When Brazilian thrash legends Sepultura parted ways with frontman Max Cavalera in 1996, many thought that would be the end of the road. An acrimonious divorce that seemed to favour neither party, the remaining members auditioned several well known musicians before eventually choosing Ohio born Derrick Green as the man to replace the outgoing Cavalera brother.
With fans already choosing their sides, it was Max who struck first in early 1998, leaving Green and his former bandmates to play catch-up a few months later. Obnoxious and belligerent, Against (Roadrunner/BMG) deliberately plays to the band’s strengths while opening newer, more exploratory doors. ‘Reza’ (featuring João Gordo from Ratos de Porão on vocals), ‘Drowned Out’, the spit-encrusted ‘Hatred Aside’ (with a guest appearance by then Metallica bassist Jason Newsted) and the spiky title track call heavily on their punk influences while the likes of ‘Choke’, ‘Rumors’ and instrumentals ‘Tribus’ and ‘Kamaitachi’ resonate with their now trademark tribal sound. ‘Floaters in Mud’, ‘Common Bonds’ and the earthen crawl of ‘Old Earth’ show a willingness to incorporate singing rather than just rely on harsh vocals. Not the placeholder album fans thought (and in some instances, hoped) it might be but thanks to Green, bassist Paulo Jr, drummer Iggor Cavalera and guitarist Andreas Kisser, a record that showed there was much originality still to be tapped.
Kicking off with the almighty bang of ‘Sepulnation’, the minute long punk blast of ‘Revolt’ and the slow grind of ‘Border Wars’, it seemed that 2001’s follow-up to Against, Nation (Roadrunner/BMG) would be a simpler, more straightforward affair than its predecessor but it soon became clear with cuts like ‘The Ways of Faith’, ‘Tribe to a Nation’, ‘Water’, ‘Who Must Die’ and the obvious Faith No More-isms of ‘One Man Army’ that was not to be the case, the band intent on exploring even more uncharted areas than before. The old Sepultura was still clearly evident on tracks like ‘Human Cause’, ‘Saga’ and ‘Vox Populi’ but even then, their newer style was more than making its presence felt. The unmistakable voice of Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra is all over the slow-burning ‘Politricks’ while Finnish instrumentalists Apocalyptica play on outro ‘Valtio’ and Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed gets to vent his spleen on ‘Human Cause’. A brave album which succeeds on many levels, Nation is the sound of a band reclaiming the past while looking to the future.
Easing back on the guest appearances, Roorback (SPV/BMG) is a more focused and streamlined affair than its predecessor. Although not a concept album in its truest sense, the 2003 release is steeped in themes of political unrest and corruption. ‘Come Back Alive’, ‘Godless’ and ‘Apes of God’ open the record in style, with cuts like ‘Corrupted’, Mind War’, ‘Leech’, The Rift’ and ‘Activist’ hitting all the right notes, whether punk or metal in origin. Songs like ‘Urge, ‘As It Is’ and ‘Bottomed Out’ show the band haven’t given up on challenging themselves but on the whole, Roorback is the most consistently Sepultura sounding record with Derrick to date. Also included in the box set is the Revolusongs covers EP including the likes of ‘Messiah’ by Hellhammer ‘Bullet the Blue sky’ by U2, and ‘Piranha’ by Exodus.
Whereas Roorback was a record held together by key themes, Dante XXI (SPV/BMG) saw the band take the next logical step by writing their first fully fledged concept album. Based on Dante Alighieri‘s fourteenth century narrative poem, The Divine Comedy, Sepultura’s tenth full length studio release has little room for experimentation and keeps a simplified core sound punctuated by occasional orchestral interludes. Although not exactly one dimensional, there is substantially less variation here than on their previous couple of records, noticeably reducing the amount of punk and tribal influences while keeping things nice and heavy for the most part. This resulted in an album which pleased many of the band’s diehard fans who just wanted to shake their heads and scream their lungs out.
The final record in the set, A-Lex (SPV/BMG) is the first Sepultura album not to feature Iggor Cavalera behind the drumkit, the iconic sticksman replaced by fellow Brazilian Jean Dolabella. A second fully realised concept album, A-Lex is based on the 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess but whereas Dante XXI had mostly played it safe, its successor was a very different kettle of metal indeed. A much more cohesive and confident release, each song has its own distinct personality yet consistently fits with the subject and overall sound. Whether it’s the Slayer-isms of ‘Moloko Mesto’ or ‘Forceful Behaviour’, the quasi-trippy ‘Metamorphosis’ or the schizophrenic ‘Sadistic Values’, or even the glorious orchestral metal coupling of ‘Ludwig Van’, the band strike the perfect balance, channelling old school aggression with adventure and innovation.
A boxed set incorporating five CDs or spread across eight vinyl discs (three of the albums split over two records for added quality), Sepulnation is a fine example of the second era of Sepultura and a worthy addition to any collection. Buy it here: