Since the mess that was 1996's 'Roots' I had all but given up on Max Cavalera. The former Sepultura vocalist and guitarist, now with his own band Soulfly since 1998, was an enigma who promised much initially, but seemed to burn out along the way, abandoning the thrash which helped him become a household name in the metal world. Since Sepultura's seminal 1993 release 'Chaos A.D.' Cavalera seemed intent on slowing his material down, losing the musical cutting edge to compliment his lyrical furore. But one must learn to never count a man out. Soulfly's latest album 'Dark Ages' is Cavalera's fastest work in twelve years, an aggressive return to the thrash basics that characterised his early Sepultura years. Finally the man is back.
Cavalera was not the first man or band to turn his back on the genre which made his name. Former merchants of speed like Metallica, Megadeth and Metallica did the same, particularly in the 1992 to 1996 period, which was a barren wasteland of one time thrash wizards. 'Chaos A..D' was easily one of the 90's greatest metal albums, which suggested there was only one way but up for Cavalera and Sepultura. It toned down the speed of previous classics like 1989's 'Beneath The Remains' and 1991s 'Arise', but was fast when it needed to be, and the riffs were of the heaviest sort. By 'Roots' the sound had degenerated into sub nu-metal slop, with barely any melody and an abscence of speed. I recall sitting in a room with a vacant stare on my face as another band dissolved into blandness.
Cavalera quit Sepultura in 1996, and while the band continued have never risen to any heights since. Cavalera formed Soulfly and cemented his reputation through four solid if uninspiring albums from 1998 to 2004. To be honest I'd given up on the man. I once pegged him with Slayer as a purveyor of thrash mastery, but after years of abandoning the the genre, Cavalera was nothing but an afterthought. When I read that new album 'Dark Ages' was a return to basic thrash I was more than curious. When done right thrash is incomparable. Slayer are the kings, while Metallica made a statement with 2003's 'St Anger', redeeming themselves thoroughly. Add Max Cavalera to that list.
'Dark Ages' is a pummeling statement that proves definitively who the brains of Sepultura was. Like David Lee Roth did to Van Halen, Max took his sound with him, and in reality, 'Dark Ages' is the best Sepultura album in twelve years. Guttural thrashers like 'Frontlines' and 'Fuel The Hate' are a return to 80's type heaviness, particularly 'Frontlines' which captures the flavour of vintage Sepultura, circa 89-91. 'Riotstarter' suggests Cavalera still hasn't dispensed with his native Brazilian ramblings, while 'Babylon' is modern metal all the way, but blasts such as 'Carved Inside', 'Arise Again', 'Molotov' (sung in Russian by Cavalera, with guest vocals from Billy Milano) and 'I Am I' put paid to that. This type of raging speed and warped riffing is only perfected by certain geniuses, one of which Cavalera still is.
Obviously he had the talent to still deliver such intensity, and it's a relief he has opted to let his faster side loose again. 'Bleak', 'Corrosion Creeps' and 'Innerspirit' might not be all out war, but its the traditional thrash riffs which are to be savoured. To me it's like going back in time to a better time. I'm in a permanent timewarp as it is, so to revel in 80's based thrash is a gift from the gods. All I ask is that Cavalera maintains this direction. 'Frontlines' equals Slayer's best on any scale. It is like being shot in the face, all anger and scorn, as Max attacks the futility of war as he so often does, to a backdrop of near Cannibal Corpse riffing and brutal drumming.
So another prodigal son has returned. It never is too late. We are all getting older and more jaded out by the day, but hearing metal such as 'Dark Ages' provides a good reason to stay alive. This must rate as one of the finest of 2005 and although not a comeback, Cavalera was never gone, is in terms of a sound which the man helped popularise. How much this shames his old band is embarrassing. That's why he has managed to stay on top while Sepultura continue to flounder. The talent was all his to start with.