Sepultura – Machine Messiah Review

In listening to yet another mostly mediocre new Sepultura, I find myself thinking two things:

Thought Number One: I kinda feel bad for Derrick Green. His voice isn’t bad – he’s got a wider range of attacks than Max Cavalera ever had, but he has about one-tenth of the personality. He’s definitely got the Anselmo-isms down to a tee, the growling scream, the gravelly baritone cleans, so he does have a tendency to sound like Generic Post-Thrash Vocalist 2-B. But it really doesn’t matter how good he is (or isn’t), no one cares because the material he’s been given simply isn’t up to the bar set by his own band before he arrived.

It’s been twenty years now since Max split from the band, and literally every piece of criticism (including this one) talks about Max immediately, usually, like now, even before any discussion of the music. These days, new Sepultura has to contend with the departure of Igor, as well, and any further complaints about the validity of what’s come after. It would appear that neither Cavalera is returning to the fold anytime soon, even if Max has been open about being open to the idea, but fans continue to hold out hope. Either way, Derrick Green has been in the band far longer than Max was, and he’s sung on more albums. But again, he’s sung on more lesser albums…

Thought Number Two: Who the hell is still buying new Sepultura albums? I’ve seen a few positive spins on this one, but they ring pretty hollow in the face of the actual music, nice-guy platitudes about how cozy and warm it is down here by the dumpster fire.

So here we are, with the band’s 14th full-length, the eighth of the Green-fronted era. And though it’s not as awful as some of those eight – the abysmal Roorback, the overwrought and undercooked A-Lex – it’s still an average effort from a band that seems to think average is the new ideal. From the brooding introductory title track, which features some nice guitar leads from Andreas Kisser and Green exploring those moody Anselmo cleans, through first single “Phantom Self,” Machine Messiah does little to separate itself from the last few discs – it’s the same half-thrash half-riffs, the same angst-y vocalizations, the same groove-based songwriting. The band’s propensity for progressive touches still sneaks in, in the string parts on “Phantom Self,” or in the overall concept of the record, which is humanity’s reliance upon technology and our ever-increasing involvement in cyberspace instead of reality. (Even Machine Messiah’s theme is passé.) But those touches aren’t enough to salvage the songs, to push them any further than merely back to the middle, interesting touches in otherwise dull surroundings. “Transform! I’m someone else. / I face my phantom self,” Green screams in a bouncy chorus airlifted from 1998. “Alethea” fares a little better, one of the stronger examples of the band’s aesthetic, with its tribal beat / simplistic riff combo pointing straight back at the Roots / Chaos AD era. 

But then there’s the mid-album instrumental “Iceberg Dances,” by far the album’s strongest track, and one that succeeds by sounding nothing at all like modern Sepultura. Here, the progressive touches take hold fully, and Sepultura runs through more interesting musical ideas in this one song than in the previous three albums combined. In addition to a series of solid riffs, there’s an organ solo (!) and a flamenco guitar breakdown that doesn’t sound as forced as you’d imagine, and the whole thing is not just down-tuned genero-chug for the sake of the groove. It’s so good, in fact, that its goodness spills over into “Sworn Oath,” which rides a simple (yet actually effective) thrash riff, a grandiose melodic breakdown, and some more (actually effective) string embellishments into second place in the Machine Messiah Good Song Sweepstakes. From there, only the raging “Vandals Nest” rises above the mire to stand out, that one succeeding mostly through sheer force of will and thrash velocity.

Way back when, Sepultura helped to lay the ground-work for the riffless rhythm-monkeys of nu-metal, and by the time of Roots, they’d been fully co-opted from their death/thrash beginnings into jumpdafuckup Ozzfest-pleasing banality, albeit with enough flavor of their native Brazil to make them more interesting than many of their competitors. In some respects, maybe there’s something noble about them staying the course and clinging tightly to a ship that sunk a decade ago, if not earlier. They helped build the house, so by gum, they’re not gonna abandon it when it’s burning. But then again, it’s ashes now, and they’ve constructed a lean-to atop it while everyone around them just points out that it’s not much of a house, not like it used to be. At some point, you’d think they’d start thinking…

As with most of the seven Sepultura albums before it, Machine Messiah is a mixed bag, mostly mediocre and with a few moments that are killer by comparison. Of course, by modern Sepultura standards, average is exceptional, so I guess there is that… It’s all relative. If you’ve held on this long, may as well keep going… And if you gave up somewhere along the way, well, there’s very little reason to come back now…

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

  1. I just saw Sepultura for the first time recently and they were outstanding live. Heavy, fun. Green’s vocals are just killer, passionate. Drums, bass, guitar tight as hell. They mixed old and new Sepultura which made for a diverse enjoyable show. (cool guys too, treated the crowd with serious respect). Anyway, after seeing them live i finally listened to Machine Messiah, which i hadnt heard before. I must say it is WAY better than most of the reviews I’ve read this year. Diverse songs, heavy, good lyrics. I simply dont care if Sepultura sound like the old days (sometimes they do anyway). They make great songs in their own way now. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. “Who is still buying new Sepultura albums” you ask? Well, me for one.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.