Sepultura's "Arise" -- Welcome to Their Jungle!
Sepultura - ARISE (Roadrunner Records, 1991)
The rise of Brazil's Sepultura was one of the most unique success stories in late '80s metal. South America has a long history of supporting heavy music - the continent has a vibrant home-grown rock and metal scene and international bands are treated like royalty when they tour there. Prior to Sepultura, however, bands from the region tended to be local phenomena that remained largely unknown outside of their home countries.
That all changed when Sepultura (Portuguese for "Grave"), led by the brotherly team of Max (guitar/vocals) and Igor Cavalera (drums), began their slow climb to worldwide acclaim. Their first two releases were recorded while the band members were still poverty-stricken teenagers living in the slums of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. On their debut Bestial Devastation EP (released as one side of a 'split' album with fellow Brazilian metallers Overdose on the flip) and 1986's Morbid Visions full length, the young quartet were merely copying the sounds of their death and thrash metal heroes like Slayer, Venom, and Motorhead, but their hunger, aggression, and sheer fanboy enthusiasm shone through in spite of the cheaply produced recordings. Metal fanzines began reporting on this abrasive new band from a part of the globe that had, as yet, never produced a world-class metal band. Sepultura became a curiosity item among the underground metal tape-trading crowd, but neither of those first two records would've led anyone to believe that the band were candidates for eventual worldwide dominance.
On 1987's Schizophrenia LP, however, the self proclaimed "Third World Posse" had considerably sharpened their musical attack, thanks largely to the addition of new guitar wizard Andreas Kisser. The buzz around the band was officially "on." By the time the major U.S. metal label Roadrunner Records snapped up the band in 1988, they had become bona fide underground sensations. Sepultura's debut for Roadrunner, 1989's Beneath the Remains, was their first album to be released worldwide and it was a immediate underground hit, bringing Sepultura to the forefront of the thrash metal movement that was in full swing at the time, particularly in the U.S.
After the success of Beneath the Remains, anticipation was high for Sepultura's next album, Arise. Released in April of 1991, Arise was produced by death-metal uber-lord Scott Burns at the legendary Morrisound Studios in Florida (source of countless classic albums by Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, Savatage, Death and Morbid Angel), and it was unleashed at the perfect time. Thrash metal was at its height of mainstream popularity and the band brought some of their finest songwriting to the table. Burns' crystal-clear production job brought Sepultura's gnarly Brazilian-accented Slayer-isms to all new heights of awesomeness.
The album kicks off with the one two punch of the title track and "Dead Embryonic Cells," immediately setting a tone that says "Hi, kids We're Sepultura and we're not here to f**k around!" Max Cavalera's vocals were at their best on this record -- still growly enough for the band's death metal fanbase, but tweaked just a bit with a hoarse, hardcore shout that appealed to fans of thrash metal and punk (who generally don't care for so-called "Cookie Monster" style vocals). The snakelike hiss in Max's voice when he sings, "I see the world... OLD. I see the world... DEAD!" in the title track will send chills down your spine. Instrumentally, Arise captured Sepultura at their musical peak. The band was a well oiled machine by this time, locking together to create crushing grooves in "Desperate Cry," insanely tight speed-metal bursts like "Murder" and out and out thrashers like "Subtraction" and the closing "Infected Voice." Kisser's squealing, Slayer-like guitar soloing provided continuous highlights, and the machine-precise rhythm section of Igor Cavalera (drums) and Paulo Jr. (bass) keeps everything moving along at a suitably pummeling pace. In the wrong hands, high-speed technical material like this could've easily become a muddled mess. However, the band's vastly improved skills and the production wizardry of Scott Burns created a thrash metal classic with Arise.
"Dead Embryonic Cells"
Aftermath and Influence...
Sepultura's music video for "Dead Embryonic Cells" got major play on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball," which helped Arise become their first album to crack the U.S. Billboard album charts, achieving a peak position of #119. Reaction from metalheads around the globe was similarly ecstatic. Within two years, Arise had sold one million copies worldwide. More than 25 years after its release, it remains the band's high water mark.
Sepultura is still active today, but the current lineup is a vastly different beast. The Cavalera brothers have both left the band; Max split in 1997 to form Soulfly after a very public falling out with his band mates and Igor hung in till 2006 before opting to explore other musical pastures. The brothers were estranged for a number of years following Max's exit, but they have since reconciled and collaborated on three albums of hardcore-laced metal under the name Cavalera Conspiracy.
Following Max's departure, guitarist Andreas Kisser stepped up to become Sepultura's main songwriter and driving force. American vocalist Derrick Green replaced Max in 1998 and since then Sepultura has maintained its brutal thrash/hardcore edge, often tempered with a serious literary bent. They've released several high-falutin' concept albums like 2006's Dante XXI (inspired by Dante's "Inferno") and 2009's A-LEX (based on Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange"). Recent non-conceptual records like 2011's Kairos and 2013's The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart have received some of the band's best reviews in years. Sepultura still pulls in maniacal crowds in their native Brazil and other parts of the world, but to many long time fans, Arise is still their definitive album. One listen, and you'll understand why.
© 2011 Keith Abt