As the former bandleader/mastermind of Sepultura, Max Cavalera left a mark on metal like few others. Since he left that band in 1996, not so much. In 1997, he convened Soulfly, announcing a new project that would be a rotating lineup of players who would play his music, his way, whichever way struck him. And the ideas that have hit him since haven't always grabbed headbangers by the hair - there's something conflicted and overreaching about using a Marshall stack to deliver a song called "Back to the Primitive." And the frontman might be the first person ever to stare down metal and decide it needs more didgeridoo. But Primitive was three records ago, and most veterans survive a few down years.
Cavalera has remained a presence, but 2008 marks a real resurgence. This year, he reunited with Sepultura co-founder and brother Igor in the Cavalera Conspiracy, an uneven thrash vehicle that could have used a little more of the world-music mojo that makes Conquer Soulfly's Master of Puppets. The rap-metal guest vocalists who graced early 'Fly discs are gone - though the combination of rhythmic bark and rough melody in "Touching the Void" is a paternity test that clearly identifies the singer as the stylistic father of Korn's Jonathan Davis and, hence, grandfather of Gojira's Joe Duplantier. Conquer isn't state-of-the-art metal - tune in to MTV's weekly Headbangers Ball infomercial for that. It's better.
From berimbau to feedback, Soulfly's broad palette finally feels like it all belongs on the same album. Following a Wagnerian introduction, the disc opens with "Blood Fire War Hate," an accelerating pagan war chant, backed by head-down, 1988-style crossover, which cuts a swath through the jungles of Cavalera's native Brazil, rips through Rio and leaves a path of destruction all the way to his current home of Arizona. Aside from the mellow, semi-psychedelic outro "Soulfly VI," the songs on the band's sixth record are metal calls to arms, with some lighter tones mixed into the band's war paint.
"Warmageddon" lurches from slow doom to a thrashtastically wicked guitar solo. A spacey electronic passage in "Unleash" sounds like a leftover from a Nine Inch Nails deep cut until the song gives way to guitar screams that sound like a smart bomb zooming in on its target. The death-metal dose of "Doom" fades to black with a dub trail. "Rough" returns to Cavalera's hardcore roots.
The seven-minute ripper "For Those About to Rot" looks beyond the bloody fury of war, turning primal rage on the chieftans of his adopted home country as Cavalera froths, "Fuck you and your war." Conquer is a scorched-earth campaign through metal's entire territory, and Cavalera is back in the fight.