Heavy metal has very few gods, but that select group of long-haired deities is held in such great admiration that its members can do no wrong. Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy of Motorhead are two of the better-known members of metal's high priesthood, but Max Cavalera is at least as revered.
Cavalera was the front man for Sepultura, a highly popular and influential metal band. He left the band in 1996 - after creative disputes with other members of the group, including his brother Igor - to form Soulfly.
Today marks the release of "Primitive," the follow-up to 1997's self-titled debut. Fresh off a stint headlining the second stage at Ozzfest 2000, the band's much anticipated sophomore effort features guest appearances by members of the Deftones, Slipknot, Slayer, and System of a Down as well as the son of a former Beatle.
While this could make for some exciting new music from a fading legend, it leads to an album that is virtually indistinguishable from all other "return of the rock" era records produced by Korn clones.
The trouble starts early with "Back to the Primitive," which begins on a positive note with one of Cavalera's trademark South American instrumentals and then fades into a Deftones-like intro of high-pitched guitar fuzz and rumbling drumming and bass fretting. Afterward, it transforms into a track from Incubus' "Science," complete with conga drumming. Considering that "Science" is one of the most brilliant albums released in years, this is not necessarily a bad thing - until you realize this is perhaps one of the most original songs on the album.
In other words, Max Cavalera should be ashamed of himself for copying the very bands he influenced. If there's a creative bone left in his Brazilian body, he did not put it to use on this record. Some of the old pieces of the classic Sepultura formula are still there - singing in Portuguese, playing traditional instruments, thunderous bass lines - but they turn out as mere shadows of the brilliance Cavalera produced on "Roots" and "Chaos AD" in the early 90s.
To be fair, moments on "Primitive" offer a brief glimpse of the innovator behind the dreds. "Son Song" features a guest appearance by Sean Lennon, a controversial move that baffled most old Sepultura fans. In the end, however, it really does work quite well. Lennon sounds outstanding over Soulfly's low, growling guitars, and lyrically the song is quite impressive. Cavalera, however, is far too stark a contrast in vocal style. Basically, he growls and grunts a lot. Lennon, as you may have guessed, actually sings with a fairly high pitch.
"Primitive" is not actually a bad album in itself, it is just terribly disappointing. Cavalera's "do no wrong" standing plummets minute by minute as the tracks roll by. Much like Santana's recent Grammy-winning album, "Supernatural," "Primitive" is less of a Soulfly album than a "Soulfly and Friends (Who Are Far More Successful Than Soulfly has ever been)" record. And the result, again mirroring Santana's acclaimed effort, is an album that the kids will love. Unfortunately, all the old fans will most likely hate it.