Reviewed on this page:
Schizophrenia - Beneath The Remains - Arise - Chaos A.D. - Blood-Rooted - Roots - Under A Pale Grey Sky - Against - Nation - Roorback - Dante XXI - Inflikted - Conquer - A-Lex
Forget Daniela Mercury and Caetano Veloso - the top-selling act in the history of Brazil is this heavy metal quartet.
Originally thrash headbangers inspired
by Iron Maiden and Metallica, Belo Horizonte-based Sepultura (Portuguese for "tomb") eventually slowed down to groove metal and incorporated traditional Brazilian percussion and
acoustic instruments into their sound.
Original frontman Max Cavalera's voice is a cross between Gene Simmons and Darth Vader, which might offend some
sensibilities (Chuck Eddy wrote that Cavalera sounds like he's throwing up, which isn't inaccurate)
but does suit the material; replacement Derrick Green sings in a similar vein.
I have a limited tolerance for death metal - a little apocalyptic screaming goes a long way - but Sepultura has done it well, coming up with imaginative hooks and continually incorporating new sounds and approaches.
Max left in 1998 to form Soulfly, but I haven't heard any of their stuff, and his brother left almost a decade later - they joined forces for The Cavalera Conspiracy, but I don't think anyone knows whether that's a continuing project or a one-off.
Max Cavalera, lead vocals, rhythm guitar; Igor Cavalera, drums; Paulo Jr., bass; Jairo T., lead guitar. Jairo T. left 1986, replaced by Andreas Kisser.
Max Cavalera left 1996, replaced by Derrick Green. Igor Cavalera left, 2006, replaced by Jean Dolabella.
Bestial Devastation (Sepultura/Overdose: 1985)
A split LP, one side by each group. The only song I'm familiar with is "Necromancer."
Morbid Visions (1986)
Conceptually a rewrite of Ride The Lightning, pure and simple - but unlike most of the speed-metal horde, Sepultura embraces Metallica's
melodic and harmonic adventurism, not just their guitar tone and rapid-fire precision. Many of the tracks are mini-suites replete with engaging riffs, tempo shifts (from very fast to insanely
fast), and jarring transitions ("To The Wall").
Sometimes they do fall into tuneless thrash mode ("From The Past Comes The Storms"), and the seven-minute instrumental "Inquisition Symphony" doesn't build up any momentum.
Drummer Igor Cavalera is the standout instrumentalist, playing a dizzying assortment of rolls and fills on top of the galloping main beat; the obligatory acoustic guitar solo is pleasant and
blessedly brief ("The Abyss").
The band insisted on recording in English, even though they didn't speak it too well, resulting in malaproprisms like "This is idiotism/Fuck off to me," and the lyrics are the usual stew of
self-important pseudo-ominous ramblings ("Escape To The Void"). No producer listed.
My CD copy was remixed in 1990 and includes a bonus live version of "Troops Of Doom" - the studio version is on Morbid Visions.
Beneath The Remains (1989)
About as inspired and varied as speed metal gets, with an abundance of thrilling riffs ("Stronger Than Hate," "Hungry").
They don't shift between musical sections quite as often ("Inner Self" is a counterexample), but even when they're sticking to one riff their theatricality (title track)
and the reckless tempos keep things from getting dull. "Mass Hypnosis" is perhaps the weakest tune here, but even that has a weird jagged lead line and a mock-70s middle.
Igor Cavalera's drumming is as impressive as ever ("Primitive Future").
The lyrics aren't exactly profound ("Sarcastic Existence"), but at least this time they're intelligible ("Slaves Of Pain").
Produced by Scott Burns and the band.
Though Metallica was moving away from thrash (and Megadeth was about to), Sepultura was still as fast and furious as ever (title track, "Murder"). I wouldn't complain that this is the third (or fourth) straight
album using the exact same approach, but the riffs are also slightly more obvious than before ("Infected Voice").
They still get stuck in boring bashfests on occasion (most of the suite "Desperate Cry"), but on the other hand
Kisser developed a more individual technique on lead guitar (the arrhythmic, atonal solo on "Under Siege").
The lyrics are more gloom and doom, though a few songs point the way to the explicitly political lyrics of the following albums ("Altered State").
I do wish they wouldn't start each album with a quiet interlude intended to lull you into a false sense of security - you're never fooled, because
you don't buy a record with a skull on the cover expecting to hear mood music.
Again, produced by Scott Burns and the band.
