Album Review: Soulfly’s Ritual May Be the Band’s Best Offering to Date
My esteemed MetalSucks co-founder recently shared the following sentiment on social media:
Try as I may, I just could never bring myself to care about Soulfly
— Vince Neilstein (Ben U) (@VinceNeilstein) September 19, 2018
Even as some who has brought himself to care about Soulfly, it’s hard to fault Vince, and others who share his feelings, for their stance. Soulfly have made some good albums (2005’s Dark Ages), some bad albums (2000’s Primitive), and, mostly, albums that are somewhere in-between (pretty much everything else). At no point has the project proved itself to be something about which people would have cared if not for mastermind Max Cavalera’s tenure in Sepultura.
I don’t know if the band’s eleventh full-length, Ritual, will change that or not, but I do know this: the album is, from start to finish, Soulfly’s best to date.
Not that Cavalera and company do very much here differently than they have in the past (with a notable exception, but we’ll circle back around to that momentarily). When the album’s title track begins the record with tribal percussions, chants, and guitarist Marc Rizzo going nuts on a pitch shifter pedal, one could be forgiven for thinking “Been there, done that.” Just wait. When the song kicks off in earnest around the thirty second mark, it’s with a riff that makes up for its lack of inventiveness with undeniable infectiousness. By the time the song hits the scat-infused chorus (which may, in fact, be an ode to The Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”), you’ll know you’re at a good party. The only way to listen to “Ritual” and not jump up and down in time with the song is to have legs that don’t work.
From there, Ritual proves itself to be a fairly diverse experience. Inspired by Clive Barker’s classic horror film, Hellraiser,”Dead Behind the Eyes” is a raging groover featuring a clutch guest appearance from Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe and one of Rizzo’s better solos. “The Summoning” is a furious battle anthem based around a riff that alternately chugs and sputters, like a failing engine. “Demonized” opens with classical acoustic guitars, briefly pays homage to “Raining Blood,” trots out a flattening riff Code Orange would surely love to have written, and finally settles comfortably into being a super-catchy thrash song. And I can only imagine that “Blood on the Street” was intended to mimic the sensation of having an obese person use you as a trampoline. Like I said, most of this is stuff you’ve heard Cavalera do before, but on Ritual, he really nails it for the first time outside of Cavalera Conspiracy. Maybe all that good work with his brother Igor gave Max an extra boost of mojo; Ritual is metal’s umpteen-trillionth testament to the value of good songwriting.
Still, it’s hard not to notice that the album’s true highlight, penultimate track “Feedback!”, is also its most different. The back half is, admittedly, fairly standard Soulfly, although, like the rest of Ritual, the best possible version of fairly standard Soulfly. But the first half is basically Soulfly channeling Motörhead. Which might sound weird in theory, but totally works in execution (Rizzo, not usually known for this particular style, turns out to be surprisingly adept at playing filthy, punkish leads). The first two minutes of “Feedback!” sound so little like traditional Soulfly that for a second I thought the song might be a cover. It makes you wonder what heights Soulfly could reach if Cavalera was a little more willing to reach beyond his comfort zone.
Still, there’s no denying that Ritual is a fun listen from start to finish. It may not change your life, but it might make you care about Soulfly for once. Between this and last year’s Cavalera Conspiracy release, Psychosis, I’d say Max is on a roll right now. Here’s hoping his winning streak continues.