SOULFLY are a curious beast. Having arisen from of one of Thrash Metal’s, nay! Metal’s most influential bands in SEPULTURA, Max Cavalera’s similarly veined, “new” band has seemingly failed to set the Metal world on fire. The closest the band’s come to matching Cavalera’s original outfit was 2005’s "Dark Ages," which despite being an absolutely phenomenal piece of balls-out, Thrash Metal, has lost a bit of staying power due the decent but inadequate follow-up records, Conquer and Omen, and the damage inflikted (get it?) to SOULFLY’s reputation by those records that proceeded it.
Enter "Enslaved," the fourth in a line of more traditional Thrash leaning albums, which kicked off with "Dark Ages." The album is the first to feature drummer David Kinkade, who laid down the drums on the last two BORKNAGAR albums (including their most recent outing "Urd," which I understand is quite highly regarded by The Metal Observer maestro, Alex) – though he has since parted with the band – and he makes his presence immediately felt through the layer of thirty-second notes that underscore intro track “Resistence”, before the band launch into “World Scum," probably the heaviest and most brutal the band are yet to record. This track sees SOULFLY leaning heavily in the direction of Death Metal for the first time, and they pull it off rather well. The middle, groove section is genuinely heavy and the addition of CATTLE DECAPITATION’s Travis Ryan has them sounding much more MORBID ANGEL than anything else.
“World Scum” is probably the best opening track the band has recorded since “Prophecy” or “Babylon”, and the suggestion of what’s to follow genuinely exciting. Follow up “Intervention” does it’s best, sounding like what should have been the rightful follow up to the glorious Inflikted (CAVALERA CONSPIRACY) rather than the underwhelming mess that was "Blunt Force Trauma." However, post “Intervention” the excitement seems to dwindle. It seems strange saying this in the face of songs as intense and well formed as “Gladiator” and “Legions” but something’s missing. Whatever it was that made "Beneath The Remains," "Dark Ages" or "Inflikted" such great albums is simply absent from "Enslaved." The album is certainly the heaviest and nastiest the band has put out, and that’s brutal heaviness, not the pounding groove of "Prophecy." “Redemption Of Man by God” boarders on Crust at times, and features a violent, spitting appearance by DEVILDRIVER main man Dez Fafara, which is quite reminiscent of the abrasive delivery of one Barney Greenway of NAPALM DEATH.
Despite my non-captivation, there’s really not that much to complain about "Enslaved." The album does wane somewhat post “Redemption…," specifically “Chains," which is fittingly definitive of SOULFLY as a whole; I don’t have anything justifiably bad to say about it except that it’s utterly boring and doesn’t go anywhere. Oh, and someone needs to inform Max that sometimes it’s not enough just to fit syllables into vocal patterns; that it should be strived to make lyrics actually phonetically pleasing; see “Pablo Escobar” and “JFK, shot in the Head” (“World Scum” and the Nu-Metal leaning “Plata O Plomo” respectively). It is also interesting to note that this is the first SOULFLY release not to feature a “Soulfly” track, though “Soulfly VIII” can be found on the deluxe edition of the album, and, with the exception of “Plata O Plomo,” is significantly deficient of the band’s trademark, World-Music/South American influence.
"Enslaved" matches the intensity and heaviness that made "Dark Ages" and "Inflikted" great, but lacks any of the essence that ensures those records’ staying power. The heavier, more brutal direction will please many, but for my money "Conquer," "Prophecy," "Omen," and even "Primitive" (which I have a soft spot for) are still better records.
(Online March 31, 2012)