There’s a fine line between grand and grandiose. Most concept albums are so much the latter that they never even get close to the line. Sepultura, veterans of the concept album, aren’t close to that line either, but they’re on the good side. Their new album, A-Lex, is based on Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange and decidedly not Stanley Kubrick’s somewhat more famous film based on that novel. Why split hairs? Because the book contains a chapter omitted from the film that deals with free will and choices and that’s important to what the band wants to convey here.

A-Lex is the most thrash-oriented material we’ve heard from Sepultura since perhaps Arise. The album has a different kind of intensity than they’ve been cultivating over the last decade or so. It doesn’t have the density of an album like Roots, but it has more flat-out speed than they’ve shown in some time and in the end it’s a fair trade. As raw as it is though, it is never sloppy or rough. They’ve managed to make an album that has the intricacies of careful planning along with the energy of spontaneous creation.

In the past, Sepultura has been able to integrate non-metal elements into their sound seamlessly, much as they did with indigenous Brazilian music on Roots. Obviously, there would be no way to avoid the inclusion of the "glorious Ludwig Van" on this project, but it does present a problem. Despite seeming like a match made in heaven, classical and metal have struggled in most past collisions and, at least at times, that’s true on A-Lex also. "Ludwig Van" feels more like the technically proficient, but meaningless narcissism of classical/rock ego-fests like Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It stands out like a sore thumb on the otherwise engaging album. How could they have done better though? They clearly couldn’t leave out a nod to Beethoven’s Ninth. Well, check out the final "chapter intro," "A-Lex IV." It not only tips its hat to classical as any treatment of A Clockwork Orange must, but also taps into Walter Carlos’ strange take on it from the film’s soundtrack and fits perfectly into Sepultura’s work. Had they done that on the previous track, the album might have achieved the unthinkable. As it stands though, that one misstep is huge at a crucial point. Does it hurt the album? Yes. Does it kill it? Not by a long shot. A-Lex is far from a glaring weakness even in Sepultura’s strong catalog.

There aren’t many bands as musically ambitious and intense as Sepultura and A-Lex lives up to their already formidable legacy. Now entirely Cavalera-free, Sepultura still has no problem staying true to the vision that made them one of metal’s best and most interesting bands. It’s not perfect, but there is a youthfulness to A-Lex escapes other bands of their generation and also fits the concept perfectly.

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