It has been a long time since Sepultura has had any real relevance to the underground metal community, or whatever you want to call this particular sphere we inhabit. To the band’s credit it has continued to record and tour consistently since the sundering of its most revered line-up in 1996, and if you remain a loyal fan we certainly mean you no offense, but no one around here gives much of a fuck. And that is truly sad, because at one time Sepultura was a ground-breaking and ferociously powerful force in extreme metal, and what the band achieved in its first decade is, frankly, astounding.
Sepultura was formed in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1983, by brothers Max (guitar/vocals) and Igor Cavalera (drums), who were fourteen and thirteen years old, respectively. Rounding out the group’s first recording lineup were bassist Paulo Jr. and lead guitarist Jairo Guedes.
Sepultura’s first two recordings, 1985’s Bestial Devastation EP and 1986’s Morbid Visions were raw, at least a little sloppy and poorly produced, but compositionally, they practically drew the blueprint for death metal as we now know it, even more so than Possessed’s Seven Churches, which predates Bestial Devastation by only two months. Unfortunately, being released on the terribly obscure Brazilian label Cogumelo records somewhat limited the impact and influence the recordings would have.
Sepultura took a giant leap forward with 1987’s Schizophrenia. The addition of new lead guitarist Andreas Kisser seemed to raise level of musicianship in the entire band, contributing to vastly more sophisticated arrangements, and a much tighter performance, owing more to thrash metal, both musically and lyrically. While this might seem to be a step backwards in terms of musical extremity, the band’s sound would, in fact, become even more brutal as it more fully embraced thrash metal.
Following Schizophrenia, Sepultura signed to international metal label Roadrunner, and finally received a decent recording budget and much better distribution. The two albums that the band made with renowned metal producer Scott Burns, 1989’s Beneath the Remains and 1991’s Arise, are some of the most intense works of thrash metal ever made, and they established Sepultura as a major player in the burgeoning extreme metal scene.
Having held stylistically steady for a couple years, Sepultura was ready to resume evolution with 1993’s Chaos A.D., which saw the band embrace a hardcore punk attitude, with more political lyrics, simpler riffs and stream-lined arrangements. At the same time, Chaos A.D. was the band’s most experimental album to date: Igor integrated elements of traditional Brazilian music into his drumming; Andreas developed a unique style of bizarre, dissonant soloing; and the band began again to tune down its guitars for a heavier sound. 1996’s Roots took almost everything developed on Chaos A. D. a step further: Riffs and song structures were even simpler, guitars were tuned even lower; Brazilian folk instrumentation was all over the record; and there was so much attitude, the band even wrote a song about it.
Roots remains a controversial record, as it is given much credit for helping birth nu-metal, but at the time of its release Sepultura was at the top of its game commercially speaking, until tragedy struck, and things went south in a hurry. Dana Wells, the son of Sepultura manager and Max Cavalera’s wife Gloria Cavalera, died in a car crash, which might or might not have been an accident, as the investigation remains open. Whether this event had any bearing on what followed is difficult to say from the outside looking in, but it marks the beginning of a very rough period for Sepultura. Later that year, Paulo, Igor and Andreas elected not to renew their contract with Gloria Cavalera’s management company, which greatly angered Max, and lead to him leaving the band.
In the years since the split, Max has had a reasonably successful career with his band Soulfly and Sepultura has soldiered on as well, albeit less successfully, with new singer Derrick Green. In the case of both groups, the stench of nu-metal still clings, and neither has issued anything close to a classic record. If this story has something of a happy ending, it is that Igor left Sepultura in 2006, and, after a decade apart, the brothers began making music together again in the band Cavalera Conspiracy. Although Cavalera Conspiracy’s music is a little more in the spirit of classic Sepultura, the magic of those early records can never really be recaptured.
And so Last Rites is pleased to present a Devil’s Dozen of Sepultura.
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ANTICHRIST[Bestial Devastation, 1985]
“Whaaagh!” Hear that raw sound. Those guitars. That voice. The drums. Oh gods, the drums! This is where it all began people. Thrash, death, and black metals all exist beneath the shadow of “Antichrist.” Aside from being the first blast beat recorded in a purely metal setting, this quartet of Brazilian maniacs were only fifteen and sixteen when the Bestial Devastation split came out. The lyrics may be simplistic because of ESL, but they still set the stage for decades of TRVEKVLT metal to come. The song still resonates thirty years later, and for me that gives you leave to invent nu-metal if you so choose.
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ESCAPE TO THE VOID[Schizophrenia, 1987]
If you’re looking for historical perspective…well, keep looking. The first time I heard this little ditty was on Blood-Rooted, where it was paired with “Beneath the Remains” as a live track. Even in that context, it sounded darker, faster, and heavier than any Sepultura I had ever heard (which at that time, had only dabbled as far back as BTR). It wasn’t until years later that I finally got around to the original version. Lucky for me, even the comparatively underwhelming production of Schizophrenia couldn’t tame the might of this raging, thrashing beast, which captured the sound of a band that was incredibly raw and incredibly hungry, yet completely unaware of the impact they were about to have.
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ROOTS BLOODY ROOTS[Roots, 1996]
Never mind that, alongside Pantera and Fear Factory, this is the chugga chug that launched a thousand downtuned breakdown mongers, each less interesting than the last. Never mind that almost all vestiges of the thrash they previously peddled were stripped back in favor of nothing but all-consuming, all-pervading groove. Never mind that it’s maybe not even the greatest track on its eponymous album, merely the most memorable and the one that epitomizes the 90s’ cultural shift toward simplified aggression. Mind only that Roots rocks, a swinging juggernaut of percussive two-note riff and tribal rhythm. Turn it up; watch them freak.
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STRONGER THAN HATE[Beneath the Remains, 1989]
Honestly, one could nominate “Stronger Than Hate” on the merits of its intro and outro alone; the former a deliberate-to-uptempo-to-blazing statement of intent, the latter a rare and delicate display from the man who would be Sepultura’s longest-running member. Two more things to reflect on: 1) while Beneath the Remains has become near-universally hailed as a genre-defining thrash classic, it’s still top-heavy (indeed, the first four ‘Side A’ tracks all appear in this Devil’s Dozen); 2) all the dudes you hear on this track are in their late teens to early twenties—even the gang vocals lent by the likes of Obituary’s John Tardy and Atheist’s Kelly Shaefer (who also contributed lyrics). Although rekindling is possible [see: Overkill], fire often favors the young, and never again would Sepultura be so ferociously focused.
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TERRITORY[Chaos A. D. , 1993]
The more Sepultura embraced their native Brazil, the less Igor Cavalera sounded like a conventional heavy metal drummer. This was achieved not only through a more varied kit, but also through a far more stylized, pummeling style. This approach reaped instant rewards for Chaos A.D.’s monumental slow-banging beast “Territory.” A relatively simple track from a guitar stand point, “Territory” relies heavily on both Cavalera brothers—Igor at the skins, and Max at the mic. Max always received attention for his ESL pronunciation, but here it only adds to the unforgettable nature and strange fun of an already infectious track. It’s not “War for territory,” it’s “WOARFOARTERREEETOARAAAAAY.” Over two decades later, no one would dare change it.
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INNER SELF[Beneath The Remains, 1989]
The Northern Hemisphere’s mass awakening to these crazy headbangers from way down South came courtesy Beneath The Remains, and the video for “Inner Self” – here in Canada, MuchMusic kept the video in massive rotation on its weekly Power Hour for ages. There was some unnamable power in Sepultura’s mid-paced thrash (was it the broken English? The kamikaze force of Igor’s drumming?) – whatever it was, there was a bite to Sepultura’s music that set them apart from the myriad throngs of high-topped bangers failing to achieve the same thing. For a lot of us, “Inner Self” is where our love of Sepultura begins.
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TROOPS OF DOOM[Morbid Visions, 1986]
Say you’ve got a friend who only copped on to Sepultura with the “Ratamahatta” video and you need to explain how in the unearthly hell it could be that the same band is frequently mentioned in discussions of black metal’s first wave alongside Bathory, Hellhammer, Sodom, and Sarcofago. Well, you could do a lot worse than shoving “Troops of Doom” directly into this ingrate’s ears. From the doom-touched opening riff to the ghoulish vocals, and from the off-the-rails clattering and cat-screech guitar soloing, “Troops of Doom” is every bit a “Sacrifice,” a “Burst Command ‘Til War,” or a “Ready to Fuck.” Sepultura would go on to unreservedly better things, but it’s still a joy to hear them revel in this proud crudity.
