Review Summary: Massively underrated
In retrospect, this second effort from the often-maligned post-Max Sepultura suffered commercially for its poor timing; had this been their first outing, I think things might have been a little bit different. As it is, a lot of people heard 'Against', compared it with the first Soulfly album and decided that Max had taken all the creativity with him when he left.
So those are the circumstances by which I've always felt this album was criminally overlooked - what of the content? First off, this is easily the most melodic and diverse Sepultura have ever sounded. There's a new, bouncy lead-riff style best exemplified by 'Vox Populi' and the opening track 'Sepulnation' that really drives Derrick Green's lyrics home. And those vocals, along with the tone of the album, has a much greater dymanic range than we'd seen before. Green's shouts change in tone and - gasp - pitch. He even does some actual singing.
It's tempting to attribute this diversity to the number of guest appearances on the album, until you read down the list and realise there isn't even close to the glut of contributors that had appeared on 'Roots' and 'Against'. Sepultura can calls this their own; and categorising it beyond the catch-all "metal" proves to be a challenge. Its core is the rhythmic post-thrash/groove metal that was established on 'Chaos A.D.' (itself pretty difficult to pin down to a given sub-genre), augmented with a new melodic style of writing and the odd well-placed excursion into dub, hardcore punk and even classical music - 'Valtio' is the supposed anthem of the nation that lies at the centre of the album's concept. (I use "concept" for lack of a better word - I can't help but think that a concept album must, by definition, have me cringing in the corner.)
So they really pinned it down here - the music's great, it's different, it sounds absolutely massive in some places - the chorus of 'Border Wars' springs to mind - and ridiculously catchy in others - see 'Who Must Die?'. Jello Biafra's appearance is, as with his previous (lyrical only) contribution 'Biotech is Godzilla', on point and topical. Derrick's opening lines "a nation built on sweat, a nation built on blood, a nation built on dreams" are delivered with a new-found confidence backed up by the band. The whole thing just screams unity of purpose.
It's difficult to know what spooked Sepultura after this record. This was their last for Roadrunner, understandably perhaps as the label was apparently much more interested in pushing departed vocalist Max Cavalera's Soulfly project. Notably Roadrunner failed to finance a promo video for 'One Man Army' and ultimately the band shuffled off onto SPV and followed 'Roorback', which firmly sandwiched this album between two certifiable duds - leaving most fans to write off the pre-'Dante XXI' Derrick-era Sepultura records altogether.
Sad, because I think this is easily the best album they've produced since Max left, but more recent efforts suggest they're content now to thrash away at increasingly anonymous material until the end of time.