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Bestial Devastation (1985)
 

Sepultura was formed by Max and Igor Cavalera in 1984 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Their early influences were Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and so on. This was before they heard Venom, which changed them forever. From there, they moved on to bands like Sodom, Kreator, Metallica, Slayer and Celtic Frost. After constant band member changes, Sepultura established a temporary line-up of Max Possessed on electric guitar, Igor Skullcrusher on drums, vocalist Wagner Antichrist, and bassist Paulo Destructor. Antichrist exited the band in March 1985 after disagreements with the band, and moved on to become the frontman of another Brazilian Black Metal band, Sarcófago. After his departure, Max took over the vocal duties. Jairo Tormentor was the invited to join the band as their lead guitarist. After about a year of performing, Sepultura signed to Cogumelo Records. In December 1985, they released Bestial Devastation, a shared E.P. with fellow Brazilian band Overdose.

Bestial Devastation begins with a morbid intro called "The Curse". It begins with the sound of winds blowing, with the chiming of a clock and a demonic voice. This leads into the title track, which has a very dark and evil feeling, much like other early Black Metal songs. The pace is pretty fast, though the tempo becomes more mid-paced for the middle section, before speeding back up. The band, obviously, aren't experts with their instruments, but the feeling is there and that is all that matters. The lead solo fits nicely into the sound and the lyrics are quite fitting as well.

"Covering the morbid skies
Like a mist of sulphur
I can see Satanas
The cursed of death"

"Antichrist" is the next song. This is another fast-paced song, featuring a nice tremolo riff between the verses. The musicianship is pretty primitive, but it adds to the feeling of the record. The tempo changes to more of a mid-paced thrash section, in the middle, before picking back up and unleashing a chaotic lead solo. And, of course, the lyrics (which had just been translated to English) suit Max's possessed vocal delivery.

"Born from Hell
The supreme force of evil
To destroy the altar
And slaughter the christian's born"

This is followed by "Necromancer", which begins with a mid-paced riff that slowly builds. The vocals sound even more demonic here, as this song is probably the fastest so far. This song shows more of a Slayer influence, especially in the solos. It completely kills anything that fellow Brazilian bands, like Vulcano or Holocausto, were doing around this time. Later in the song, the pace returns to the slower thrash riffs from the intro, but only for a short time.

"Warriors of Death" is the final song of Bestial Devastation, beginning with only the drums before the guitars join in on the attack. Like many of the early Black Metal albums, this works to create the feeling that you are burning in the flames of Hell. Also, while the influence wouldn't really appear until the next release, this destroys Hellhammer / Celtic Frost in terms of speed, aggression, dark atmosphere and a true Metal feeling. As the song slows down and the eerie lead solos fades in, you can't help but worship this. And, naturally, it wouldn't be proper unless the song got back up to full speed to close their part of this E.P. out.

This shows a very good beginning for Sepultura. Their defining work would come on their debut L.P. yet this is the one that got them to that point. The Overdose tracks aren't worth discussing as that is not the subject, but most won't have to deal with those as these songs have been reissued with Morbid Visions. If you want to know about Sepultura, this is the material that you need.
 
(18 Apr. 2009)

 
Morbid Visions (1986)
 
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Morbid Visions is the first full-length album from Brazil's Sepultura. Not much had changed since Bestial Devastation, although they spent seven days in the studio rather than two. Released in November 1986, on Cogumelo Records, this record represents the darkest period of the band's existence. While some would erroneously label this as Thrash or Death Metal, it actually belongs to the First Wave of Black Metal. Their influences are extremely obvious, owing quite a bit to the old Venom, Slayer and Hellhammer / Celtic Frost records, especially.

This is the first Sepultura album that I ever bought, and it remains my favourite to this day. With the dramatic shift that they later took, most people are unaware that they ever crafted such dark and evil songs, but Morbid Visions is the first thing that comes to my mind when their name is mentioned. I remember many nights, all those years ago, listening to this right alongside the first few records from Venom, Slayer and Razor. It was difficult to share the brilliance of this release with anyone, as the only people that I knew who were into the band preferred Beneath the Remains and Arise. However, I always felt that their debut L.P. not only possessed so much more intensity and dark atmosphere, but also exuded a sense of sincerity and raw energy that soon faded with subsequent releases.