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DEAD EMBRYONIC CELLS[Arise, 1991]
Part of what made Sepultura’s Roadrunner-era thrash albums so classic was the juxtaposition of the band’s lock-tight performance, and the near-chaos of its song arrangements. As evinced by “Dead Embryonic Cells,” Sepultura tunes generally had identifiable verses and choruses, but they would cram all sorts of extra riffs in between. Is that a bridge? is that an interlude? Don’t think too long on it, because another neck-wrecker is coming right on its heels. It’s like the band was tapped into some divine riff-generator. One particular sequence in “Dead Embryonic Cells”, however, stands out as particularly devastating: after Andreas’s solo skitters across some furious thrashing, the band kicks into low gear for four bars of a low-slung doom riff before building up to a crushing breakdown. Even counting the harmonized melody, the whole affair is dead-simple but it’s all in the execution and the masterful fucking SWING imparted by one Igor Cavalera. Your head will bang itself.
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MASS HYPNOSIS[Beneath The Remains, 1989
With Beneath the Remains, Sepultura truly joined the ranks of Bands Thou Shalt Not Fuck With. Even on an album stacked with front-to-back bangers, “Mass Hypnosis” is one of the best examples of Sepultura’s titanic riff-strength. Sure, Max’s pronunciation on the chorus is still fun to giggle at, but you’d have to be completely deaf to miss the fact that this song pulls out riff after riff, riding its transitions seamlessly, and hurdles out of the mid-song solo break so hard it feels like Andreas Kisser spitting at your feet: “THAT’S how we do it, asshole.” Whip-smart and razor-sharp; Sepultura at their best.
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REFUSE/RESIST[Chaos A.D., 1993]
If you’re a long in the tooth metalhead like myself, there’s no finer way to make you feel both really fucking old and really fucking energised than listening to Sepultura’s “Refuse/Resist”. On the aged side, “Refuse/Resist” is obviously the first track off Sepultura’s 1993 album, Chaos A.D.–and I bought that album on the day of its original release. So, fuck. I’m old. More to the point, that heart beating in the intro to “Refuse/Resist” belongs to Max Cavalera’s then-unborn son Zyon – and Zyon’s now old enough to be the current drummer in Soulfly. So, fuck. I’m old. Still, on the enlivening side, the best thing about “Refuse/Resist” is that it hasn’t aged a day. Check out that first set of lyrics; “Tanks on the streets. Confronting police. Bleeding the plebs. Raging crowd. Burning cars. Bloodshed starts. Who’ll be alive?!”. Sound familiar? Two decades on, “Refuse/Resist” rings as true as ever. I doubt there’s many of us don’t feel like howling like a madman as Max does to finish this stone cold classic ode to outrage and unrest. And you know, that riotous rage, that fuels the engine and keeps you fired up, even at my age. Refuse and fucking resist. Always.
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DESPERATE CRY[Arise, 1991]
The longest track on Arise, “Desperate Cry” is still not exactly sprawling at 6:41, but by Sepultura’s standards it’s an epic. “Desperate Cry” is truly a multifaceted gem, with brilliantly constructed passages that showcase of the band’s full capabilities. The embryonic pulse of the acoustic intro that is violently aborted by stabbing distorted power chords, the verses’ crunching groove, the eruption of brutal thrashing in the mid-section, the machinegun riffing that slaughters the delicate acoustic interlude, Andreas’s angelic second solo, Igor’s thunderous drumming in the outro and so much more sets “Desperate Cry” among Sepultura’s finest work.
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BENEATH THE REMAINS[Benath The Remains, 1989]
From the clean guitar intro through to the speed demon finish, the opening title track on Sepultura’s third full length is the sound of a band with a newfound confidence and desire to conquer the world. This was the moment when the raw and violent upstarts out of Brazil grew into legends, and every blunt rhythmic hammering, Max Cavalera grunt, and speedy death/thrash riff cemented that truth. But the initial brutality and even the first utterance of the song’s title hold nothing when compared to the bountiful riff generosity of the song’s varied bridge. Well, nothing until the insanely blistering finish lands the ultimate and iconic delivery of the title. That is not only one of Max’s signature moments, but mastering his cadence should be a requisite for any extreme metal vocal gig.
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The perfect storm: Twenty-seven seconds of ominous nightmare dis-ease, the sonic equivalent of that frightfuck of an album cover by Michael Whelan – jarringly erupting white-hot into blistering sonic violence. A go-for-throat attack that was based in the fury of thrash, but had more venom, more ugliness, more violence. For many, Arise was that perfect moment in time, a bridge from waning thrash to nascent death. Many metalheads had already crowned the previous year’s Cowboys From Hell as the new-jack king shit album of heavy metal; in my eyes, Arise –and especially its buzzsaw lead-off title track- knocked the Texans’ dick in the dirt.
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