Born and raised in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, brothers Max and Igor (sometimes spelled Iggor) Calavera founded Sepultura in 1984. The band rose steadily to international renown, but during what should have been the victory lap for the band’s 1996 groove metal classic Roots, tragedy struck, and Max left the band under very unhappy circumstances. The brothers from Brazil were driven apart; Igor stayed on as Sepultura’s drummer, while Max went on to form Soulfly, where he performed guitar and vocals. In 2006, a decade after Max’s departure, Igor Calavera left Sepultura. He immediately buried the hatchet with his brother, and the two wasted little time in finding a way to make music together again.
Calavera Conspiracy is the vessel the Calavera Brothers use to contain their cooperative efforts. Pandemonium, the band’s third full-length, delivers a healthy helping of thrashy, punky, pissed-off goodness. The Calavera brothers, guitarist Marc Rizzo (also of Soulfly) and bassist Nate Newton (also of Converge, Doomriders and Old Man Gloom) are in fine, ass-kicking form here, barreling in virtual lockstep through variations on straightforward metal and hardcore with a sense of honest purpose and assertiveness that lends the traditionalist material a certain winsome vibrancy.
Album opener “Babylonian Pandemonium” sets the tone, with an ominous ambient intro giving way to stomping thrash metal. It’s not hard to tell that Igor Calavera is really thwomping and bashing on his drum kit. Newton’s bass thickens the already deep sound, creating a sonic imprint that recalls Sepultura’s groovy past. Max Calavera’s vocals are a gruff, hearty roar. His and Rizzo’s guitars dance and intertwine, at times crunching away together, at others layering, as evidenced by the creepy Slayer-esque guitar squeals that keen away in the background.
Speaking of Slayer, Rizzo’s guitar solos on Pandemonium possess much of the kinetic squealing abandon associated with that band (the album’s promo sheet references Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman by name). Rizzo and Max Calavera’s riffs also recall other metal greats, sometimes unescapably so. “Banzai Kamikazi” has a riff that sounds just like Pig Destroyer’s “Thought Crime Spree,” and the main riff from “Not Losing The Edge” sounds like it was lifted almost verbatim from Meshuggah’s “Demiurge.” They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in this case that seems true, with Calavera Conspiracy making rather open homages to their heavy contemporaries.
Although Panemonium is more or less a long and unvarying march of fast and heavy, certain songs do distinguish themselves from the pack. “Cramunhão” seems to rumble on forever, but in a way that is more epic and progressive than tiresome. Copious guitar solos unspool between thrash runs and slow death metal stomps, and as it proceeds, the song takes on a sort of hypnotic, lived-in quality. “Father of Hate” and “Scum” are notable for being especially fast and angry once they hit their respective strides, with Max Calavera’s screaming vocals reaching new levels of raw vehemence.
While Pandemonium is a nice slice of the heavy, it is hardly a revolution. Some of the slow sections seem to flounder a bit in terms of melody and impact, and a lack of languid, deeply resonant grooves – like the ones that made Sepultura’s Roots so exceptional – limits the dynamic power of the album.
However, Calavera Conspiracy do keep back a pleasant surprise until the end. “Porra” begins with traditional Brazilian music that will take the listener back to the carefree days of Jasco and Itsári. Even if the indigenous sounds and the inevitable heavy metal riffs don’t exactly mesh smoothly, the strange contrasts and juxtapositions produced provide a welcome and unexpected diversion, and a wonderful way to close out the earnest and often crushing Pandemonium.