After the disappointing and rambling 2003 album "Roorback", SEPULTURA does indeed roar back with "Dante XXI", a concept album based on Dante Alighieri's classic work of literature, "Divina Comedia (The Divine Comedy)". Conceptual ideas aside, however, "Dante XXI" thrashes with an intensity that was missing from "Roorback" and was not quite as present on its predecessor, 2001's "Nation". Some nagging problems remain, but this is a focused album of straightforward thrash metal leavened with the kind of progressive stylistic touches that SEPULTURA has always had a reputation for.
Largely abandoning the specific world music trappings it's used so often before, SEPULTURA instead strips its music to the basics on "Dante XXI", adding only a handful of linking intros and some ominous instrumentation (such as the brass on "False" and "Ostia" that recalls earlier such experiments by CELTIC FROST in its heyday). "Dark Wood Of Error" whips out of the starting gate with the same kind of fury as previous album openers like "Arise" and "Against", followed closely by the turbulent rollercoaster ride of "Convicted in Life". "False" keeps up the relentless pace before breaking down into a slower, doom-laden riff that's echoed immediately afterward by "Fighting On".
Lead guitarist Andreas Kisser is still a master of imaginative, brutal riffing and tones, while bassist Paulo Pinto, Jr. and drummer Igor Cavalera provide the same solid rhythms they've always done since the band's earliest days. Frontman Derrick Green, now onto his fourth album with the group since replacing founding member Max Cavalera eight years ago, has grown comfortable in his role and brings a varied range of voices to the different lyrical moods of the album, showing more diversity here than he has perhaps done on his previous three releases with the group.
In some ways, the production on this album — surely recorded with a lower budget than some of the SEPS' classic efforts — both helps and hinders the final results. There's a certain raw power that comes across, yet the clearly epic ambitions of some of the music is held in check. And there's still some intangible element — whether one calls it chemistry or personality — that has been lacking in SEPULTURA ever since the band ostensibly split in two back in late 1996. For better or worse, Green had big shoes to fill and was not necessarily the right man for the job, although he has performed courageously under very tough circumstances, as have his bandmates. Still, "Dante XXI" shows that SEPULTURA was never a one-man show, and this nearly 20-year-old group can still create its own powerful and original brand of thrash metal.