--either bluntly or subversively depending on the project. 2006's underrated Dante XXI exhibited Sepultura's capacity to translate literature into a metal mini-epic and now this year they take on Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange with a blistering, thrash-minded ode to joy, A-Lex.

If you've read the expanded version of A Clockwork Orange, you'll know the story doesn't end abruptly and insidiously as Stanley Kubrick's brilliant film leaves us. Alex has reached the age of 18, considered an old man in the company of a new gang, but when he is spotted with a picture of a baby, his suspicious and power hungry new droogs makes Alex suddenly see the error of his ways and he opts to leave his life of violence and seek a path towards true redemption, namely finding a wife and having a son. Though he believes one bad seed might beget another, Alex's choice to do right (brought to full circle when he spots his old running mate Pete with a wife and adopted fully into mainstream society) is the message devoid of Kubrick's film. While the statement of government corruption failing a juvenile delinquent to near death is powerful enough, the fact we see said minor turned adult choosing a better road of his own free will is much more ideal and you can see why Andreas Kisser and his Sepultura tribe seek to honor the novel on A-Lex.

Though Iggor Cavalera has now likewise left the Sepultura fold and only Kisser and bassist Paulo Jr. remain of the original lineup, the spirit has not left the band, no sir. A-Lex is just as passionate, just as fierce and frequently faster than most thrash bands out there. Wonderfully, they continue to experiment with rootsy percussion and tribal motifs on "Filthy Rot" (which, if you've read Burgess' novel, you'll know these words carry a double entendre in Alex's gang-related oddspeak) while building suspense on the immediate next song "We've Lost You" before erupting on the mid-tempo cruncher "What I Do!"

For the second album in a row, Sepultura has learned to finesse the aggression with details, such as how the hammering thrash base of "The Treatment" is spliced with more reserved tempos and escalating boom. You can picture the literary Alex or Malcolm McDowell screeching madcap while the government nastily works him over towards his "cure." The way this song is tailored, it sounds hostile, accusatory and even subliminally morose.

If there's one song on A-Lex that captures the entire project into one, it's the 6:51 "Sadistic Values," which has Sepultura largely creeping and skulking with jagged snare strikes and hollow guitar and bass lines which give way to an increased sense of agitation at the halfway mark. Kisser's riffs are almost too much to handle as "Sadistic Values" blares violently and catastrophically. Derrick Green snarls in terrifying candor along the way, increasing the drama of the song before it jettisons with vapor trails and climaxes in the final seconds with a grinding finish accompanied by wicked cello swipes. This is one of Sepultura's best-written songs ever, Cavalera or no.

If there's a sketchy part to A-Lex, it's the Beethoven section towards the end. You understand perfectly well why it's there as the 9th Symphony is integral towards telling Alex's story, however once you've already crashed your head in time to "Forceful Behavior," and the pounding "Enough Said," the "Ludwig Van" suite is a bit of a forced hand in which Sepultura streams their instrumentation into a classical chamber fugue and honestly, it would've worked better minus Sepultura's appearance. It's not dreadful or anything, but it does bring the severity of the album down notches.

On the other hand, the briefly-realized synth gestures guiding the uptempo "A-Lex IV" is a genuinely savvy tribute to Wendy Carlos' haunted score from the film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. It is also decidedly all Sepultura's, particularly since it sets up a thrashy slam-dunk to close A-Lex with "Paradox."

Gripe all you will about Max and Iggor's lack of involvement in Sepultura. In this writer's opinion, all is at it should be. Cavalera Conspiracy ended up being a familial reunification conjuring up the best thrash output of 2008, while the remnants of Sepultura remain inspired and have meted out two successive albums in a row worthy of the hallowed eighties and nineties catalog. Iggor may be a superior drummer to newcomer Jean Dollabella, but that doesn't mean Dollabella isn't up to the task. A-Lex thrives from his methodic drives, being flashy only when needed. Otherwise, this is Sepultura continuing to reinvent itself as the punches meet them and thus becoming genuine artisans along the way.

Rating: ****

8 comments:

Fred "C" said...

First, let me say that I saw the Derrik Green fronted Sepultura in Philly a few years back they totally decimated the Trocadero. My brother and I were planning to leave the show after Voivod, but we stuck around to see one Sepultura song. They were so good that we stayed for the full set. It was killer!!

Secondly, nice review. I'm going to pick this up when it comes out. Is it me, or is the CD artwork for this awesome?

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

It's not just you, bro. I spotlighted this cover over at our joint site Whole Lotta Album Covers this week, that's how awesome it is.

Glad you stuck around for Sep's set...I mean shit, Voivod AND Sepultura? And at the Troc? Hells yeah! I'm hoping Sep comes around here this time and God willing I make it. Thanks for the good words, bud, cheers and enjoy this sucker...

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good album. I'm pumped to get it.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

enjoy, my friend, it's worth the ride

Martin said...

what i haev heard from there songs on the myspace site. i think it is kick ass sound and i dont care about igor have departed aswell and now teres no cavalera buinuiss involved...i was to young to experience max departure so for me soulfly is one band and spultura is another. tho may sound pretty familiar sometimes. cavalera conspiracy was the best thrash metal band of 2008 (after metallica ofc) but this new sepultura album sounds promising. i have Dante and it sounded abit odd for me,a-lex sounds better so im gonna get it no doubt. sepultura 3.0 is great!

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

thanks for your thoughts, Martin...I too thought Cavalera Conspiracy was the best thrash band of 2008...that one blew me away completely...you're absolutely right about how good it is we have Soulfly AND Sepultura...I'm deeply impressed with what Andreas and the gang have managed to do under duress and to this point I've yet to hear anyone slag A-Lex...hope it stays that way

Anonymous said...

thnx for the killa review bro..

Hope they plan to head India again! a-lex foreva!

Generic Cialis said...

One of the most important bands of all time regarding metal, I have all the records they release when Cavalera was the singer, best days of the band.