Welcome to Point/Counterpoint, where we prove to the rest of the Internet that we are smarter and more right than any other editorial outlet on planet earth. We know these dudes who run a metal site called MetalSucks that people seem to like, so we challenged them to an editorial cage match. The rules were simple: two blogs enter, one blog leaves. This week we're facing off over Sepultura, who we are defending as the princes they truly are. Thing is, MetalSucks thinks their groundbreaking record Roots belongs in the ground. You can read their sorry excuse for an argument right here.
Sepultura Put Brazil on the Metal Map
In an age of globalization, the idea of being a huge metal band from outside of the United States or Europe isn’t a big deal. But back in the mid 90s, before the Webternet leveled the playing field for musicians from third world countries with guitars, amps and ProTools, most metal bands from other regions couldn’t get arrested here even if they arrived at the border with a truck full of C4 and assault rifles Back then, these heavily armed evildoers would have been admitted Into the country… then ignored. So when Sepultura made inroads, signing to Roadrunner for their third album, 1989’s Beneath the Remains, it was a big deal. Despite the existence of an underground scene in Brazil that included Sarcafago, Overdose, Korzus, Attomica and Vulcano, Sepultura were the only band to cross the border and make a significant dent. And that only happened because frontman Max Cavalera was savvy enough to secure a free plane ticket from a friend who worked for an airline (he then pose as an employee for the flight) just to meet with A&R legend Monte Connor, who signed Sepultura on the spot. The move not only kickstarted the band’s career, it was a major opportunity for aspiring record producer Scott Burns, who went on to produce some of the biggest death metal albums recorded at Morrisound Studio in Tampa, Florida.
Bursting Above the Remains
Beneath the Remains was a Slayerrific thrash album as was its follow-up, 1991’s Arise, and Sepultura backed up their studio wizardry with explosive live shows, expanding their fan base and broadening their horizons by opening for Helmet, Ministry, Alice in Chains, and Ozzy. But for all their rage and riffery, Sepultura revealed mostly traditional US, UK, and German thrash influences. It wasn’t until their fifth album, 1993’s Chaos A.D. that Sepultura started experimenting with different sonic styles, including industrial, hardcore and classic rock. More significantly, the album marked the band’s first flirtation with music from its native Brazil. The acoustic instrumental “Kaiowas” featured tribal drumming, a tumbling guitar rhythm and samples of faraway birds (we can’t vouch that they were Brazilian birds). Not only did it offer listeners a peyote-worthy shamanistic excursion, it set the stage for the band’s breakthrough record Roots, which MetalSucks insists is overrated, but which has stood the test of time as one of the most creative and influential metal albums of its era. Once again, they’re wrong.
Bloody History Lesson
To really appreciate Roots, it’s necessary to understand what was happening in music in 1996, the year of its creation. Metal was in a state of flux. Sure, Pantera and Slayer were still kicking hard and heavy, but most traditional bands had either run to the hills or tried to adapt to this new alternative thing that didn’t seem to want to go away. Metallica released Load, their least “metal” album to date, and kids who were unhappy with the relative disappearance of thrash and the commercialization of grunge started turning to nu-metal for primal scream therapy because they thought they had nowhere else to go (remember, kids are stupid). Then came Sepultura to deliver a big fuck you to both the mainstream and the skeptics who claimed metal was dead. Metal wasn’t dead, they proved. It just needed a facelift – and not with a bunch of downtuned seven string guitars, hip-hop beats and lyrics about being beaten up in high school. Metal needed a dose of Brazilian flair.
In the primal, crushing and groove-saturated opening track “Roots Bloody Roots,” Cavalera laid out Sepultura’s modified aesthetic: “I say we're growing every day/Getting stronger in every way/I'll take you to a place where we shall find our Roots!!!” The second cut “Attitude” backs up the claim, opening with the surreal sounds of a Brazilian one-stringed instrument called a Berimbau which leads into a flurry of guitar feedback and tribal percussion, then erupts in a conflagration of rhythmic rage. Now this was a new kind of fuckin’ metal! Throughout Roots, Igor Cavalera’s drumming is syncopated and reveals the influence of countless hours listening to music from his homeland. Of course, all the ethic styles and instrumentation in the world wouldn’t mean anything if the songs weren’t so well crafted. Throughout, Roots is unrelenting, filled with experimental flourishes, but packed with so much anger and aggression that the adventurous aural excursions only enhance the presentation. Interestingly, the album was produced by nu-metal architect Ross Robinson and there are touches of his trademark sound. The guitars are tuned lower than other Sepultura releases and the songs sometimes surge and stomp like early Korn (who were clearly influenced by even earlier Sepultura), but these elements never hamper the songs. If anything, they complement the wild Brazilian drumming on “Ratamahatta,” “Straighthate” and “Breed Apart.” To further the native cred, Roots includes Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Carlinhos Brown and the Xavante Indian tribe.
A New Frontier
The acoustic track “Jasco” furthers the Zeppelin-goes-to-Brazil-and-takes-lots-of-acid vibe of Chaos A.D.’s “Kaiowas,” but it’s the Xavante chants on “Itsari” that give Roots its most authentically indigenous moments. You can imagine sitting around a roaring fire eating grub worms as the Indians chant and guitarist Andreas Kisser hypnotically strums away. The gaggle of authentic Brazilians aren’t the only guests on the record, a multicultural exercise in metal border-bashing. Ex-Korn drummer David Silveria played on “Ratamahatta” alongside Brown and the dirgey, chugging “Lookaway” features scratching by DJ Lethal, haunting vocals by Faith No More’s Mike Patton and hateful spewage from Korn’s Jonathan Davis. If you made it to the end of the CD, then turned it off quivering with exhausted satisfaction, you gave up too soon and missed the 13 minute long “Canyon Jam,” a feast of cricket sounds, mesmerizing percussion, exotic Brazilian instrumentation and understated Indian chants that sounds best thoroughly stoned, but–like most great psychedelia–makes even sober listeners feel inebriated. Roots was the perfect record at the perfect time, and after its release it was too good for Sepultura to continue under their current lineup. Following an ugly family dispute, Max Cavalera left the band and continued to pursue multicultural metal with his new group Soulfly. While the group persevered and wrote some really good stuff (hell, they’re still around), none of it has matched the chemistry and raw musicality of Roots. Sepultura also continued, and released some okay stuff, but all they’ve really done is make metal fans long for a reunion of the full Roots lineup.
MetalSucks doesn't agree with us, which you might like if you like things in the world that are wrong. Read their wholly illegitimate response here.