Max Cavalera and Soulfly and seemed to hit a bit of a rough patch following the back-to-back release of 2005’s outstanding Dark Ages (2005). None of the records released between then and now were particularly poor. Even the least of them, 2013’s Savages, was perfectly serviceable, and some (i.e. 2012’s Enslaved and 2008’s Conquer) even flirted with the band’s upper echelons. Yet there was a certain feeling that the band had fallen into a bit of a rut. Now, with Killer Be Killed (2014) and his recent return-to-form with Cavalera Conspiracy‘s Psychosis (2017) under his belt, Max appears to be experiencing a late-career resurgence, and Ritual—his eleventh full-length release under the Soulfly banner—only continues that upward trajectory.
If Psychosis served as the missing link between Arise (1991) and Chaos A. D. (1993), then Ritual perhaps bridges the gap between the latter album and 1996’s Roots—relishing in the bulk and bounce of that later, genre-defining record, while holding onto the earlier’s more overt thrash aesthetic. Along with easily being the best record Soulfly have produced since Dark Ages, Ritual is also the band’s heaviest outing since at least Prophecy (2004), or possibly ever. “Ritual” begins the record in already-hefty fashion, with it’s infectious, tribal-infused bounce throwing back to both Roots and the Soulfly’s 1998, self-titled debut. However, from there the band continuously up the anti—with each song, somehow, finding a way to be even more punishing than the last; so that by the time later tracks like “Demonized” and “Blood on the Street” roll around, the album sounds nothing short of apocalyptic.
The continuous one-upmanship of Ritual lends it a sense of momentum that Soulfly records have been lacking in recent years. Although there’s been some undeniable highlights scattered throughout their output over the last decade, they’ve also often been front-loaded and somewhat of a chore to hunt out otherwise. Ritual is the first Soulfly album in some time that actually compels attention and drags the listener along with it. The record simply does not let up, and its constant forward momentum even benefits its mellow final offering. The expected instrumental “Soulfly XI” (the first “Soulfly” track to make it onto the main body of an album since Omen (2010)) is not only one of the best examples of its kind, but also its most effective (and shortest) incarnation—serving as a much-needed, soothing aftermath to the destruction wrought in its lead-up. The track also keeps things fresh by adding some saxophone into the mix, which is something that’s becoming fairly commonplace within modern extreme metal, while early-highlight “Summoning” climaxes in an unexpected onslaught of pulsating electronics, which furthers the flirtation with industrial and electronic tinges found on Psychosis.
For all its twists and variations, Cavalera’s work has always lived and died on the basis of one thing: the riffs (man!); and Ritual offers up one of the most impenetrable collections of his career. Even standard groove metal fare, such as that of “Evil Empowered” or the title-track, is bolstered by an uncompromising vitality, while tracks like the extreme-metal-leaning “Under Rapture” (which features a guest spot from Immolation‘s Ross Dolan), “Demonized” and the Randy Blythe-featuring rager “Dead Behind the Eyes” see Max and Marc Rizzo each bringing their A-game to the table. The album’s final “proper” offering, “Feedback!” mixes things up by blending thrash riffs with Motörhead-esque rock n’ roll—providing the album with a surprisingly upbeat climax, while offering some much-needed course correction for “We Sold Our Souls To Metal” and “Live Life Hard!” (from 2015’s patchy-at best Archangel). The drumming is also consistently phenomenal, with Max’s son Zion really coming into his own on his third outing with the band.
Ritual‘s ten tracks are deceptively varied. However, there’s never a moment where it loses direction or focus. The net result is the tightest, most formidable album Soulfly have produced in over a decade, and further proof that—almost three-and-a-half decades into his career—Max Cavalera still has plenty to offer and is still perfectly capable of prodding at a few boundaries here and there.