Sepultura – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart
Release Date: October 25, 2013
Thrash metal has practically been the poster boy for heavy metal since its rise in the 1980’s, with the torrential growth of its fan base and its semi-commercialization courtesy of the American Big 4. From the powerful double bass and the face-melting shredding, to the riffs that blend the wholesome heaviness of NWOBHM with the veracity of hardcore punk, thrash metal soon became the soundtrack of life for every self-respecting mosher. Over the years, this genre has evolved and yet, become stagnant in many ways, and has at many junctions become stuck in a creative loop plagued by derivative excess.
Amidst all this, one is often in search of the next groundbreaking masterpiece or an effort that at the very least is gratifyingly refreshing in the moment, and in this context the thrash metal fan’s search is tireless. Do we have the answer in the form of Sepultura’s latest effort, The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart? Read on to find out.
The Brazilian thrash/groove metal pioneers and stalwarts’ previous record Kairos was an album that was a direct nod to their thrash metal roots, which is what earned the band critical acclaim during their rise to fame. Furthermore, it still retained a modern hardcore infused pounding style that has earned them both appreciation and resentment alike. With this latest studio offering, the efforts of the band launches them toward an older sound and one that differentiates from their past catalog of recent times in many subtle ways. One could go as far as to say that this album is their best since 1996’s Roots, which was a turning point of sorts for the band in a variety of ways, be it the post-release departure of the band’s original vocalist Max Cavalera or the stylistic shift of the band from a the groove/post-thrash metal sound of 1993’s Chaos A.D.
One interesting aspect about Sepultura’s last few albums is their approach towards their songwriting process, and it is certainly evident that Andreas Kisser is very good when it come to gestating a concept album. With the new record, Kisser is said to have been inspired by 1927 movie Metropolis. The guitarist said the following when he was quizzed about the same:
“I was inspired by a phrase which is the main message of the story: ‘The mediator between the head and hands must be the heart’ to express what we are saying on the lyrics.”
Before you actually start the The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart journey, you must appreciate the art work as it sets the tone for the entire album experience.
The band turned to renowned producer Ross Robinson (Korn, Slipknot, Tech N9ne, Machine Head) to helm this effort, and he turned in a masterful performance behind the boards.
This ripper of a record starts with the first track, “Trauma of War”. This song would make any fan of the band’s older catalog smile, and yet, would also invoke the anthemic side in fans, compelling them to scream along the with vocalist Derrick Green. Just when you reach the moment of screaming your lungs out and headbanging, a blistering guitar solo is seamlessly belted out, which has become a trademark of sorts for Kisser. Sounds great already, doesn’t it? Just when you feel this couldn’t get any better, “The Vatican” and “Impending Doom” find Kisser and Co. treating you with even more dynamic and energy-packed compositions. These tracks are very well synchronized with Eloy Casagrande’s powerful double bass drumming with a tinge of tribal elements and as ever, Kisser’s magical lead work.
Tracks like “Grief” and “Obsessed” are plodding and melancholic, with Derrick whispering emotional lyrics, sounding less harsh and cradling you into the mood of a progressive track. “Grief” especially stands out due to the build up it creates, eventually progressing into heaviness, while maintaining its creeping pace which soon bleeds into Kisser’s enthralling soloing. A small cameo by the legendary Dave Lombardo on the track “Obsessed” is worth mentioning. The duo of Eloy and Lombardo nail those epic tribal patterns flawlessly, and their percussive dexterity is beyond admirable.
By now, the listener can hear that the album is practically littered with catchy riffs and drum parts that will be stuck in one’s head for days to come. Green compliments each track well, and creatively has a rhythmical vocal phrasing that further increases the tracks’ playback value. Whether it be the typical gruff vocal assaults or the contrastingly somber spoken word sections that can be found in “Grief”, there are solid vocal performances throughout the album.
Paulo Jr’s bass performance was near perfection, making a statement while rumbling smoothly below the surface, never too loud nor too subdued.
The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart mark’s Casagrande’s studio debut with Sepultura, and his drum work certainly makes an impression upon the listener. The lad seems to have a huge arsenal of drum arrangements that keep one enthralled throughout the album. Although there are some segments that do feel rather stagnant such underplayed portions are rather inevitable in the grander scheme of things. The drum lines are fairly consistent and are a direct nod to the band’s tribal influences, which are found at various places throughout the album. In essence, his performance is satisfactory in the sense that the drums do not overpower the other musical elements and provide the perfect back bone for the band. Excellent examples of his drumming skills can be observed on tracks like “The Vatican”, “Manipulation of Tragedy” and “The Bliss of Ignorants”.
The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart has not only managed to excel musically but it is also likely to please the fans of the band who prefer their more groove/experimental dabbling à la Chaos A.D. and Roots or their earlier thrash metal indulgences such as Arise and Beneath the Remains. All these albums being verily different, this album indeed bridges the stylistic gap between these two eras of the band that have often been at odds with each other due to the evident discrepancy in musical direction, and thus divided their fan base at large.
The series of searing solos, extensive use of unique tribal patterns, rapid tempo changes, emotional lyrics and fast transitions between riffs and solos – all of this far surpasses what Sepultura have done on their previous recent releases. In summation, all of this makes for a rather memorable post-Cavalera Sepultura album, a feat that is certainly hard to achieve with masterpieces such as Schizophrenia and Beneath the Remains in the band’s discography. There is a lot more neck-breaking heaviness on The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart than there is eclectic elements such as tribal drumming and chants. I, for one, have the cultural cognizance to appreciate the addition of ethnic influences, but I should further specify that I like it best when it is intertwined in the music and not just a prolonged period consisting purely of indigenous music. In light of the same, much kudos to Casagandre for maintaining the right balance flawlessly without descending into any redundancies apropos the same.
While Paulo Jr. remains the band’s only founding member, Kisser has long served as the driving force behind the group – an adamant emperor of the band known for his skills of exploring different zones. This album sees Sepultura assuredly sounding their best in the post-Cavalera era, and cements the fact that Kisser is still a force to reckoned with. The charm of this album lies in its flow which rarely stagnates and is nothing short of coherently conceptualized. This offering is surely going to be relished by all segments of the band’s fan base. It justifies more listens and this is what you expect from a record with memorable value. They have grown into old wise men, deftly perfecting their craft with innovation and creativity in a most adept manner. Kisser and the team have done it again. The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart is a powerful album filled with emotions, and in the end all you can give is undeniable respect which these guys deserve.