Sepultura - A-Lex
SPV
Experimental Thrash Metal/Hardcore
18 songs (54:23)
Release year: 2009
Sepultura, SPV
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

Well, here it is; the first Sepultura album not to feature any of the Cavaleras whatsoever, new drummer Jean Dolabella replacing Ig(g)or after he departed the band in 2006. As you might expect, I have mixed feelings about the whole issue; should Andreas, Paulo and co. continue under the holy Sepultura name? They’re hardly the first band to be made up of non-original members – Napalm Death is a good example – but there’s such an emotional attachment to the original line-up, the ones that produced such masterworks as Beneath The Remains and Schizophrenia, that even after Max sold out spectacularly with the first albums from Soulfly (something people are all too happy to forget these days) many prefer him to the ‘new guy’. Derrick Green has had a hard time from fans as a replacement, which is unfair since in many ways he’s a better vocalist, his Hardcore roots giving him a brutal edge that’s made post-Max Sepultura the beast it is. Of course, the sad fact is that whilst Sepultura’s Against, Nation and Roorback were decent albums full of ambitious experimentation, they weren’t a patch on earlier material, and faced with a lessening of label support as well as growing fan indifference, the decline of Sepultura has been steady.

This partially changed with 2006’s Dante XXI, a concept album about Dante’s The Divine Comedy, and whilst that was far from poor it still was held back by the band themselves, sticking to the same formula and trying to give it a coat of fresh paint. Unfortunately, A-Lex (another concept album, this time based around Anthony Burgess’ famous novel A Clockwork Orange) continues down a similar path. The last effort from Soulfly, 2008’s rather fantastic Conquer, reverted to lengthy Thrashathons a la Arise, and as a result this new effort from Sepultura, whilst another step on the path they’ve been following faithfully, can’t help but look inferior.

Firstly, there’s the length of it. Sepultura’s longest album to date remains Roots, at over an hour – A-Lex comes in at nearly fifty-five minutes, and makes you work for it. There are five interlude instrumentals all in all, the other songs mostly around the two or three minute mark, and listening to the entire thing is a bit of a chore. Secondly, the music itself suffers from an unfortunate cut-and-paste feel, different sections and styles placed together often with barely a transition, and often in the same song! An example is the first few tracks: the first song proper, Moloko Mesto, rages in after intro A-Lex I, starting off with old-school Thrash, a mid-track breakdown introducing catchy groove riffing and Industrial sound effects, and one brief pause later it’s back to virtuoso soloing and Thrash. Filthy Rot takes a different route, full of tribal drumming and a return to more usual post-Max ‘Core-rooted riffing, with a group chanted chorus. We’ve Lost You continues the downtuned path, an almost Doomy vibe pervading the grim song. Now, take these songs individually and there’s a curious sense of the unsatisfactory about them, but listen one after the other and you can feel what Sepultura are trying to achieve – there’s a definite sense of flow.

This flow often gets broken, sadly. What I Do! is short and snappy, but could have been worked into a track twice the length, as it’s really over before it’s made an impact. A-Lex II passes (the second interlude, a confusing second-half bit of riffing fooling me into thinking it was a new track) and before you know it you’re listening to the Hardcore strains of The Treatment, a song that could have fit well on Roorback, Nation or Against without upset. Fine, the mid-track atmospheric riffing is effective, but the band don’t give it room to breathe, and roll on over into the next section just as you’re starting to appreciate it. I don’t mind a little Hardcore in my Thrash tea, far from it, but when you stick a piece of Arise-y artwork like that on your album, you have to be prepared to accept a bit of criticism when it turns out that the music isn’t pure Thrash.

Still, this is hardly bad. Obviously the length and complexity needs time to take in, but the killer tracks on here are amongst the best to come from Derrick’s time with Sepultura. Sadistic Values is probably the album highlight, at nearly seven minutes the longest track present, and features some of Derrick’s clean, almost Bluesy singing that’s been a highlight in the past. The length gives the atmospheric vibe a real chance to work its magic on you, and the mid-track switch to Thrash is effective, for once. Andreas is on fire throughout the album, cranking out riff after riff, and whilst some of them are a little too downtuned and simplistic (let’s pretend that Conform is Stoner and not Nu-Metal, shall we?) the likes of Forceful Behaviour Thrash out pretty well. Ludwig Van will get a lot of attention, being Beethoven’s 8th Symphony given a Metal-going over. It’s a great moment, and is a surprise given that this is Sepultura rather than, say, Stratovarius – the band’s ambitiousness clearly as strong as ever.

Overall, it’s this ambitiousness which has kept Sepultura going through it all. You can’t help but compare the band circa A-Lex with Soulfly’s Conquer, however, and note how much more confident, professional and enjoyable Max’s effort is. He makes it look easy both there and on the Cavalera Conspiracy project; Sepultura are still acting like they have something to prove, have to show people that they can continue without Max and create Art. It makes you want to grab them by the shoulders and scream in their faces: we’re convinced, guys, we don’t need ‘art’! A proper return to the Thrash roots that have sustained you all this time would be nice, though; it’s only recently that I’ve come to realise that Max rejoining Sepultura really would be the best thing for everyone, as much as I like Derrick.

As far as the reunion question goes, Andreas especially seems to be the barrier remaining against it, but the arguments for staying apart seem to be growing fewer with each album that Sepultura release without their figurehead – even though the band as fronted by Derrick are ironically getting better with each release! If you enjoyed Dante XXI then you’ll love A-Lex, but if you’re still awaiting Arise pt two from this scattered group of musicians you won’t find it here. It’s ultimately another good, not great album, and as much as I respect their vision, Sepultura has to admit that with Max onboard A-Lex would probably have been much better. That’s not a bitter old-school fan talking – fine, Beneath The Remains is my personal favourite from them, but I’ve recently rediscovered Roots and it’s still a kickass album – but a long-term fan who owns everything they’ve released, and is getting a bit tired of second-best when Sepultura should be ruling the Metal world.

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Killing Songs :
Moloko Mesto, Filthy Rot, We’ve Lost You, Sadistic Values, Forceful Behaviour, Strike, Ludwig Van
Goat quoted 73 / 100
Other albums by Sepultura that we have reviewed:
Sepultura - Machine Messiah reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Sepultura - The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Sepultura - Kairos reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Sepultura - Roots reviewed by Goat and quoted 74 / 100
Sepultura - Arise reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
To see all 12 reviews click here
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