While Soulfly are far from the biggest name in metal, they do have an incredibly loyal fan base due to the pedigree of frontman Max Cavalera, who formed Soulfly after leaving extremely influential metal band Sepultura, and those fans were out in force for their set at the Riot Room in Kansas City on Tuesday, May 10, 2016.
Starting off the night was Phoenix-based Lody Kong. I knew very little about them before this show and having only heard an old demo song, I’d written them off in advance as filler. I feel the need to apologize: Lody Kong is hands down one of the most exciting young bands in the heavy music scene. With roots in west coast hardcore, they also master a fusion of math metal, noise metal – there is a very strong element of Dillinger Escape Plan to Lody Kong – punk, jazz, and even a little bit of funk. The vocals are pure hardcore, and the guitars chug and squeal menacingly, but don’t really stand out aside from some dazzling mid-riff time signature shifts. The rhythm section is what makes Lody Kong so phenomenal. Bassist Noah Shepherd utilized his 6-string bass to full effect, taking frequent lead runs, slap-bass solos, and masterfully accenting the guitar chugs. One stand-out moment found him picking an intro so low and percussive that when drummer Zyon Cavalera started softly striking a tom drum in the same rhythm, it was hard to tell which instrument was which. And speaking of Zyon Cavalera, he is a force of nature on drums. He careens wildly side to side and back and forth in his seat, swinging at his kit from strange, uncomfortable looking angles, but never once misses a beat, even though his parts are by far the most complex in the band. It’s impossible not to liken his drumming style to martial arts, particularly Drunken Fist Kung Fu. I do not exaggerate when I say I have a new drummer in my top five list. Zyon Cavalera and guitarist/vocalist Igor Cavalera are both sons of Max Cavalera, making this evening a Cavalera family outing.
Next came extreme metal band Abnormality. Most of them, anyway: bassist Josh Staples was stuck in the hospital, but the band chose to perform as a quartet, and to be honest it was hard to miss the bass. With a pair of down tuned 7-string guitars, absolutely relentless blastbeats from drummer Jay Blaisdell, and the cookie monster growls of diminutive frontwoman Mallika Sundaramurthy, the entire set was drenched in lows, but never felt the slightest bit unmusical. Even sans bass, Abnormality was easily the heaviest band on the show, sharing more in common with acts like Gorguts or Aborted than most other bands on the Soulfly tour.
After that was Canton, Michigan thrash metal band, Battlecross. The emphasis in their sound is certainly on the metal, but thrash heavily flavors the melodic segments and the captivating solos, of which there was at least one per song, usually more. Guitarists Hiran Deraniyagala and Tony Asta frequently harmonized or traded back and forth through passages equally indebted to Iron Maiden and Kill ‘Em All-era Metallica. Frontman Kyle “Gumby” Gunther loped around the stage looking like Encino Man in a tie-dye tank top bearing the face of Chewbacca, and that sense of fun was present in their set, which was the lightest of the night but was a welcome refresher after the intensity of the first two acts. The only downside was the volume was far too loud, leaving the vocals sounding thin and just seeming out of place when all the other bands had an excellent mix.
Death metal legends Suffocation came next and tore through a scorching set with an ease that showed just how damn good this band is. Vocalist Ricky Myers was obviously struggling with a lost voice while talking in between songs, but aside from one flat scream early in the set, you never would have known it from his performance. Lead guitarist Terrance Hobbs also wowed with a brilliant but simple performance. Suffocation‘s sound is fairly generic now, but they helped sculpt the genre itself, and Hobbs’ licks and riffs should be required study for those looking to write death metal songs.
Ending the night, Soulfly tied all the elements of the previous bands together into one package. The relative yet elegant simplicity of Suffocation, the ear for hooks of Battlecross, the pounding, relentless pulse of Abnormality, and the oddball rhythm of Lody Kong – which makes sense, as Zyon Cavalera sits behind the drum kit for both bands. Max Cavalera‘s strength is definitely his guitar work (his vocals are mostly limited to a monotone bark residing somewhere between lookalike Slayer frontman Tom Araya and Rob Zombie), and the first few songs seemed a little dull – “We Sold Our Souls To Metal” is a very poor choice for opening song: very slow build, extremely repetitive, plodding tempo, and no cathartic payoff till nearly 4 minutes into the song – but starting with a blistering cover of Sepultura‘s standout “Refuse/Resist,” they found their footing.
The secret to Soulfly‘s music is to find the groove. No matter what, these songs are packed with hooks, whether it’s a front and center lead guitar riff or a muted, pulsing bass and rhythm guitar playing to a beat you can easily jump or clap to. The layers of songs like “Prophecy” and “No Hope = No Fear,” or the violent chaos of Sepultura track “Roots Bloody Roots” alike have the same undeniable sense of rhythm, one rooted in tribal music and reggae but transformed into fun, earworm heavy metal riffs. They even took a shot at another cover during the encore, this time Napalm Death‘s “You Suffer,” and the song has never sounded better.
The crowd paid back the band’s energy in full, prompting Max several times to incredulously state his thanks for everyone showing up and going crazy at a weekday show – one would-be crowd surfer hung suspended from the lighting rig spinning in circles during a bit of “Roots Bloody Roots.” This easy rapport with the fans is a huge element of what makes Soulfly so appealing, and why fans show up for small-venue weeknight shows like this one. And with Lody Kong almost always on the bill when Soulfly tours, that’s just more incentive to come back again next time.