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Soulfly’s Archangel Scrapes the Heavens

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It must be kind of tough for a band to make its first really good record after eighteen years of being the go-to-analogy for all that was wrong with nu-metal. But then again, while cases of bands reversing their bad reputations don’t pop up all that often, they’re still not unheard of. Soulfly, a band that was barely accepted to Encyclopedia Metallum and one that has long carried an incredibly tough-to-shake reputation, may have more trouble pulling itself out of the dirt, but if anything will help, it’s 2015’s Archangel, a necessary continuation of Soulfly’s newfound slant towards extreme metal that really began to get fleshed out on 2012’s Enslaved. Due as much to compositional change as to the divergence of media attention, Soulfly has gradually distanced itself from its unabashed nu-metal origins, and even though Archangel is still far from groundbreaking, it’s got potential.

Maybe that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, though. Soulfly has always been a bit of a paradoxical entity in the way the band has blended legendary history and a vast array of multicultural elements with aggravatingly tired and simplistic compositional tropes. Many of band’s ideas seemed like they could have gone somewhere, but were constrained by their poor execution, to say nothing of the hopping between often out-of-place world music styles and Max Cavalera’s characteristic lack of subtlety. That contradictory nature has far from disappeared on Archangel, as jumbled an album as any of the band’s previous. Soulfly haven’t really gotten any less dated or any better organized: the riffs are all over the place, and the inconsistent affect of the record is striking (see the bizarrely Romantic album cover and strange blend of biblical, Assyrian, Greek, and Martinian references). The difference is now that those mixed-genre segments and incongruous riffs are each a lot better, and less inhibited, than they’ve ever been: the curious, probing melody in the anthemic “We Sold Our Souls to Metal”; the acoustic guitar and horn that ripple through “Bethlehem’s Blood’; the nasty, Pantera-gone-wrong spirit that runs the whole damn thing. Archangel is cobbled together for sure, but like a car held together by as much duct tape as steel, it gets the job done.

Max has claimed that this record was recorded more as a jam than as strictly composed tracks, and it shows. While the seams aren’t as tightly sewn as on something like the new Battlecross record, the fact that that stitching isn’t glitzed up lends a striking authenticity to the record; the kind of authenticity that can make even the most elitist high-brow listener forgive the blunt lyrical delivery and poor organization for thirty-seven minutes of uninhibited heavy metal. If Soulfly can figure out a way to make things just a little more cohesive, the band could easily produce a great record. Though it’s still hard to praise the album as anything more highly than “not that bad,” in a rare instance of an old dog learning new tricks, Archangel still provides hope for fans and other never-beens.

Soulfly’s Archangel comes out August 14 on Nuclear Blast. You can stream the title track here and pre-order it here.

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