CLASSIC ALBUMS REVISITED: Sepultura’s “Roots” Turns 25


A lot has been written and even more typed in recent years about Sepultura’sRoots album (Roadrunner Records). upon its release, it exploded on the scene and boosted the popularity of the already legendary Brazillian metallers. At the time of its release, it definitely split fans into two camps, although ultimately the band was vindicated, and rightly so. Roots stands as a classic in the genre and for the band for all-time.

Just for the gatekeepers, metal mansplainers, and keyboard warriors – Sepultura, with or without a guy named Cavalera in their ranks has never made the same album twice. Thrash, Death Metal, Punk Rock, World Music: these are the building blocks of the band that have always defined this group. They always had a fearlessness in composing and lyric writing. Bold choices and song styles are their calling card, and not left-field move. Fans and bands were less cynical in prior generations and you need to remember that always.

After Chaos A..D. (also Roadrunner) incorporated more Punk and World Music (“Kaiwoas” was their first foray into tribalism)- influences, the band again shifted to evolve. They were already extensively down-tuning and moving away from straight-up Thrash when Nu-Metal burst on the scene in 1994. Although Korn, Deftones, Coal Chamber, and the like were not household names yet (there is no real breakthrough Nu Metal album until after Roots), their influence was starting to take hold, even by veteran metal bands. If Sepultura had just enlisted Ross Robinson to produce, added a DJ, and write nothing but rap-metal songs, then you could lodge an argument they were solely jumping on a bandwagon. And, you’d be right.

But they didn’t. They made a modern metal record.

On the whole, Sepultura’s sojourn into the jungles of the Amazon to commune with and record with the indigenous Xavante tribe is a musical collaboration, but also a massive political statement and middle finger to the world that says you can’t do that. Never forget that politics was a driving force for this band’s entire career, much more so than “doing something cool” or following a trend. In both music, lyrics, indigenous instrumentation, call and response vocals, and artwork, this album is as much about common bonds, and a struggle with political forces in Brazil and the larger world, as much as any and Seps album has been. How many metal bands use their collective voice to draw a thread between tribal cultures and metal lifestyle (unity, tattoos, resistance to assimilation)? How many since Roots? Using this album as a callback to nature and humble beginnings, and a call to arms beyond the world of commodities and wage-slave labor practices. This is a thread throughout the album and one of the most metal things I have ever seen in my life as a fan or critic.

Yes, Sepultura was inspired musically and culturally by Hip-Hop and Nu-Metal, but not as radically as it seemed at the time. Hardcore bands had been copying Rap music for over a decade at this point, but to casual fans, this seemed radical. Biohazard and Rage Against The Machine and countless others served as more inspirational to Nu Metal bands than Thrash bands. Still, there are many bangers on Roots that upon reconsideration were maybe overlooked at the time. Roots has its Nu Metal influences but also doesn’t sound like Korn or Deftones at all really.

The album continued their trend of inviting guests to collaborate with them such as nu-metal leaders Korn vocalist Jonathan Davis and founding drummer David Silveria, House of Pain/Limp Bizkit turntablist DJ Lethal (before he was in Limp Bizkit)l, and reluctant Nu Metal godfather Faith No More/Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton. These are some of the best tracks on the album as well. Not just the “hits” of the album are memorable, the album is almost all bangers.

 

Both the current Sepultura and many iterations of Max Cavelra’s bands (Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy, and his Return To Roots Tour with Igor Cavalera) continue to perform these songs. Sadly, this was Max’s last album in the band, but he would carry on this thread in Soulfly. In many ways, the success of Roots forced other veteran bands to reconsider their writing and experiment more. The success of the album at Roadrunner meant scores of their bands were made to incorporate Nu Metal into their sound, which has nothing to do with this band, and more to do with the record industry. Still, Roots is a great album and deserves mention at the top of the cannon of this important band, and essential for every metal fans’ collection.

Buy the album here: https://amzn.to/3dtyjgx

KEITH CHACHKES