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Supposedly after the mammoth tour in support of “Arise” Brazilian quartet Sepultura ran out of steam and, well, ideas, really. Lord knows what happened to them on that trek all over the world. Not only did it knock the air of what was formerly the most violent and cutthroat death/thrash unit on the scene, it also sucked out the band’s creativity. “Chaos A.D.” is equal amounts punk/hardcore as it is copious amounts of Pantera worship. This is the album, a gateway album for many at that, where the Brazilian contenders to the thrash metal crown lost the plot, a thing from which they never recovered. It mostly marks the end of an era. The end of Sepultura’s reign as death/thrash mavens, the last to feature Michael Whelan artwork and the one but last to feature Max Cavalera on vocals and rhythm guitars. Although you are hardpressed to find that last aspect a selling point.

sepultura92The album opens with the in utero heartbeat of Max Cavalera’s then-unborn son Zyon, and while that sample is a great intro piece on itself, it begs the first question of many: what happened to long-time keyboardist Henrique Portugal? Where’s the aggression? Where are the whirlwind riffs? And probably most importantly: where are the songs? Sepultura never hid the fact that they liked hardcore as much as they liked extreme metal, but this is the first record that actively suffers from needless experimentation. It spents far too much time on trying very hard to be something that it is not - and probably will never be. It also is a sobering reminder what happens to great bands when they decide to ditch their legacy in the name of the almighty dollar. Integrity, previously Sepultura’s most defining trait, is exchanged for an oversimplified, dumbed down stab at senseless commercialism and lukewarm mainstream acceptance. “Chaos A.D.” is big, dumb and loud. Dumb mostly, though.

‘Refuse/Resist’ is the first song, and while the lack of riffs and speed is immediately noticeable – it at least has the decency to not waste anybody’s time. The title was taken from Indian dissident Mahatma Ghandi’s ideology of non-violent civilian disobedience, and the lyrics are concise and to-the-point. ‘Territory’ starts off with a tribal drumbeat, but falls back in tempo soon after the intro. ‘Slave New World’, co-written by Evan Seinfeld from Biohazard, is another pointless hardcore ditty, and the presence of Andreas Kisser’s solo does little to redeem this track, or the ones that came before it. It has nothing to do with the Aldous Huxley novel “Brave New World” which is referenced in the song title. In truth, the most intelligent thing about this song is the somewhat clever pun of the song title. The increased levels of bass-centricness, the presence of barely two riffs per song (not counting the slight variations of each which are passed off as bridges), the stripped down hardcore approach in the songwriting and the Pantera groove metal aping is what makes “Chaos A.D.” the crushing disappointment that it is. The three singles mentioned earlier only serve to display that sad and sorry fact. No amount of label-muscle was going to be able to hide how poorly conceived and written this record is, or was rather. “Chaos A.D.” is a mess, a glorious mess at that.

One of the surprisingly effective new ideas was the instrumental cut 'Kaiowas’. Consisting of acoustic guitars and tribal percussion the track exposes a frail and sensitive side the band had not shown prior. The execution and delivery isn’t lacking per se, but a bigger deal could have been made out of it. ‘Kaiowas’ exists, and it passes the listener by without the realization that it hints at something bigger and better. It is unfortunate that this lone great track is surrounded by a veritable morass of bad ideas. ‘Amen’ and ‘Nomad’ follow the architecture of previous tracks, and the inclusion of crudely sampled religious chants does not redeem it. In fact it further exposes the eroded songwriting capability of this once mighty band, and the chants accentuate the absence of any real riffs. ‘Nomad’ follows suit, and while it has some decent riffs (especially the one after the break) and drumming it still is lacking in about every department that the band used to excel at. ‘Biotech Is Godzilla’ was co-written by Jello Biafra who also adds backing vocals. It is a fast and short hardcore/punk track that really feels out of place on a Sepultura record, and even on the subsequent Nailbomb album it would have been considered pointless and lacking. ‘Propaganda’ is much of the same as ‘Biotech Is Godzilla’ and ‘Manifest’ is another experiment in sound that really shouldn’t have been allowed to happen in the first place. ‘We Who Are Not As Others’ is something, although I’m not entirely certain what. It consists of about two riffs and a mantra-like repetition of the song’s title. The solo does little to redeem it, but that goodwill is crushed by the idiotic laughing that concludes the track. ‘The Hunt’ is a functional cover of a New Model Army song with a ton of neat little acoustic guitars in the background and a slightly better vocal performance by Max. ‘Clenched Fist’ is a prototype for the later Nailbomb album, which would become the companion piece to this record.

