When it comes to Max Cavalera, what you see is exactly what you get. It must get tiring, having a career that spans so many decades and remaining dedicated to the same sound. Max found his groove long ago and he’s stuck with it. It’s just good for him that the groove is so eclectic, because if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t keep coming back for more. If Ritual is your first experience with Soulfly, you might think it is one of the best albums of the genre, but if the tune of Roots Bloody Roots has ever passed through your earholes, you could be forgiven for quietly asking, “that’s it?”
Max Cavalera has said before that he learned to play guitar by throwing just good on a bass. This means he learned to play using only the top four strings. It’s part of what’s given him such a unique sound over the years, and still dominates his playing on Ritual. There’s plenty of shredding to be had, but it’s during the low-end crunching that Max seems most at home. The traditional Brazilian instruments that appear on the title track sound like they are from a lost Roots Bloody Roots recording session (never a bad thing!) and it’s disappointing that they don’t feature more prominently. Instead, we’ve got songs with titles like “Demonized,” “Bite The Bullet” and “Blood on the Street” with lyrics that read like someone put Max Cavalera on autocorrect. “I am born of the war, I have been here before” is about as good as it gets.
Mostly, Ritual is boring. Again, if this was your first experience with musician’s work, his creativity and songwriting talent would astound you. But when you dive into the long, long, long history of Cavalera output, Ritual quickly becomes an afterthought. Even Soulfly die-hards won’t find much distinction between this album and 2015’s Archangel, or last year’s Cavalera Conspiracy LP. Here’s a game. Play songs off any of those three albums and see if you can name which one they go with. It’s fine to have a traditional sound, but when it gets as dyed-in-the-wool as Ritual sounds, it gets harder and harder to justify. Throw this album on if you want to bang your head for a little while. If you want something that warrants multiple listens and introspection, you’ll have to go back to Killer Be Killed’s wonderful 2014 debut. If Ritual ends in another album from that project, it’ll be worth the slog.
Written by Max Morin
*edited by Mike Milito