Chaos A.D. (1993)
I have to figure this is the band's high point. The guitars sound much fuller, with more contrast between rhythm and lead and less simple unison playing. The percussion is also more complex
The band moved beyond its usual preoccupation with death and destruction, and took on a range of political topics from the specific - the mass suicide of Brazil's Kaiowas
tribe ("Kaiowas") to the 1992 massacre in São Paulo's Carandiru prison ("Manifest") - to the general (the anti-nationalist "Territory").
But the music didn't suffer - if anything it's more riff-packed than the earlier records ("Clenched Fist," "We Who Are Not As Others").
What you end up with is a Rage Against The Machine with talent (and without the stupid rapping).
Curiously, though, the best political lyrics were contributed by Jello Biafra ("Biotech Is Godzilla").
Point Blank (Nailbomb: 1994)
A Max Cavalera side project with Alex Newport. (DBW)
Proud To Commit Commercial Suicide (Nailbomb: 1995)
Blood-Rooted (rec. 1991-1995, rel. 1997)
An odds and ends compilation, with some covers (Celtic Frost's "Procreation (Of The Wicked)"), demos ("Roots Bloody Roots")
and seven tunes from a 1994 concert... eighteen tracks all together.
The covers are mostly simple punk or metal tunes knocked out with no overdubs (the Dead
Kennedys' "Drug Me"), fun but trivial; the one that best suits their style is
Sabbath's "Symptom Of The Universe." A couple of collaborations with US vocalists are
slow and dull, with would-be creepy whispered vocals ("Mine" with Faith No More's Mike Patton; "Lookaway" with Korn's Jonathan Davis), and the demos - as always - are a waste of time.
The live material sounds great, though, from a better performance than the London show later released in full: everything
from "Escape To The Void" to "Clenched Fist" is vigorous and vivid, and well recorded to boot, which makes this disc worth checking out even if you aren't a die-hard fan.
All of a sudden, the bottom-heavy thrash formula is sounding tired - most of the ragefests lack solid riffs and are just
dull despite their vehemence ("Cut-Throat") - though there are still a few solid head-bangers like "Breed Apart" and "Roots Bloody Roots."
Kisser's acoustic instrumental tossoff "Jasco" is no more inventive - just the same "look, I'm sensitive" routine that heavy metal bands have been doing since Sabbath.
The Xavantes tribe co-wrote and co-performs another acoustic tune, "Itsári." The only good news is,
several tracks feature Carlinhos Brown on a roomful of percussion, and sometimes his samba groove blends shockingly well with the heavy guitars
("Ratamahatta," which Brown co-wrote) though often he's drowned out ("Endangered Species").
Unfortunately, the lyrics have slipped back into self-pity and directionless rage ("Straighthate," "Born Stubborn").
The hidden track "Canyon Jam" is an excruciating thirteen-minute percussion jam - I wish they'd hidden it better.
Under A Pale Grey Sky (rec. 1996, rel. 2002)
I like reviewing live records because they remind me how strong a band's catalog is, and usually make me think "Boy, they're
better than I remembered." But this double-CD - the final performance of the original lineup, recorded in London - had
the opposite effect, sending me scurrying to the old studio albums thinking "Surely they were better than this?"
The biggest problem is, the band has abandoned guitar interplay, open space and complex hooks in favor of undifferentiated slabs of noisy
aggression, even on the old tunes ("Arise/Dead Embryonic Cells"). Another, related problem is that the set list is
dominated by late material: 80% of Roots and half of Chaos, with the early albums mostly represented by medleys
("Beneath The Remains/Mass Hypnosis"). After two hours of this stuff you'll feel like your ears are bleeding, and not
in a good way. It is nice to hear "Necromancer" from the difficult-to-find first LP, though, and a couple of covers -
Motörhead's "Orgasmatron" and the Cro-Mags' "We Gotta Know" - are at least a break in the monotony.
Soulfly (Soulfly: 1998)
Max Cavalera left the band to set up another heavy metal quartet, with Roy Mayorga (drums), Jackson Bandeira (guitar) and
Marcello D. Rapp (bass). Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst guests, which can't be a good sign.
With new vocalist Derrick Green, who has exactly the same harsh cavernous vocal sound as Cavalera.
Green also writes some lyrics ("Drowned Out") though Kisser takes over as primary lyricist.
The guitar tones change a bit: "Against" is more punk slashing than metal; "Rumors" and a few other songs feature a tone that's so distorted and wah-wah'd it sounds like a theremin.
In another change of pace, the lumbering midtempo "Common Bonds" is probably the slowest song they've attempted.
Though Brazilian percussion appears on most tracks, it's not as prominent as it was on Roots; for real variety, there's "Kamaitachi," performed with Japanese taiko drum ensemble KODO.
Jason Newsted contributes vocals, baritone guitar and actual theremin to "Hatred Aside."
