That Ritual arrives a full three years after Archangel is, in Soulfly terms at least, akin to it being their Chinese Democracy. Over the years we’ve come to expect a new Soulfly album every eighteen months or so, but when you factor in Max Cavalera’s ongoing bridge-building with Igor, you can sort of forgive him the time spent on the last Cavalera Conspiracy album and the Return to the Roots Tour.
It always seems that Max comes back from extra-curricula activities with a renewed vigour and, while Ritual is far from the most aggressive music released under the Soulfly name, it is one of their most accomplished. While the overt tribalism of the debut and Primitive has been scaled back it is still in evidence in the opening bars of the album’s title track and controlled outro of Blood On the Street.
Twenty years and eleven albums into their career and Soulfly have pretty much got their sound locked down: the signature rhythms and Max’s trademark grunts are all in attendance on Ritual and while that may appear to make the album seem predictable the contrary is actually the case.
Although tracks like The Summoning, Blood On the Street and Bite the Bullet don’t have the urgency of Soulfly’s older material they feature some of the most ferocious musicianship on the album. Max’s son, Zyon appears for the third consecutive record and it’s obvious that uncle Igor has been teaching him how to assault a drum-kit. The foundations created and the groove that Zyon achieves across the whole of Ritual certainly belies his youth and experience.
Marc Rizzo’s guitar playing is exemplary of course, whether it be delivering savage, death metal riffs on Under Rapture, a track featuring Immolation’s Ross Dolan, or the acoustic opening to the industrial Demonized, then Rizzo nails it.
Previous Soulfly records have suffered somewhat from the revolving door of musicians passing through the ranks, but the line up on Ritual has pretty much been together since Savages in 2013; the exception being the bass duties having been taken by Mike Leon while Tony Campos is off laying down the bottom end for Fear Factory.
Max even turns in a varied vocal performance: from his trademark grunts, the barked, staccato delivery of his duet with Randy Blyth on Dead Behind the Eyes to his return to death metal on Under Rapture, Max certainly does appear to have come back to Soulfly with a renewed vigour.
The obligatory Soulfly XI showcases Rizzo’s aptitude on the flamenco guitar as he plays delicate line along side a smooth jazz saxophone and haunting, barely audible drums.
Max Cavalera has been one of the hardest working creative forces in heavy music for over thirty years and, on the evidence of Ritual, the spring is far from running dry. It would be regressive for him to try to emulate what he did in his teens or early twenties, instead it’s the maturity in his later work that makes it all the more fearsome.