With the Cavalera brothers touring a 20th anniversary runthrough of Roots – and receptively speaking of a (probably longshot) classic Sepultura lineup – the Andreas Kisser-led, Cavalera-less group find themselves in the unenviable position of promoting the first Sepultura album in four years at a time when former members are out reliving the band's past and halfheartedly pining for a big money reunion. One can almost sense the type of older fan that quit listening to Sepultura around the turn of the millennium openly rooting for Machine Messiah, 2017's latest, to underwhelm. Not so fast.
The Derrick Green era of Sepultura has been marred by a nagging inconsistency in the eyes and ears of many fans (for whatever it's worth, the average user score for Green Sepultura full lengths on Metal Archives is a meager 55%, while Metacritic has virtually ignored the band's existence altogether). Green's addition – at least initially – tended to steer the band away from their complex, signature groove sound in favor of faster, more hardcore-driven fare, but the group never abandoned their roots so much as expanded their scope… often in ways that split the difference between an appreciative faction of new fans and an underwhelmed contingent of old ones.
Machine Messiah finds the band back in mixing-it-up mode, the title track opening with a slow burning, metalcore-tinged sense of melodic apostasy before ceding to the rapid-fire crossover hardcore of "I Am the Enemy", precisely the sort of agreeable if disposable tune that the Brazilians vainly attempted to impress fans with in the early Green years – ie. as an empowered statement of versatility – but which often felt like throwaway filler to many nonplussed fans. The boat is again righted, though, on the legitimately impressive "Phantom Self", with its funky tribal rhythms underlying exotic Eastern keyboard passages. Like the title track, the band's biggest strength here is that they didn't neglect to stay catchy. Elsewhere Sepultura offer a redoubtable demonstration of their various strengths over the years, from the plucky thrash harmonizing on "Iceberg Dances" and "Silent Violence" to the brooding groove of "Resistant Parasites" and lite industrial of "Cyber God".
Machine Messiah may not quite rise to a Roots or Chaos A.D. level in terms of instant classic status, but it does stake a legitimate claim that Sepultura is once again a metal force to be reckoned with, even without the contributions of the Cavalera brothers (whose projects Soulfly and the Cavalera Conspiracy have often been met with similar mixtures of diehard lifer fans on the one side and antipathy on the other, with a whole lot of indifferent "meh" in the middle). It's not as strong a restatement of purpose as Kreator's new Gods of Violence – also out this month – but Machine Messiah remains a formidable effort by a band refusing to rest on their laurels, and for once the diversity is matched with a laudable consistency of songcraft. Again, not a "blow your doors off" classic necessarily, but it's refreshing to see Sepultura doubling down on their future at a time when they'd be forgiven for milking the 20th anniversary of their most beloved record.