By Andrew Bansal
March 4th 2017, The Observatory Orange County, Santa Ana CA: Following the success of the concept in 2016, Brazil’s most iconic metal brothers Max and Igor Cavalera carried on with the ‘Return to Roots’ tour through a second North American leg in 2017, with support acts Immolation and Full Of Hell. On this tour, the Cavalera brothers were set to perform Sepultura’s ‘Roots’ album in its entirety, and fans in Los Angeles/Orange County came out to witness the final show of the North American run, last Saturday March 4th 2017 at the Observatory OC in Santa Ana. Diehard Cavalera/Sepultura fans were already convinced that it would be a great show, while others were skeptical yet hopeful of a praiseworthy performance. In some ways the show transpired exactly as expected, but also had plenty of surprises in store.
Doors opened at 7, and at 7:30, Los Angeles thrashers Art Of Shock began proceedings with a 30-minute set, followed by Sangre as the other local/regional opening act also playing a half hour starting at 8:15. These two bands have been around in the LA metal scene for a number of years, both are clearly massive Sepultura fans, and gave it their best to prove themselves as worthy and deserving of opening this show.
It was then time for the touring acts, and first among them was Full Of Hell, a hardcore band based out of Maryland/Central Pennsylvania. This is the kind of band Max Cavalera has stated in several interviews as being a huge fan of, and it was refreshing to note that he finally took one such band, arguably the best of the lot, on this tour. Full Of Hell’s brand of grinding hardcore, with just the right sprinkling of death metal, is nothing less than bleak, punishing and unrelenting, and the quartet tore this stage apart with no dull moments whatsoever. The crowd was warming up and getting involved with some pit action during this set. Through split releases with bands like Nails and Code Orange, an incredible studio and live collaboration with The Body, as well as their own releases, Full Of Hell have already numbed minds and pierced ears with compositions of uninhibited angst for the past eight years or so, and shall continue to do so with crushing performances such as the one here at The Observatory.
Next up, Yonkers NY death metal veterans Immolation took the stage to put forth a blend of brutality and technicality they’ve made all their own since their 1988 inception. They played a 10-song, 45-minute set that focused on their stellar new release ‘Atonement’ with as many as five songs off of it, but also touched upon some of their other nine albums, going all the way back to 1991 with the eponymous track. ‘Immolation’ the song was aptly dedicated to the Cavalera brothers, as vocalist/bassist Ross Dolan proudly declared Sepultura as one of Immolation’s biggest influences and inspirations in the band’s formative years. The ‘Atonement’ material fit seamlessly into the set and stood as strong as any of the older ones, ‘Fostering the Divide’ turning out to be one of the highlights. Dolan and his band mates Robert Vigna and Alex Bouks on guitar and Steve Shalaty on drums were all beyond excellent in their respective roles, and once again, Immolation lived up to their reputation of remarkable consistency. While many didn’t know what level of performance to expect from the Cavalera brothers, there were no such doubts surrounding Immolation, and for some, were the main reason behind attending this event.
Immolation set list:
01. The Distorting Light
02. Kingdom of Conspiracy
03. Majesty and Decay
04. Destructive Currents
05. Swarm of Terror
06. Fostering the Divide
08. When the Jackals Come
09. A Spectacle of Lies
At 11 PM, a complete blackout signaled the arrival of Max & Igor Cavalera along with guitarist Marc Rizzo and bassist Tony Campos, as excitement levels inside the building were just about ready to shatter the roof. The show was eventually very close to a sell-out at this 950-capacity venue, a clear indication of the drawing power of the Cavaleras even in the year 2017, and more so, the popularity of Sepultura’s ‘Roots’ album. The band wasted no time in delving straight into the album, and proceeded to play it in its entirety, in the order of tracks as on the studio recording. The start was strong with fan-favorite ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ and songs like ‘Attitude’ and ‘Cut-Throat’, the momentum carrying into ‘Breed Apart’, ‘Straighthate’ and ‘Spit’ and the fans loving every moment of it. The Observatory was bouncing in all its sections.
But this was when the show went into a lull through the next few tracks, and this is where the concept of playing albums in their entirety comes across as beaten to death, and more than slightly overdone. Not every track on a studio album is written with the intention of being performed live, and in all honesty, ‘Roots’ is not an album in which all tracks are ideal for a live show. So, the entirety of the ‘Roots’ album constituting this set made for a show that lost intensity for a period, through no fault of the band’s performance, one must add. Things finally picked up again with a spectacular drum circle during ‘Ambush’, and the ending was strong with the final ‘Roots’ track, ‘Dictatorshit’. The band left the stage with the prospect of an epic encore looming.
Sure enough, the Cavaleras returned, sans their band mates, to lay into an old-school Sepultura medley that had fans in an absolute frenzy, and most sections of the venue were pictures of absolute madness. Then the full band returned, and they played Motörhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’, but we were not done yet, as Ross Dolan of Immolation and Dylan Walker of Full Of Hell came back out on stage to join Max in delivering vocals for Venom’s ‘Black Metal’. Besides some of ‘Roots’ and the Sepultura medley, this was the highlight of the set, and a special treat only for this audience, with this being the last show of the tour and Max wanting to do something special with the support bands. Announcing every encore offering as “the last song” but then urging the crowd to demand more, the band finally did end their set with a fast-paced reprise version of ‘Roots Bloody Roots’. The choice of covers and the reprise tied in perfectly with the ‘Return to Roots’ concept and this encore was the difference between a decent and great performance.
Marc Rizzo, one of the most underrated guitarists in metal, did a mighty fine job, as did Tony Campos on bass, and while Max Cavalera exceeded expectations on vocals and was solid on guitar, it must be said that the real star of the show was Igor Cavalera. If his drumming wasn’t up to scratch, this band’s performance would fall apart rather quickly, but fortunately for band and fans alike, that is not the case, as Igor is playing better than ever, hasn’t lost any of his chops and has the stamina to play 90-minute sets at full blast. Watching Igor’s exploits on drums alone could be deemed as reason and justification enough to attend this show.
Even though this puts them in danger of permanently becoming a pure nostalgia act, Max and Igor Cavalera’s ‘Return to Roots’ set is far better than a Soulfly or Cavalera Conspiracy show, and is the best thing to have come from the Cavalera camp in a long, long time.
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Max & Igor Cavalera set list:
01. Roots Bloody Roots
05. Breed Apart
10. Born Stubborn
13. Endangered Species
15. Beneath The Remains/Inner Self/Desperate Cry/Anticop
16. Ace of Spades (Motörhead cover)
17. Black Metal (Venom cover, w/ Ross Dolan of Immolation & Dylan Walker of Full Of Hell)
18. Roots Bloody Roots (Reprise)