Re-explore the career of Soulfly and you’ll find you can divide it into three distinct periods. Phase one was a folk/nu metal stint, picking up where leader Max Cavalera left off with his tribal tour de force, Sepultura. Then there’s the Dark Ages-to-Omen era of hyper-pissed-off thrash – partially shaped by the deaths of Dimebag Darrell and Max’s eight-month-old grandson – before three albums of grooving death metal.
When the pan-American quartet tapped mega-fan Josh Wilbur to produce 2018’s Ritual, though, they consolidated everything they’d done. Songs ranged from the title track’s Navajo-inspired stomp to Evil Empowered’s industrial speed metal, and it was ceaselessly compelling. Four years later, Totem has the same urge to traipse through all of Soulfly’s proven talents. But this time it’s bleaker. And much, much heavier.
From Superstition onwards, all Soulfly want to do is kick your ass – and use every weapon they’ve wielded over the last 25 years to do it. The opening cut is all Brazilian percussion, thrash metal, piss and vinegar, tumbling from all-consuming drumbeats to wailing lead guitars and incessant rhythms. Scouring The Vile darts to Floridian death metal. Over a sub-three-minute runtime it’s jam-packed with hammering snares and back-and-forth roars traded with Obituary’s John Tardy. The title track, meanwhile, hurls us back to 1993. Zyon Cavalera channels the prowess of uncle Igor, his drums perennially barrelling. Combined with Max’s slicing five-note lick, they make a powerhouse that sounds like it was swept off the cutting room floor of Chaos A.D..
Only finding room to breathe on the closing duo of Soulfly XII and Spirit Animal, Totem is multifaceted in its balls-to-the-wall aggro. For those who’ve been paying attention for the last 25 years, this is precisely what you’d want Soulfly to be