“Chaos A.D.” is, no matter how you spin it, Sepultura’s artistic death certificate.

This is a record of changes, superficial and profound. The songs all are mere shells of what the band used to write. The lyrics are still socio-political, but they seem more based around one-liners and quips rather than actual dissections of ideas or ideologies. The absence of riffs per song is hard not to notice, and the riffs that do appear are one-two note excuses that even hardcore bands would be embarrassed to use in their songs. The band that once stuffed their songs to the brim with impressive riff after riff here contents itself with building a song around a single, or two riffs at most. The fire is gone and so is the passion. Max Cavalera’s vocals regressed to a severe degree. His once mighty roars and thrash metal screams became a caveman shout that was supposed to convey all the anger, frustration and righteous indignation at the world while it mostly comes off as comical, and well, mentally challenged, if we’re being honest about it. The fact that the songs are largely build around Cavalera’s grumbling, percussive tough guy vocals don’t help matters either. That this record has the highest count of expletives makes the new vocal style even less defensible. This isn’t tough. It is embarrassing. The songs all are a lot slower too. It is hard to believe that this band wrote “Beneath the Remains” and “Schizophrenia” – both classics of riff-oriented high speed thrash metal.

Some call the production unlistenable, but for one reason or the other this is one my favorite productions of the era. Without a single doubt this is, literally, the heaviest Sepultura has ever sounded from a production standpoint. Igor’s kickdrums sound ominous and powerful, Paulo’s bass guitar finally gets the attention it deserves, and the guitar tone, both for rhythm and leads, is earthy and organic but never lifeless or sterile. What the production does bring to attention is that, while the band sounds heavier and cleaner than it was ever before, the song material on this record is lacking, and when it does occasionally deliver something of note it is lowest common denominator pandering. This is why this record is so divisive and polarizing for many, even a full two decades after its original release. This was my first metal record, and while I have some adoration for it, mostly through nostalgia, that doesn’t change the fact that it isn’t very good, or even worthy of half the lavish praise it continues to get with the casual masses.

R-6455452-1419688264-4300For all the praise the record gets it seems to focus on the wrong elements of this particular equation. The songs on here are drawn out, listless affairs based around one or two riffs, tons of caveman grooves and daft anti-authorian lyrics that don’t really say a whole lot than the band has established on earlier records. Sure, it is the band’s most direct and confrontational record, but how much does that say exactly? The crunchy and concrete production is bass-heavy and absolutely stellar, but it is wasted on a dull, meandering record that doesn’t seem to have any real purpose, or direction. “Chaos A.D.” is indeed a chaos of mismatched ideas, disjointed groove riffing and listless chugging that would have the most ardent Pantera disciple running for cover. The 90s were an ugly time for metal above and below the mainstream, this is a reminder of that.

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In the dying years of the ‘90s, just at the dawn of the nu-metal boom, this sound was the most popular thing above and below the mainstream. With illustrious figureheads as Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson and latter-day Type O Negative. It was the sound of the moment. The sound of a generation of disenfranchised, disillusioned, disposable youths, perhaps. What sound, you wonder? The mix of heavy rock, industrial and semi-gothic lyrics and overtones. Admittedly, there was something for everybody in that combination of genres. Regretfully, it was soon overshadowed by the wigger style of everybody’s favorite California rock band, KoRn.

The appeal in this short-lived spooky rock movement came from its synthesis of key elements of a number of (below) mainstream genres. Spooky rock combined the heavy riffing from heavy metal, the construction and delivery of Seattle grunge and alternative rock with the doom and gloom of gothic and the isolation and alienation of industrial. Add to that the vocal style of The Sisters Of Mercy, and it becomes instantly clear why this was so popular at the time. For a brief moment in time, it was embodiment of counter-culture and fans of different subcultures flocked towards it in unison.

