I can think of few bands that have managed to battle their way back from the edge of oblivion the way Sepultura has, yet get so little credit for doing so. It’s no secret that following a major lineup change, the boys from Brazil spent several years in the wilderness, but what isn’t talked about is their defiant return to relevance after many had written them off. Their comeback began as early as Dante XXI, but with 2011’s crushing Kairos they regained much of their lost footing, and by the time the woefully underrated The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart rolled around in 2013, Sepultura were once again firing on all cylinders.
Sepultura’s largely unsung upward trajectory continues with their fourteenth album Machine Messiah. In some ways, not much has changed for the quartet; the patented mix of groove metal, thrash and hardcore they’ve been refining since Chaos A.D. is present and accounted for, but it is bolstered by an even greater desire to move creatively beyond the confines of what came before. In this respect, Machine Messiah might be the most progressive and dynamically varied release in Sepultura’s catalog, as evidenced by the cinematic orchestral flourishes of “Phantom Self,” the psychedelic metal freak-out that is “Iceberg Dances,” and guitarist Andreas Kisser’s off-kilter leads throughout the album.
Indeed, to say that Sepultura’s songwriting and musicianship have grown beyond their humble death/thrash roots would be an understatement. Rather than allowing themselves to be painted into a corner by their own legacy, they’ve embraced a philosophy of following their musical muse wherever it may lead, and Machine Messiah is the culmination of this forward-thinking attitude. They’re never going to go back to the sound of Beneath the Remains or even Chaos A.D., and they don’t give a single fuck whether or not you approve of what they’re doing.
Lyrically, Machine Messiah centers around mankind’s over reliance on/addiction to technology. Almost every day, I see scores of people shutting out the world around them with earbuds hooked up to mobile devices. I see people killing each other in car crashes because they can’t bare to stop dicking around with their smartphones while driving. I see people camping out overnight in front of stores, lined up like cattle in order to be the first to purchase Apple’s latest electronic do-dad. Given these observations, the album’s subject matter feels all too timely; Sepultura has tapped into what might be modern civilization’s biggest Achilles’ heel and laid it bare in musical form.
Overall, Machine Messiah is proof positive of Sepultura’s iron will to persevere in spite of the metal community at large’s repeated attempts to sweep their late career renaissance under the rug. I realize their current direction isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but to simply dismiss them out of hand only proves the ridiculous “everything was better back then” ethos that has kept so much of the metal scene from progressing is still alive and well. But, if the band can continue to release albums as strong as this one, it’s only a matter of time before fans and critics alike will have no choice but to take notice of modern Sepultura’s continued excellence.