Put it all together, and this is still a big step down from Chaos - the lyrics aren't as pointed,
and the hooks are often insubstantial - but definitely fresher than Roots.
Primitive (Soulfly: 2000)
Mayorga and Bandeira were replaced by Joe Nunez and Mikey Doling respectively. Produced by Toby Wright.
A welcome return to the musicality of Beneath The Remains or Chaos.
At times they seem to be following the nü-metal "quiet verse with weird guitar noise"/"loud chorus with barking singer" formula - "One Man Army" has actual honest-to-Satan singing on the mellow verses before the usual yelled middle - but it sounds organic rather than schematic ("Uma Cura"). And the opening "Sepulnation" flips the script, moving from a headbanging main riff to a spaced-out middle.
The experiment with traditional Brazilian percussion is mostly over (the opening to "Saga" is the exception), but some of the rhythms remain ("Vox Populi," which also features a startling array of rhythm guitar approaches from Kisser).
Mixed in with melodic material, the post-punk thrashers (the minute-long "Revolt") are used to cleanse the palate, rather than as a main course, and they sound fiercer than ever.
Not everything's a winner (the grinding bore "Border Wars"; the interesting but painfully slow "The Ways Of Faith") but more than enough.
Guests include Biafra (on "Politricks," which he co-wrote) and metalhead string quartet Apocalyptica (the ambitious instrumental suite "Valtio"); produced by Steve Evetts, mixed by John Goodmanson.
3 (Soulfly: 2002)
The new people were gone, and Mayorga and Bandeira were back.
The European edition features a cover of "Under The Sun."
A seven-song collection of covers, analogous to Metallica's Garage Days Re-Revisited or Primus's Miscellaneous Debris. Quality varies, as "Mongoloid" is a bellowed mess, but "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos" is a blast.
In the same basic style as Nation, but not as varied: lots of brutal kidney punches ("Corrupted") alongside more complex tracks ("As It Is").
The lack of experimentation doesn't hurt on the songs with great riffs ("Mindwar," "Leech") but the lesser material is undistinguished ("More Of The Same" - yep).
Lyrics are split between Green and Kisser, and they run the usual pissed-off gamut, from the anti-war "Come Back Alive" to railing at the powers that be "The Rift" to the all-purpose putdown "Leech"; there's even some introspection on "Bottomed Out."
A forceful cover of U2's "Bullet The Blue Sky" (repeated from Revolusongs) is the unhidden bonus track; there's also an unfunny, rambling hidden track I suspect is called "Paulo's Microphone." No guests aside from João Barone on "Urge"; produced by Evetts.
Prophecy (Soulfly: 2004)
Max finally found a steady lineup, with Nunez coming back and Marc Rizzo (lead guitar) and Bobby Burns (bass) joining.
David Ellefson fills in on bass on several tracks.
Live In São Paulo (2005)
Recorded in April 2005 and released as a double-CD, though with just 72 minutes of music it could have fit easily on one.
Each era is duly represented, from "Necromancer" through "Mindwar," but as with Pale Grey Sky, the sound is so murky
and unvarying it's difficult to distinguish the individual tunes ("Slave New World") and impossible to hear the riffs.
Also, in the live setting Green's singing is less tuneful than ever, just lower register Satanic barks.
If I hadn't heard Blood-Rooted I'd think that Sepultura just isn't a good live band; as it is, I have to think they just have trouble staying focused.
They do pull things together for a stretch on disc two, with powerful renditions of "Sepulnation" and "Refuse/Resist."
And again, the real fun is the covers: "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos" (with guest raps from Zé Gonzales and BNegão) and "Bullet The Blue Sky."
Dark Ages (Soulfly: 2005)
Ellefson guests on "Riotstarter."
Dante XXI (2006)
A concept album based on Dante's Divine Comedy, broken into three parts: as you'd expect from a death metal band, the most time is spent in Hell ("Dark Wood Of Error") and the least is spent in Heaven ("Crown And Miter"). It's a nice idea, but they don't do anything special with it, just the usual confrontational, up-with-people lyrics ("Fighting On") and a lackluster batch of tunes, often irritatingly simple ("False"). There's enough variety - extremely down-tuned guitars on "Convicted In Life"; rap-rock vocals on "City Of Dis"; some odd, unpredictable Kisser solos - but it doesn't add up to much.
The high points are "Nuclear Seven," with unusual, unsettling guitar harmonies, and the concluding "Still Flame," a near-instrumental orchestrated (and co-written) by Andre Moraes.
Inflikted (The Cavalera Conspiracy: 2008)
Max and Igor reunited, plus Soulfly lead guitarist Marc Rizzo and Gojira frontman Joe Duplantier on bass.