Carpeduke, the creative collaboration between German rock singer Steffen Herzog and American producer Ron Reid Gardner, proves that this sound can still be relevant today. Even though it stands to reason that its commercial due-date has long since passed. Not that “Hell Gothic Ride” isn’t a fun little platter of ‘90s nostalgia, because it most certainly is – the only question is: do we, or you rather, really need this? The answer to that question is, of course, a resounding “no”. You don’t need this, but that doesn’t change the fact that it most certainly is loads of fun when you are in the mood for it.

While Herzog’s lyrics are loads of fun, laced with black humor, vivid imagery and double entendres.  They aren’t as self-referential or culturally self-aware of Rob Zombie, neither are they anti-authoritarian like early Marilyn Manson. They are horror inspired to a degree, and seem to cater to a mainly gothic audience, yet also occasionally wander into more personal territory. With 13 tracks there’s some obvious filler to be found, but a good number of tracks, say about 9, are actually surprisingly strong. ‘Vampyre’ is the strongest cut of the record, and it is not a surprise it is the lead single for this album.

The most obvious padding is happening with virtually interchangeable tracks like ‘Tanz Mit Dem Feuer’, which feels like a retread of ‘Nightfall’. Both tracks share the same basic beat/rhythm and the choruses are too similar to be coincidental. Granted, ‘Tanz Mit Dem Feuer’ is darker sounding and is multi-lingual at that, but the overall idea is the same. ‘Death Radio’ aims for that ‘The Beautiful People’ vibe, but it is a sad excuse of a very basic-sounding riff and beat to base an entire song around.  The song never goes anywhere. There are some exciting guitar acrobatics in ‘Tormentor’ and ‘Stuck In the Mud’, but these are largely secondary to the rest of the song, and the album as a whole.

Herzog’s voice itself is a mixed bag. He has that hoarse rasp which is reminiscent of Gunther Theys (Ancient Rites), his baritone recalls the late Peter Steele (Type O Negative) and the rest obviously aims for the type vocals that Andrew Eldritch from The Sisters Of Mercy popularized. His higher register vocals are of the standard pop variety, but not nearly as clean and pure sounding. His black metal rasp is actually surprisingly effective and demonic sounding. It makes you genuinely wonder what he would sound like in an actual death – or black metal band. The music mainly seems to balance between darker, more serious heavy rock songs, and upbeat electronic dance songs which, above else, aim for a club audience with big choruses and prominent beats. There’s a wide array of effects used to convey the horror atmosphere this record aims for. Keyboards, choirs, female vocals, and electronic beats – all stops are pulled out to make this album as engrossing as it is. The actual songwriting is of the standard pop variety. The instrumentation itself is rather basic, which works well with the verse-chorus pop song structures most of these songs are built around.

The presentation, design and lay-out of “Hell Gothic Ride” is a clusterfuck of potentially good ideas marred by shoddy execution. The digipack release is adorned with digital renderings that recall a late ‘90s video game, specifically “Dungeon Keeper”. The photography itself is surprisingly good, but the way they are implemented into the overall package is both detrimental to the pictures as to the lay-out. The cover image makes this record look like a budget dance compilation, and the typesetting and production notes (especially those in the booklet) are horrid and cheap-looking. Overall it would have benefitted Carpeduke tremendously if Herzog would have taken the presentation and design more seriously, even though his array of subjects usually aren’t.

So, what’s the final verdict? “Hell Gothic Ride” is a surprisingly enjoyable and fun record when it plays to its strengths and just runs with it. The best songs are those who get to the point quickly and/or stop the joking around and just go for whatever it is that they’re after. Given what Herzog has written here, there’s enough promise for future albums, and maybe even a hit single when they hit everything right. With some more balanced vocal lines, more prominent bass lines and better, more involved drumming this could actually turn into something really good. That isn’t to say that Carpeduke isn’t good now, it just isn’t smooth, conventional and well-produced enough to get airplay.

official website: www.cdp-music.com