The music is a real mixture of their influences, taking the speed of Venom and Slayer while mixing in healthy doses of Celtic Frost's trademark mid-tempo sections. Despite later claims that the guitars were out of tune, the sound is perfect and the production is raw. The drumming is sort of hollow, which suits the razor-sharp guitar tone very well. It's hard to describe, but the differences between Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia are similar to those between Slayer's Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood. While the latter album from each features sound that is more in you face, the former still has a little breathing room that actually lends something to the overall atmosphere. It's almost as if the music was recorded in a cave, with the mics being positioned near the entrance rather than right on top of everything. Not the best analogy, but it will have to do.

The vocals are pure demonic evil and fit the music perfectly. Max lives up to his nickname at the time, as he sounds absolutely possessed. Sepultura really managed to go well beyond the levels of darkness inspired by the likes of Celtic Frost, as the vocals suit the music so much more than Tom Warrior's ever could have, and the music itself is far more lethal as well. To be honest, it is not very tough to see how Max's vocal style influenced bands that came later, especially Beherit.

As for the songs, themselves, the band really did a disservice to this album, by later claiming the only worthwhile piece of music on here was "Troops of Doom". While that song is fine, it is no more important than many of the other great songs that are found on this record. Judging by their later efforts, it's no surprise that they prefer something with a mid-tempo riff, but the truth of the matter is that Morbid Visions is dripping with evil atmosphere, reminiscent of Hell Awaits, in some ways. Tremolo riffs dominate much of the album, mixed in with some slower Thrash riffs, though the slow sections are usually utilized as intros or positioned near the middle of the songs, to add variation to the tempo. In particular, there's one hellish part, in the latter half of "Crucifixion", that embodies everything that this album was meant to convey. However, the highlight of the album has to be "Funeral Rites". After a slow intro, the speed picks up and some of the most visious riffs of the entire album are found here, as well as a very memorable (though brief) solo near the end.

Morbid Visions is an album that should accompany Satanic rituals. To best compliment the feeling that is contained within, it should be listened to in total darkness, or with only candles to illuminate the room. If you want something primitive, ugly and black as hell, this is highly recommended. It deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the early recordings from Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer / Celtic Frost, Destruction, Sodom, Possessed, Kreator, Sarcofago, Tormentor, etc. To call this album Death Metal or Thrash Metal really limits it and, of course, ignores the obvious Black Metal qualities of the release. If you are sick of modern garbage and its generic lack of atmosphere, you need only to look into the dark past. A demonic classic is waiting to consume your soul.
 
(24 Mar. 2007)

 
Schizophrenia (1987)
 

In early 1987, Sepultura lost their lead guitarist, Jairo T. He was replaced by Andreas Kisser, who brought with him a style much more based in Thrash Metal. Around this time, the members of Sepultura were getting into bands such as Metallica, Exciter, Slayer and Kreator. All of this led to a shift in the band's sound, one that gained them much more attention and resulted in a record contract with Roadrunner. Their last album to be recorded in Brazil, Schizophrenia was released in October 1987.

Whereas Morbid Visions was a Black Metal album that contained some Thrash as well, consumed by an evil atmosphere, Schizophrenia is something entirely different; however, it still retains a dark feeling. The style on their second L.P. is best described as Death/Thrash, and they do it very well.

An ominous intro begins the album, sounding like something from an old horror film. It ends with a possessed, backmasked, scream.

"From the Past Comes the Storms" opens with a riff that owes a lot to Slayer's "Chemical Warfare". Right away, one notices that the sound is a bit thicker than on the previous record. The feeling is somewhat claustrophobic and oppressive, as opposed to the eerie fog that surrounded Morbid Visions. The songwriting is a lot more complex, featuring plenty of riff changes and so on. This is the doing of Andreas, more than likely. The lead solo is brilliant, showing great skill in execution as well as a good ear. In a strange sense, the aura created on here seems much older than it is.

The next song is "To the Wall", maintaining the intensity from the first track, as well as the dark and suffocating feeling. The overall pace is fast, though there are several tempo changes. This is certainly not the straight-forward Black Metal approach from the previous release. Another difference between this album and the last is that the vocals are pushed back a bit and utilized in a different manner. Max doesn't sound as demonic here, he is simply a vocalist. Around the 2:00 mark, there is an interesting series of drum rolls that sound very similar to something found on Kreator's Pleasure To Kill. Beyond this, the sense of melody that Andreas brought into the band, and the way in which they managed to merge this into the Sepultura sound, is excellent.

