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Sepultura's "Arise" (1991): 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 had a long history of supporting heavy music - international bands are treated like royalty when they tour there, and the continent has a vibrant home-grown rock and metal scene - but for the most part, rock musicians and bands from the region tended to be mostly local phenomena that remained largely unknown outside the borders 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. The band's first two releases were recorded while the band members were still poverty-stricken teenagers living in the slums of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. On 1985's Bestial Devastation EP (originally released as a 'split' album with Sepultura's 5 tracks on one side of the record and three songs by fellow Brazilian metallers Overdose on the flip), and 1986's Morbid Visions full length, the young quartet merely copied 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 with humble origins in a part of the globe that had, as yet, never produced a world-class metal band. Sepultura became an interesting curiosity item among the tape-trading crowd, but neither of their first two records would've led anyone to believe that the band were candidates for eventual worldwide dominance.
1987's Schizophrenia LP, however, showed that 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," and by the time the major U.S. metal label Roadrunner Records snapped up Sepultura in 1988, they had become bona fide underground metal 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. Beneath the Remains quickly brought Sepultura to the forefront of the thrash metal movement that was in full swing at the time, particularly in the U.S.
"Dead Embryonic Cells"
After the success of Beneath the Remains, anticipation was high for Sepultura's next album. Arise, released in April of 1991, was produced by death-metal uber-lord Scott Burns at the legendary Morrisound Studios in Florida (where classic albums by Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, Savatage, Death and Morbid Angel have also been recorded), and it was unleashed at the perfect time. Thrash metal was at its height of mainstream popularity and the band had 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. Metalheads around the world stood stunned and muttered, "Whoa. I knew this album would be good, but I had no idea that it'd be THIS good!"
The album kicks off with the one two punch of the title track and "Dead Embryonic Cells," immediately setting a tone that says "Hi. We're Sepultura and we're not here to f*** around!" Max Cavalera's vocals were at their best on this record; while they're still growly enough for the band's death metal fanbase, he tweaked his delivery just a bit by adding a hoarse, hardcore shout to his arsenal that drew in fans from the thrash metal and punk audiences (who generally don't care for so-called "Cookie Monster" vocal style) as well. 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 precision tight 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.
Aftermath and Influence...
Thanks in part to regular rotation of the video for "Dead Embryonic Cells" on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball," Arise became Sepultura's first album to crack the U.S. Billboard album charts, achieving a peak position of #119. Reaction from metalheads around the world was similarly ecstatic, and 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, at least in this writer's book.
Sepultura is still active in the metal scene today, but the current lineup is a vastly different beast. Both Cavalera brothers have 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. Though the brothers were estranged for a number of years following Max's exit from Sepultura, they have since reconciled and have 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, though their sound is 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").while later, 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. The band still pulls in maniacal crowds in their native Brazil and other parts of the world, but to many long time fans, Arise is still the definitive Sepultura album. One listen, and you'll understand why.