posted on 1/2009 By:
So you know all those people who stopped paying attention to Sepultura after Max Cavalera left? Well, I was one of them. By virtue of keeping up with the scene, I've kept up with Sepultura inadvertently through the Derrick Green years, hearing a track here and there. But I've never latched onto anything they've done in the last ten years--not at all, not even in the slightest. Where Sepultura lost me was not so much in the absence of Max but in the absence of material of comparable quality to the Max-fronted years--put differently, everything they've done in a decade is dull. I still rock Chaos AD, Arise, Beneath The Remains and even Roots, but it’s long been evident that the band that released those records is gone, not just in personnel but in inspiration. (I'm not a Max Cavalera fanboy either, though, and I'll happily point out that last year's Cavalera Conspiracy record was also wickedly uninteresting.)
Flash-forward to now, to 2009, to Sepultura's eleventh album and their fifth post-Max and first post-Ig(g)or… Like 2006’s Dante XXI, A-Lex is a conceptual record, this time based around A Clockwork Orange vs. the prior album’s Divine Comedy theme. Given Sepultura’s more energetic nu-thrash approach, A-Lex thankfully doesn’t fall prey to the same overwrought theatricality that undermined Judas Priest’s Nostradamus last year. Instead, A-Lex falls prey to the same thing that derailed most of the Green-fronted Sepultura efforts—a complete lack of memorable songs. It falls because it falls squarely back into the formulaic hardcore/thrash amalgam from which Dante broke free--choppy rhythm riffs and aggro screaming, heavy on groove but light on anything remotely interesting. And like what I’ve heard of Against, Nation, and Roorback, it's boring.
A-Lex opens with a toss-off instrumental track, "A-Lex 1"—part of four instrumental segues that pop up every so often throughout the album and contribute nothing. The first proper track, "Moloko Mesto," exhibits up front the alarming lack of significant riffs that plagues the entire proceeding. "Filthy Rot" introduces a quick tribal beat before falling into a mechanized groove, with keyboards and a clean-vocal chorus that’s straight out of a Fear Factory album from about 1996. Aside from the lack of riffage, most of these songs are short—the longest is "Sadistic Values," at nearly seven minutes, but the average song length here is just over 2:00. (Also, "Sadistic Values," at nearly seven minutes, is nearly five minutes too long.) "Ludwig Van" is a symphonic blend of metal and classical, replete with a Trans-Siberian Orchestra-styled version of "Ode To Joy." That re-imaginging of Beethoven included, these songs feel underdeveloped. The riffing is underwhelming, chugga-chugga simplicity; the songs go nowhere; the instrumental sections are especially pointless; the classical piece is out-of-place alongside the Hatebreed-styled metalcore.
There are a few sparse moments of relative decency within A-Lex’s 18 tracks. "We’ve Lost You" is a mid-tempo track that rides a simple riff but at least entertains more than the songs that surround it. "Experiment" has a couple of cool riffs hidden within its grooves. The production is solid overall—all the instruments are crisp and clear. Green’s performance is the same as on previous outings—he’s an acceptable vocalist, but he’s completely nondescript. Kisser’s solos are typically Slayer-like, what few of them there are. In short, aside from the brief and awkward departure of "Ludwig Van," A-Lex is exactly what we’ve come to expect from post-90s Sepultura—a mediocre mix of hardcore and thrash. After the nearly universal acknowledgement of Dante XXI as a step forward, it’s a shame that A-Lex is two steps back, again rendering a once-great band unnecessary.
A-Lex is the kind of mishandling of lofty aspirations that I’d expect from an unsigned bunch of youngsters, the kind of kids whose ideas far exceed their development, and certainly not what I expect from a band with at least three first-class albums under their collective belt. But sadly, it is what I expected from Sepultura in 2009. A Clockwork Orange deserves better, and so do we.
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