Review Summary: Caught in the middle of a raging two way street and there's nowhere else to go.
The release of A-Lex
puts Brazilian Thrash metalers Sepultura in an interesting position – after all, the question on everyone’s mind isn’t simply ‘is it good?’, but maybe even more fundamentally – ‘Is it Sepultura?’. Of course, it’s not like anyone has really given a damn about anything the band has done since the 1996 release of Roots
, but even then, it’s hard to simply let go of the legacy of the Cavalera brothers who’ve pretty much been at the heart and soul of the band since its conception. And so, Cavalearaless for the first time, A-Lex
finds the band reaching into the past and like Dante XXI
before it, they continue to explore their love for a concept album this time revolving around Anthony Burgess’ misanthropic masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange. The formula almost sounds promising: Thrash legends + Literature/Movie Classic = Great Record. Not quite. Try: Once great band produces two epic classics, runs out of ideas and starts experimenting with Brazilian jungle themes and concept albums to cover up for lack of actual good material. I guess what I’m trying to say in a sort of twisted, convoluted way is that no one really expected new Sepultura to do anything other than suck. And in a sort of twisted, convoluted way, Sepultura deliver on just that.
So where are the faults, really? After all, drummer Jean Dolabella is more than an adequate replacement for Igor, with songs like “Filthy Rot” showing off his quick embrace of the dark, tribal rhythms that have so characterized Sepultura’s later works, while Derrick Green’s powerful, aggressive delivery more than holds up his end of the band’s vocal assignment. Songwriting wise, well… It’s Sepultura, who’ve never exactly been on top of the game when being creative with song structures, but have in the past made up for it by pumping out riff after headbanging riff of pure intensity and rancid fervor to make up for it. And now? Well, the simple truth is that neither Green nor Kissier have the riff writing abilities to carry through on the classic Sepultura sound which they have been so intent on adhering to. Which is exactly why we find A-Lex
delving into an obnoxious embrace of atmospheric and almost sludge orientated riff fests, losing the sharp edge of melody which has always offset the band’s fairly linear songwriting. Songs like “Metamorphosis” and “Conform” are simply directionless trudges of guitar chugchug which lose themselves among their own sense of raw, earthy heaviness, while the “A-Lex” I-IV suite of songs are nothing more than filler tracks caught up in the album’s concept with no thought to any sense of musical accomplishment behind them.
And despite the endless comparisons to early Sepultura, this isn’t simply a nostalgic trip down memory lane - the band seem to be caught recklessly in the middle of a raging two way street, and with every moment of artistic progression smeared away by others of pussyfooting their way back to more familiar and insipid territory. “Sadistic Values” is a prime example here, with nearly half of its seven minutes devoted to a slow rhythmic build up that does nothing but needlessly prolong what is in fact a pretty solid all out thrash assault, while even forceful numbers like “The Treatment” and “The Experiment” are just Sepultura by-the-numbers that do little to add to A-Lex
’s fledgling quality. Still, not all that is thrown around here has gone astray, with some of the albums best moments coming together when the band hit on a good note and run with it: “Moloko Mesto’s” blistering brutality opens the album with a sledgehammer’s worth of force while “What I Do!” shows off a Sepultura in full flight, with it’s short, sharp two minutes of scorching riffage sounding like the band could simply conjure beads of sweat flying through a set of speakers.
So while A-Lex
is not exactly a total failure, perhaps its worst crime is relying on its concept to explain away its lack of musical inspiration. And if you’ll excuse me for indulging in a small rant – What. The. Hell. were the band thinking when they decided to put “Ludwig Van” on A-Lex
? This isn’t just a sore thumb on a mediocre album, but a severed head on an already rather pale corpse. An attempt to cover Beethoven’s 9th symphony, complete with strings, horns and aggressive drumming and guitar work, it’s the sort of thing you’d expect to find posted on Youtube by ‘ClassicRoxer432’ with a raft of useless comments after it, NOT the work seasoned musicians who were once some of the most respected thrash musicians on the planet. It’s a case of ego-stroking, studio wankery at its highest, and concept album or not, there’s no excuse for a mess of a song on this level. And while I’m all for tributes, I do hope that it wasn’t Burgess that inspired lyrics like “Death is a part of life/As peace is a part of war” (“We’ve Lost You!) and the inclusion of the utterly exhausting cliché of “Why have you forsaken me?” (“The Treatment”) – dear Tony would be rolling in his grave.
So, inspired as this may be by some great classics before it, A-lex
swings coarsely in the opposite direction, with the result being a set of clogged, through the motions thrash that isn’t saved by the appeal to its own musical legacies. It’s simply another album in a fast fading discography that once shined with powerful gems, and a disappointment which, really, we all saw coming.