It has been 20 years since Max Cavalera announced the presence of Soulfly on the music scene with their self titled debut album and despite numerous line-up changes over the years and some very noteworthy guest appearances, the band has always been an example of consistency. You know what you will get with a Soulfly record and what you could describe as ‘average’ for the band can easily better the majority of albums released in the same calendar year. The band may not be at the forefront in the realms of pioneering new genres but when it comes to thrash/death influenced groove metal with traditional/world influences, they are amongst the best. ‘Ritual’ is the 11th release from the Soulfly tribe, so let’s cut to the chase.
As mentioned above, you know what to expect from a Soulfly release: plenty of rhythm, groove, growls, guests and heaviness. In recent years, you can also add shred wankery to the list courtesy of Marc Rizzo on lead guitar duties, and it is this which opens the album. The self titled track ‘Ritual’ starts out with some tribal feel samples and angular lead guitar fills before the first instalment of the Max rhythm machine comes in, pulling no punches and going for the throat almost immediately. It’s a well controlled form of typical Cavalera-conjured chaos and as you would expect and it sets the tone for the rest of the release. “Dead Behind The Eyes” is the first of two tracks to feature a guest vocalist, this one being Randy Blythe (Lamb of God/ Burn The Priest), and it actually works out rather well. The back and forth vocal duty trading, overlapping screams and snarls and highly refined intensity hits just as hard as the music behind it. Quite fitting for a track which pays tribute to Cenobite from the Hellraiser franchise and is also inspired by masochistic minded medieval monks.
“The Summoning” and “Evil Empowered”, both tracks which follow on from the two above are furious paced. “The summoning” is a no-holds barred thrash attack which feels like a more refined version of early years Sepultura and “Evil Empowered” is a track which displays the proficiency of Max’s son, Zyon Cavalera, when it comes to his extreme metal drumming ability. Both of these tracks are highly aggressive, adrenaline fueled monsters, but despite their power and intensity, they both pale under the presence of “Under Rapture”. This is the second guest vocalist track on the album and it features Ross Dolan of Immolation. That alone should give you an idea of just how intense and heavy the track is, but for those who require a further explanation; Arise era Sepultura ferocity, Death Metal riffing, fearsome vocal delivery, crushing riff-based onslaught and a breakdown feel ending which hits just as hard as the one Max crafted on ‘Roots, Bloody Roots’.
The second half of the album has a little bit more in terms of variety. The ferocity and intensity is still present in the tracks, but there are more rhythmic and melodic expressive moments. “Demonized” gives Marc Rizzo a chance to shine with his playing: an extended, ominous sounding and intricate acoustic passage opens the track and in the later stages, there is a slow-feel breakdown with some impressive fretboard gymnastics. “Blood On The Street” has some more intricate/complex drum work holding the rest of the track up which allows for more flexibility on the delivery/feel front and “Feedback” bucks the usual Soulfly styled approach to music by following a more Mötorhead minded approach; it’s not intense, just really fucking heavy and groovy! Closing the release is “XI” and like the previous 10 albums before this one, it is the eponymous titled track (Soulfly XI when given its full title). This marks the first time since 2010’s ‘Omen’ for the eponymous/numerical track to feature in the main tracklisting and to not be pure ‘bonus content’ and as far as closing the release goes, this ambient, hypnotic/meditative feel instrumental is very anticlimactic and really would have served better as a bonus track!
Overall, “Ritual” is Soulfly doing what Soulfly do best. Thrash/death groove, anger and intensity, rhythmic masterclasses and plenty of snarls. Whilst heavier than earlier works from the band, it does seem to lack the kind of tracks which made the first 3 releases so memorable, but at this stage, it feels more like if you need to remember who Soulfly are, then they aren’t the type of band you will be interested in.