Man, was I excited about this one. There was a bunch of talk in early 2009 among Sepultura fans that the band’s upcoming album would be a long-awaited return to form, especially after their previous effort Dante XXI was so well-received. I bought into it after hearing the samples of “The Treatment” and “We’ve Lost You,” sensing that a Chaos A.D.-style album was in the works. Two-plus years later, I can say that SPV did a damn good job of marketing, because there aren’t many more highlights than those two songs on the disappointing A-Lex.
A-Lex is a concept album based on the famous novel “A Clockwork Orange”. This is a really cool idea in theory, since anyone who’s read the book and/or seen the movie adaptation knows that A Clockwork Orange kicks a whole bunch of ass. Unfortunately, the most important part of any thrash album was seemingly lost in this whole concept: the riffs! Yes, there are some fast songs here, namely “Moloko Mesto,” “Forceful Behavior,” and the aforementioned “The Treatment,” but those serve only as a mask to some very average riffing; other tracks reveal that this is basically the same guitar work that Andreas Kisser has been criticized for throwing out there ever since Max Cavalera’s departure from the band. The same guitar tone, the same hardcore influence, the same plodding style. It really stinks that the band never hired an additional guitar player, because the one-guitar approach brings A-Lex down. On past Derrick Green releases, this was acceptable since it fit what the band was trying to do (or, if you want, not trying to do), but here the intricate concept is completely nullified by the mediocre guitars. It’s like a domino effect gone haywire: the concept means that there are more songs (some of which don’t even hit 2 minutes), which means that the riffs that Kisser did come up with are more spread out, and that ultimately leads to an album that’s half filler despite supposedly needing those songs for the concept!
That being said, A-Lex is saved somewhat by the two factors that should have otherwise been afterthoughts. Derrick Green’s vocals have never sounded better, his rough barking excellent as usual while mixing in some surprisingly effective cleans. Behind the drumkit, newcomer Jean Dolabella is no Igor Cavalera, but his energetic playing carries tracks such as “Sadistic Values,” showing that he’s a worthy replacement to one of thrash metal’s greatest drummers. Beyond that, Paulo Jr. is usually solid when you can hear him, offering some fun little bass doodles throughout the album. None of this is really enough to overcome the glaring blandness of the guitars, however.
Don’t get me wrong; A-Lex isn’t terrible. It simply suffers from having too much of too little. Many of the negatives can be ignored if the album is played all the way through at once (it is a concept album, after all), but that shouldn’t be necessary. There’s just too much filler. This would have been right up there with Against and Roorback had the band either a) ditched the concept or b) put more time into filling out the music for it. If you’re looking for a place to start with the unfortunately overlooked latter half of Sepultura’s discography, this isn’t it.