"Escape to the Void" opens with a lead solo that melts the flesh from your bones. The initial moments seem more subdued, yet the level of intensity, quickly, increases as things progress. Another thing to note, here, is the completely different lyrical approach. Gone are the evil and Satanic lyrics from the past. This is much different.

"I look at my face on the other side of the mirror
My face falls down in pieces full of worms
I burst my rotten heart with my own hands
I am dying and I can't help myself"

The solos and guitar harmonies on this song are genius. This possesses all the speed and violence of Kreator, while keeping an even darker feeling present, throughout.

It is followed by the bleak and abysmal instrumental, "Inquisition Symphony". This composition further demonstrates the new level of musical maturity that Sepultura had arrived at. If anything rivals Metallica's "The Call of Ktulu", this is it. It begins with synth and an acoustic guitar. The synth is simplistic, being very similar to something out of a horror movie. It doesn't take long for the guitars and drums to take over. What follows in an epic musical journey that can hardly be described. There are moments of serene peace, utterly thrashed by dark and dismal guitar riffs. This song is filled with an old school sensibility, regarding riffs and even drum patterns. Later on, the acoustic guitar returns, though briefly, just before another brilliant lead solo is unleashed. This instrumental consists of many peaks and valleys, speeding you listener to grand heights, only to drag back down into the murky depths. The last moments convey a hellish feeling of soul-death.

"Screams Behind the Shadows" prolongs this somber, funereal spirit. It slowly builds up, as a threatening tension fills the air. The pace isn't quite as fast as earlier songs, which works perfectly in the context of the album, as a whole. There are tempo changes, even including a very nice tremolo riff, but this velocity is not static. Again, the guitar riffs, as well as the solos, are incredibly well done. Despite being a little shorter than the track that preceded it, this one bears much the same imposing ambience.

The record continues on with "Septic Schizo", which takes some time to build up to full speed. The thrash riffs alternate with power chords, in the opening moments. This utilizes the sort of intensity reminiscent of Haunting the Chapel, at times. The pace varies and the vocals have a decent amount of reverb, giving a wicked touch.

As Schizophrenia nears its end, another instrumental track sets a gloomy tone. "The Abyss" is fairly brief, consisting of simple, yet evocative, acoustic guitars. The melody is like the emaciated hand reaching up from the darkness within, gripping your heart in its cold hand as a cryptic reminder that the end is near. For something so ephemeral and minimalist, the sentiment of dread is conveyed adequately enough.

"R.I.P. (Rest In Pain)" erupts from the silence, like a black tank rolling over a lone white flower, growing in total solitude, erasing it from existence. There is a stark contrast between the serenity of the previous piece and the sheer violence of the album closer. The manner in which it begins is fast-paced, brutal and uncompromising. There are some tempo changes, yet it returns to this furious approach. As the song ends, things seem to fall apart. A brief bit of circus music intrudes, soon sounding as if it has been consumed in flames, as the record grinds to a halt.

While Schizophrenia lacks the evil atmosphere present on Morbid Visions, it still succeeds in creating something dark and intense. Few other Death/Thrash albums managed to create such an obscure, yet violent, aura. This is the last essential album from this band, so be sure to pick it up.
 
(8 May 2009)

 
 

Following 1987's Schizophrenia, Max Cavalera traveled to the U.S. and made the contacts that would eventually get Sepultura a record deal outside of their native Brazil. This was quite an accomplishment for the band, though it would mark the beginning of their decline, creatively speaking. With the new recording contract came a larger budget and a useless producer by the name of Scott Burns. While the album was still recorded in Brazil, the tapes were taken back and mixed at Morrisound. Released in September 1989, Beneath the Remains signaled the band's arrival to the worldwide stage, with better distribution, tours, merchandise. etc. They had finally solidified their sound and, unfortunately, settled for an identity that was a bit more watered-down and generic than the quality of their previous work seemed to promise.