The sound is mostly bare-bones groove metal, often thrilling ("Sanctuary"; "Ultra-Violent"), and sometimes revving up to near-hardcore speeds ("Bloodbrawl").
Keyboards do creep in now and then (title track), as does Brazilian percussion echoing Chaos A.D. ("Dark Ark"), but there's nowhere as much "world beat" stuff as Soulfly records typically contain.
Overall, a hard-hitting experience that's nothing new but doesn't sound rehashed or regurgitated either, just two brothers (and a couple of other guys) doing what they do best.
Conquer (Soulfly: 2008)
Essentially a continuation of Inflikted's back-to-basics groove metal, and as on that record there are tons of powerful vamps ("Paranoia"; "Touching The Void") but not much variety.
Some of Kisser's lead guitar heroics - Rizzo's occasional note flurries are rote - or Max's previous dabblings in traditional musics (present only in a brief interlude at the end of "For Those About To Rot") would have been welcome here.
Most of the tunes run about five minutes, and most of those would have made great three-minute songs ("Warmageddon").
The concluding "Soulfly VI" is a nice surprise, though: a mellow guitar instrumental not unlike Funkadelic's "Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad."
Max's show all the way, as he wrote everything (except a few lyrics) and produced.
A concept album based on the novel A Clockwork Orange - the pretext for a hideous Beethoven melange, "Ludwig Van" - though I couldn't follow the story by any stretch of the imagination. The device leads to more instrumentals ("A-Lex IV") and brief tracks ("Enough Said") than usual,
but otherwise there's the same combination of uptempo aggro ("Paradox") and atmospheric chillout - "Sadistic Values" has both - that has defined the band's output for the past decade or so.
Jean Dolabella is the new drummer, and whether it's his input or not there are more odd time signatures ("Filthy Rot") spicing things up. Though there are plenty of solid, unsettling tunes ("The Treatment"; "Conform") the record doesn't cohere the way you'd expect from a concept album: it's just a collection of Sepultura songs, and for a fan that should be enough.
Omen (Soulfly: 2010)
Fundamentally the same approach as Conquer and Inflikted, with results ranging from harrowing ("Mega-Doom"; "Great Depression") to humdrum ("Jeffrey Dahmer").
There's a spindly synth line on "Rise Of The Fallen" (featuring Greg Puciato), and
Prong's Tommy Victor guests on "Lethal Injection," but overall there are too many basic low-end riffs ("Kingdom") and too few surprises.
Following Soulfly's pattern, the disc ends with a mellow, non-metal eponymous number ("Soulfly VII"); the group's last outing with Bobby Burns on bass.
Some versions of the albums have bonus tracks, including a remake of "Refuse/Resist" and a cover of "Four Sticks."
Blunt Force Trauma (Cavalera Conspiracy: 2011)
If, as it appears, Max is going to keep both bands going, the question arises, what's the difference? From what I can hear, the answer is "Not much": Rizzo and Max play the same groove metal-plus-solos in both contexts, fill-in bassist Johnny Chow is a non-factor, and Igor isn't far from Joe Nunez. Lyrically as well, there's a combination of straightforward raging ("Thrasher") and vaguely threatening allusions ("Killing Inside"), with lots of songs named for infamous individuals ("Rasputin"; "Genghis Khan"). The only unexpected gear shifting is the rain of cleanly articulated arpeggios closing out the otherwise appropriately named title track. Agnostic Front's Roger Miret guests on "Lynch Mob."
Some versions of the album contain bonus tracks: mine has the anthemic "Jihad Joe" and a cover of "Electric Funeral."
The band's first album for Nuclear Blast was produced by Roy Z, and I suspect he deserves a lot of the credit for the band's resurgence: the pace is deliberate (title track), the sound is cavernous ("Spectrum"), and every tune is fleshed out, even the fragments ("2011").
"Embrace The Storm" is the most incoherent, tuneless block of white noise I think I've heard from them, and I mean that as a compliment.
The band always has furious low-end riffing, barked/growled anti-establishment lyrics ("Just One Fix"; Green also raps/speaks on "Mask") and (lately) a hifalutin concept - here it's the Ancient Greek notion of a transcendent moment - so you more or less know what to expect. Thus, the success of a Sepultura record usually rides on what noises Kisser comes up with, and there's a lot to like, with everything from twinned melodic leads ("No One Will Stand") to stratospheric Bucketheadisms ("Relentless") to cheerfully discordant rhythm chugging ("Born Strong").
Likely the band's best work since Max left.
The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart (2013)
Apparently they're letting Fiona Apple title their albums now.
Escape to the void.