Not being a thrash fan, nor of a certain age, the name Sepultura exists to me as an artifact of history. I've read about the band's tumultuous history, but having not lived through the controversy it created, nor being retroactively interested in the music the band made, I have no opinion to offer on the subject, nor any biases one way or the other to color my opinion on this record. Sepultura, for all they have accomplished, and the legacy they've created, is just another band to me.
If I was going to throw my hat into the ring, I would side with Sepultura. While their former leader circles the bottom of the intellectual drain for lyrical ideas, Sepultura turns to the classics. It's a move I admire, as most metal could use an injection of taste and intelligence. This time around, the title is borrowed from the silent masterpiece “Metropolis”, a move that I welcome, but fear. Whereas that movie was so revolutionary and forward-thinking to still be prescient and relevant today, it sets a standard that this album could never come close to matching.
“Trauma Of War” takes up the theme, starting with the crackling sounds that would have accompanied the soundtrack of a silent movie when the needle dropped on a gramophone, but loses me shortly thereafter. Though not limited to this album, the guitars are a modern blight on the metal world. I don't know if it's a result of the low tunings, but the sound is hollow, flabby, and lacking the punch an in-your-face thrash album is supposed to have. Combined with the harsh vocal approach, the entire album comes off sounding weighed down and bloated before we even talk about the songs themselves.
The most frustrating part of listening to “The Mediator...” is watching the potential slip through their hands as every second passes. Instead of building upon the good ideas they have, most of them are left to rot in the middle of songs that bring nothing to the table. There's an entire section of thrashy brilliance in the middle section of “The Vatican”, but everything before and after is so one-note and tuneless that they hardly sound like the same band wrote them.
Therein lies the disappointment. This sort of death metal infused thrash can work, but not the way Sepultura does it here. Derrick Green's vocals, and most of the riffs under them, are so blandly devoid of anything memorable that the album becomes a slog long before its over. All the good ideas are saved for the instrumental breaks, where there's actually promise being shown. The best riffs, and some interesting twists and turns are all contained in those little packages, leaving the bulk of the songs irrelevant.
“Metropolis” spoke about the chasm that exists between the classes, a theme “The Mediator...” brings to mind. Sepultura faces a great divide of their own. They think themselves to be an intellectual metal band, but their approach is anything but. There isn't anything intelligent or sophisticated about the songs they wrote, and slapping an artistic title on the record can't change that fact. In all honesty, if I didn't know Sepultura's history, I would never have guessed it from this record. “The Mediator...” isn't the worst album I've heard this year, but as much as any other, it makes me ask; “What was the point?”