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In 1997, shortly after concluding a tour in support of their biggest-selling album, Roots, Sepultura and frontman Max Cavalera unexpectedly split under acrimonious circumstances. Even more unforeseen was the announcement by the rest of the band's members -- including Max's younger brother, drummer Igor -- that they would continue without him. A year and a half later, the group released Against, a progressive, highly energized thrash/hardcore hybrid that was buoyed in no small part by the lively vocal style of Max's replacement, Derrick Green. While an engaging return to form, Against also represented a bold step forward on many levels and remains the most sonically sophisticated release in Sepultura's catalogue.

A pedigree that includes four classic albums in a row -- Beneath the Remains, Arise, Chaos A.D. and Roots -- makes it difficult to avoid putting an asterisk by the band's more recent work, but that would be misleading and unfair. This is an act that shows absolutely no sign of running out of creative fervor. In fact, Sepultura has only improved with age, and the relentless pursuit of growth is as present as ever on Roorback, its third album since the lineup change (and ninth overall).

After the more traditional leanings of the last effort, Nation, Roorback works off a thrash-oriented energy similar to that found on Against, only without the trippiness and exotic touches. But while the new songs are more straightforward, they don't readily give themselves away; their depth is revealed gradually. And once again, Sepultura displays its untouchable rhythmic prowess, one of the traits that helped the outfit achieve iconic status within the worldwide metal community.

Though the band has been making political statements since Chaos A.D. , the new album focuses more overtly on politics. That message is pointedly clear from the outset -- in the artwork, which depicts a faceless figure moving a chess piece on a globe, and in the very first song, "Come Back Alive," about the horrors of war. Eight of the twelve tracks in some way address global power-brokering and manipulative political oppression on a mass scale. Andreas Kisser, Igor Cavalera and Green reach a new level of consistency with their lyrics, opting for directness over the abstraction favored by Max Cavalera and Kisser in the past.

Every one of Sepultura's albums has an overall sound and feel that's different from the rest. To hear the band as hungry, heavy and speedy as ever nearly twenty years into its life span is encouraging. Roorback should further consecrate Sepultura's place among the thrash-metal elite.

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Saby Reyes-Kulkarni