Beneath the Remains was the first Sepultura album that I heard, listening to it at a friend's house one night. It was right up my alley, and made enough of an impression on me that I decided to seek out some of their albums, though I acquired Morbid Visions a short time before getting my own copy of this. Eventually, I picked this up as well and gave it countless listens. I never felt that it was a bad record, but maybe somewhat overrated and definitely a step down from their earlier efforts.

Musically, this album is very solid. Taking their cue from Metallica, surely, it begins with an acoustic intro. The music that follows features a variety of different tempos, though mostly fast. It's actually very intense and many of the riffs would have fit well on Schizophrenia. The thing is that the production is too clean, here. As a result, some of the potential atmosphere is lost. I think that the great riffs would have managed to come through even with a more raw and primitive sound, so the overdone production was rather unnecessary. Still, it is fairly consistent for the Thrash Metal albums of the time, being somewhat similar to releases like South of Heaven, Agent Orange, and so on. By comparison, Beneath the Remains is actually heavier than many contemporary releases. While the overly clean sound is a bit of a problem, one of the primary detriments is the presence of so many catchy riffs. This may work to get the listener's attention and even lead to repeated plays but, eventually, these riffs and sections get a little boring. Songs like "Inner Self" seemed to jump out at me, back in high school, but I can't sit through the entire song these days. It's too boring and stale. This band isn't alone in going to the well of catchy riffs too often, so one cannot blame them too much. In the end, the good riffs make up for that. Either way, I maintain that the album would have sounded much better with a rougher production job.

As for the vocals, Max had really streamlined his sound by this point, similar to Mille Petrozza and Tom Angelripper. They're still harsh, possibly enough so for this to be considered Death/Thrash (along with some of the riffs and drumming patterns), but they've lost every bit of evil and darkness that they once possessed. Comparing the style found on this album to that of Morbid Visions, it is easy to tell that a lot of the genuine feeling has been lost.

And therein lies the main problem with Beneath the Remains; it's not a horrible record. It simply doesn't live up the the quality of the first two, and represents a more streamlined approach that was geared toward a mass audience, rather than the primitive and dark feeling conveyed in the past. It's a solid Thrash album, and leagues beyond what most of their influences were doing by this time, but it's not Sepultura's greatest accomplishment. However, it is superior to anything that came after it, so take that for what it's worth.

Highlights include "Lobotomy", "Primitive Future" and the solo in "Mass Hypnosis".
 
(30 Nov. 2010)

 
 

Arise is the fourth full-length album from Sepultura, and continues on in the Death / Thrash style that was utilized on Beneath the Remains. However, marks the point where the band began to experiment with their sound, using odd effects and injecting more groove into their music, as well as allowing some tribal percussion to make its way onto the album. Recorded in Morrisound and released in March 1991, this L.P. is both the end of the band's classic era as well as the beginning of its demise.

Musically, this album possesses a lot of similarities with its predecessor. In some cases, the riffs are less sterile and boring, yet there is an element that ruins much of this record. Rather than blasting ahead at break-neck speed, Sepultura takes every opportunity to slow things down and unleash pathetic groove riffs that kill the atmosphere. Following the rise of so-called 'Groove Metal' and 'nu-Metal', these songs have become even more difficult to listen to as they seem linked to such aural garbage. The fast-paced Death and Thrash riffs are incredible and demonstrate that the band could have done something really impressive, had they not been infected with the groove virus. Such riffs maintain a great level of intensity and display the band's skill as musicians. What the mid-paced parts show is that they were growing lazy and were losing touch with their Metal roots. It is quite unfortunate, as Arise is full of epic guitar harmonies and could have easily gone in another direction.

The production is what one would expect from Scott Burns, with the guitars sounding a little less defined and the bass more prominent than it should be. The sound is much too clean and plastic and is a far cry from such classic as Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia. Apparently, there was too much time to worry with the overall sound, in this case, meaning that they lost so much time playing with all of the new technology that they had never before been able to employ and the end result is over-produced and insincere. This actually suits the shift in the musical direction, which was obviously designed to appeal to a wider audience.

There is really nothing on Arise that was not done better on Beneath the Remains, in most cases. It is not a terrible album but, in light of what became of the band and the style of music that it helped spawn, it is to be looked back on with scorn and derision. This is what happens when you take a handful of apes out of the jungle and allow them to play around with modern equipment. Avoid this album and all the horrendous piles of trash that followed it.
 
(22 Nov. 2011)

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