Fourteen albums in, Sepultura have no one's expectations to live up to but their own. The Cavalera brothers are long gone and songwriter/guitarist Andreas Kisser has remade this band in his own musical image. Machine Messiah continues to build on the diverse proggish elements displayed on Dante XXI, A-lex, and Kairos, while re-engaging with the thrash and hardcore that made 2013's The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart so compelling. From painter Camille Dela Rosa's amazing cover artwork on, this conceptual set is all of a piece. Kisser claims her painting inspired him to finish a story for the record he'd been working on for years. It illustrates a holistic (and apocalyptic) vision consistent through its sonic architecture (with help from producer Jens Bogren), plotting, pace, songs, and dynamics.
Kisser explores society's cult-like religious devotion to technological advancement with the idea of a savior God returning to greet humanity, but as a cyborg. This intense conceptual journey is illuminated musically through explorations of flamenco, Brazilian chorro, thrash, power metal, neo-psych, and edgy prog.
Vocalist Derrick Green's balance of dirty and clean vocals allows him to inhabit narrative roles seamlessly to get the story across (and firmly put him beyond any comparison to Phil Anselmo once and for all). Check his brooding intro on the opening title track that evolves to anguished intensity halfway through. His rhythmic growl on "Phantom Self" underscores drummer Eloy Casagrande's slamming grooves. The latter's playing forces all members to up their instrumental acumen. His fluidity is an ingenious combination of jazz syncopation, grooving breaks, blastbeats, Afro-Cuban tumbaos, exploding aggression, and improvisation. Bassist Paulo Jr. acts as his anchor, the centering place for the set's entire instrumental attack -- check the riff-driven "Alethtea" and the charging instrumental labyrinth "Iceberg Dances." "Sworn Oath," the set's longest track, is also one of its best, displaying the wide scope of Kisser's writing (and inventive playing). Commencing with a dark, doomy overture, the guitarist's meld of minor and major key chordal shards gives way to a slamming prog vamp, triple-timed by Casagrande. Inside of two minutes it shifts again to a death metal chug as Green's vocal is introduced. By its midpoint, a majestic crescendo -- complete with harmonic horn sounds and thematic variations -- winds through before the crunching riff returns and builds toward a thunderous climax. The knotty throb of "Silent Violence" is pure mayhem while "Cyber God" displays a slow tempo, dissonant tones, and clean vocals during the first half -- recalling the best moments of Dante XXI -- and is almost experimental before morphing into a squalling, filthy-throated groover complete with razor-wire riffing and a fuzzed-out wah-wah guitar solo to close.