Sunday, March 21, 2010

Heavy Band 006: Sepultura

In 1984 one of the heaviest metal bands ever was formed in the southeastern Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte. Sepultura was formed by 14 and 15 year-olds, who had a desire to create some of the heaviest music ever. The classical lineup had Max Cavalera, Igor Cavalera, Andreas Kisser, and Paulo Jr. Taking their name from the Portuguese word for grave.
Max Cavalera's singing has been much imitated. Most metal singers with cookie monster vocals want to be singing like him. My message to them, "You are not Max Cavalera. Stop trying so hard or your vocal chords will fall out." Akin to industrial machinery yet somehow organic, Max's voice is truly terrifying. When you add his minor chord rhythm guitar, you get music that sounds truly chthonic.
Max's brother Igor's drumming started out like a traditional thrash drummer's Tommy gun push, but it evolved elements of modern symphonic music and traditional tribal rhythms until his playing became a multibranched tree capable of incorporating any style of drumming.
Paulo Jr. is the only member of the original lineup still touring with the reconstituted band. His down tuned 5 string bass has applied an apocalyptic rumble since the bands early recordings.
Andreas Kisser joined the band in time for their second album 1987's Schizophrenia. His lead guitar's warped shredding has obviously influenced many nu metal bands like KoЯn and Kittie. Andreas and Paulo Jr. are the only two members of the classic lineup to still record and tour with Sepultura.
Sepultura has recorded eleven studio albums, but I will be focusing primarily on the five albums which contained the classic lineup.
Sepultura's second album Schizophrenia was the first to feature what would be the classic lineup. It primarily featured a sound that would come to be called Death Metal. Andreas' relentless shredding can be heard in the instrumental track Inquisition Symphony, as well as the songs To the Wall and Septic Schizo. Max's raw vocals are best seen on Screams Behind the Shadows and Escape to the Void. His singing had not evolved into the roaring growl that would define the voice of Sepultura, and so more variety is seen in his vocals on this album than any other. The song From The Past Comes The Storms is one of the truly great speed metal songs, defining a moment in time. Igor's drumming and Paulo Jr's bass roar throughout, but on From The Past Comes The Storms we hear amazing speed and precision difficult to accomplish with down tuned distorted bass and echoing drums.
Beneath the Remains came out in 1989 and stands as a testament to the power of thrash metal with Slayer's Reign in Blood and Megadeth's Killing Is My Business... and Business Is Good. The intro to the title track is mournful and poignant, lulling you into a comfortable place until the song comes crashing through with more speed and adrenaline than a 2000 foot free fall. The tracks Slaves of Pain and Hungry are blisteringly fast and dangerously aggressive. Overall this album is one of the fastest, most pounding metal albums ever.
With 1991's Arise came the solidification of what would be Max's vocal style. His grizzly, dark growl is seen on the tracks Under Siege and Arise. While the album is pretty fast overall, tracks like Under Siege are slower yet louder. It was a harbinger of what was to come with their next two albums.
Chaos A.D. was released in 1993 and it featured more experimentation than any of their previous albums. Paulo Jr's bass playing was slowed down and featured elements of funk and blues. In addition tribal drumming was introduced at points on several songs. The instrumental track Kaiowas featured Andreas' classic acoustic guitar abilities. Max's vocal style further solidified itself on this album. It seemed that the band was ready to transcend all categories and stereotypes of what it meant to play heavy metal.
Sepultura released Roots in 1996. It is one of the most experimental albums in the history of heavy metal. It featured even more tribal drumming and chanting, slackened guitar strings, more funk elements, and occasional creepy whispering. The song Roots Bloody Roots featured almost all of these elements, along with slowed down sickening tremolo guitar. This album also featured more collaborators than any other, including Mike Patton and Jonathan Davis. There were elements of hardcore and the Xavate tribe from the Amazon basin were recorded singing and drumming in their traditional style. All of these seemingly conflicting elements fused into one of the best albums of all time. The album was one of the few that was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful.
Max Cavalera left Sepultura after Roots and the band hired a sound alike singer. The album Against released after Max's departure is okay, but lacks some of the magic that Sepultura had before. The song Choke is cool, but seems more like it was recorded by a Sepultura cover band. Max's new band Soulfly is also missing some of the magic that the classic lineup had. Estranged from his brother after his departure, Igor left Sepultura a decade later and has since patched up his relationship with Max. The classic lineup of Sepultura has influenced the shape of 21st century heavy metal greatly, and we can always hope for a reunion of the lineup in the future.

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Heavy Metal Yogi by Nick Matthaes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.