Tonight, Soulfly’s Max Cavalera is not a well man. Cutting a slightly dumpy figure, he looks distinctly worse for wear shrouded in customised t-shirts and baggy camouflage-print combats. He wearily greets the York crowd before launching epically into ‘Blood Fire War Hate’, flanked by guitarist Marc Rizzo, bassist Bobby Burns and drummer Joe Nunez.
Rewind a few hours and the first of tonight’s two support acts takes to the stage. Dour York-based quartet RSJ execute skilled and devastatingly heavy noise-metal, but do little to endear themselves to the crowd despite the fact that this is their hometown. They leave to a lukewarm reception, making way for Welsh upstarts Revoker. They’re like a more youthful and talented Bullet For My Valentine, and fill The Duchess with their infectious rock and roll licks coupled with metal sensibilities. Stating first off that Cavalera as the reason he picked up a guitar, frontman Jamie Mathias is an engaging and charismatic presence, and under his leadership, Revoker will surely gain a new legion of fans when playing at Download Festival.
Touring in support of new album ‘Omen’, Soulfly have travelled the length and breadth of the UK before ending up in York. With a capacity of 500 The Duchess is a much smaller venue than a band of Soulfly’s status would be expected to play, but tonight that may just be part of the magic. Cavalera is a towering iconic figure in contemporary metal, retaining many older fans from his days in metal legends Sepultura and gaining new listeners with his distinctive brand of metal militia. Despite his diminished appearance tonight, he calls for circle pits and a wall of death in his charmingly accented English, and manages to bark his way through many crowd-pleasers including ‘Back To The Primitive’ and ‘The Prophecy’. Soulfly manage to incorporate Brazilian flair into crunching metallic force to create a modern, multi-textural breed of cultural metal, a convincing and authentic contender for modern metal’s most innovative crown.
The musicians themselves are on top form tonight, ex-Ill Niño axe-man Rizzo performs elaborate flamenco solos with finesse alongside Cavalera’s fifteen-year-old son Igor assuming drumming duties for Sepultura classic ‘Refuse/Resist’ (fitting, as his brother Zyon’s foetal heartbeat opened the original recording for the 1994 track.) A percussion interlude featuring Cavalera, Rizzo and Burns on large, upturned drums illicits a fanatical reaction from the frenzied crowd, as does an impromptu rendition of Pantera’s ‘Walk’, but Cavalera’s mind seems elsewhere. His Madonna-worthy unexplained four clothing changes and constant wanders off stage during solos make for a Soulfly show lacking its soul, exhibiting plenty of technical proficiency and a solid array to tracks to choose from, but without its essential internal force.
SPHERE was particularly looking forward to penultimate track ‘Jumpdafuckup’ according to the setlist taped to the stage, but the set was cut short with none of the extra four encore songs. Whilst a disappointment, the band’s performance still remains an strong example of Soulfly’s signature showmanship playing exotically-tinged tribal metal with style and ambition, albeit tonight without its heart.
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