Review: Soulfly – Archangel

It’s been 18 years since former Sepultura front man, Max Cavalera, formed Soulfly creating a band that blended traditional heavy metal with Brazilian tribal rhythms. Despite some experimentation along the way, Soulfly is back to its roots with their tenth studio album, ‘Archangel.’

Described by Cavalera as “a very epic and mystic kind of record,” and very “heavy and fast,” this album took me by complete surprise. ‘Archangel,’ like many of Soulfly’s albums has a strange power that transports the listener to another place and time, making for a surreal experience that will have you mentally venturing through the biblical times. This may be a turnoff to those unfriendly to Christian themes and inspirations, but let the album speak for itself.

The record begins just with what you would expect to hear – driving, fast, and straight to the point. With ‘We Sold Our Souls to Metal’, Cavalera bursts straight out of the gate into familiar territory with lyrics like “we don’t need society. I don’t need your politricks…Destroy’em all. Fuck your laws!” The chorus line chants the song title like an anthem, assuring that this will be a fan favorite. Making the song all the better, there’s an overarching story hidden beneath the angst and adrenaline fueled rage, giving hope for the best Soulfly album yet.

When the smoke of the first track clears, the listener wakes up in the world of the title track, ‘Archangel’. The song begins with distant ambient guitar sounds while a man speaking in an ancient tongue proclaims some very poetic lines. Electronic percussion soon fades in and a slow build up bursts into a driving mid-tempo riff. As the song begins, Cavalera gives listeners a feeling of where the story is headed with lyrics such as “war in heaven, angels fell. Lash out against the dragon’s spell.” Archangel truly sets the tone for the record with a few timing and tempo changes, choral music, and a chorus that screams the song title, allowing for a very exotic and mesmerizing feeling to ensue.

Setting the stage for the destruction of Sodom, ‘Sodomites’ begins with a demonic voice reciting a terrifying verse from Ezekiel. Enter a rhythmic, funky guitar riff, and the vocal talents of Nails’ Todd Jones and you have a song that sounds as evil as the voice speaking the opening verse. Pounding chants such as “So-do-mites” commands the chorus, each time followed by a powerful Gregorian chant. A short but effective quickening of the tempo ends the song with a lead into ‘Ishtar Rising’.

The fourth track is a quick 2:45 minutes but leaves its mark in a bold way. A single time tempo verse tells about the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar’s descent into hell with a heavy Black Sabbath-like feel as the song takes the listener further into the ancient realms of the record. Double bass and the hellish screaming of the song’s title pound through another frighteningly catchy chorus. Like in ‘Archangel’, Cavalera again channels the spirit of the record, chanting “Ish-tar Ri-sing! Adonal”! (Adonal is an ancient Hebrew word for God).

‘Live Life Hard’ takes a break in the biblical action and features guest vocals by Matt Young of King Parrot.  Young and Cavalera trade verses returning to the adrenaline dosed tradition of the band, shouting “go hard or go home, go hard or fuck off” in the chorus. A fast but short and sweet solo comes later in the song, followed by a final chorus, and a brutal breakdown. The song finishes off awkwardly with a few random taunts including “get the fuck out of my way” and “let’s throw down” to end the song. Frankly, this listener was eager to move past the quick relapse into the band’s comfort zone, although I’m sure that many fans will find it to be a treat.

Listeners are brought flying back into the setting of Archangel by the ominous chant of what I can describe as ancient priests introducing track six, ‘Shamash’. Fast and brutal heavy metal is seldom better than this track about the Akkadian sun god. Screaming guitars bring the fast pumping song into the realm of an ancient apocalypse. “Ira Deorum”, or Wrath of the Gods, is chanted by the priests in the chorus, while Cavalera professes in Latin, “in the name of God, in the name of the devil.” After another effective solo and one last condemnation by Cavalera, the song breaks into a surprisingly soothing guitar harmony before coming to an abrupt end with the word “Retaliate.”

With foreboding final word of ‘Shamash’, the scene is set for the climax of the album. Distant screams, fiery wind, and the sound of battle horns usher in track seven, ‘Bethlehem’s Blood’. This song is a powerfully constructed masterpiece, fully embodying what this relentlessly heavy record is all about. Through this track we hear about the terrible destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in the sixth century BCE. The calamity is told with vivid and violent imagery. Striking lyrics such as “Let it be written, let it be done. Cut the flesh, unholy one” lead into one of the slogans of the song, “Jerusalem is falling.” Again, the chorus line cuts through the scene, screaming “let the streets flood with Bethlehem’s blood!” Those blood curdling horns then make their return, while acoustic guitars strum away furiously, creating a painfully vivid scene of the biblical city burning to the ground at the hands of its enemies.

Tracks eight, nine, and ten keep true to the theme and finish off the record in incredibly cohesive fashion. ‘Titans’ is a heavy, pounding assault telling of the war of Greek gods and titans, on which Cavalera repeatedly recites the names of gods and titans and vocalizes a howling wind in a fashion that’s almost superhuman. ‘Deceiver’ and ‘Mother of Dragons’ finish out the record with a couple of super fast and brutally heavy haymakers that go for the knockout, and finish the album on a solid note.

For longtime Soulfly fans, Archangel is quite possibly the definitive Soulfly album. Longtime fans will find a lot to love and newcomers will be blown away by the intensity and complexity that the band brings to the table. That being said, Archangel is easily one of the best of albums of the year and their career, and is greatly deserving of this rating. 9.5/10

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