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Of all the early South American underground metal acts Belo Horizonte natives Sepultura would prove the most influential, and the most enduring. Along with local upstarts Armmageddon, Genocídio, Holocausto, Mystifier, Sarcófago and Vulcano they set the global scene alight with their highly aggresssive, unashamingly primitive early records. Launched towards worldwide superstardom with the support from the Cugomelo Records label imprint Sepultura’s path is one with many twists and turns.

Originally the band was going to be called Tropa de Choque (what from Portugese translates to Shock Troops), but it was changed into Sepultura once it was found out the name had already been in use by a band from São Paulo. Its new moniker was chosen by translating to the lyrics to the Motörhead song ‘Dancing On Your Grave’ from 1983's "Another Perfect Day". The album title is (in all probability) a reference/tribute to ‘Bestial Invasion’, a song from German thrash metal pioneers Destruction, and their 1985 album “Infernal Overkill”. Destruction and Sodom greatly informed the early Sepultura sound.

Sepultura existed in an earlier form in 1984 with a set of different local members filling the guitarist, bassist and drummer positions. Eventually the membership solidified with the Cavalera brothers Max and Igor (on vocals/rhythm guitars and drums, respectively), lead guitarist Jairo Guedz Braga, and bass guitarist Paulo Xisto Pinto Jr. forming the first definitive line-up. According to genre conventions of the day each member adopted a stage name, a nom de guerre. Max Cavalera called himself Possessed, Jairo Guedz Braga dubbed himself Tormentor, Igor Cavalera became Skullcrusher and Paulo Xisto Pinto Jr. branded himself Destructor.

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As legend has it the narration to the ominous introductory track ‘The Curse’, by Chakal vocalist Vladimir Korg, was allegedly recorded without any studio effects whatsoever. Replete with desolate wind effects and chiming funeral bells it is a harbinger of things to come. The title track has a churning riff section or two, and a screaming Kerry King styled solo. ‘Antichrist’ draws equal inspiration from Venom and Possessed in terms of song structure and riffing. ‘Warriors Of Death’ starts off with a drum roll and has the most elaborate guitar lead of the EP. Its transitions are among the most accomplished of the EP. Much of the riffing and rhythms would inform the early work of Cannibal Corpse (especially on “Eaten Back to Life”) and to a lesser degree Immolation. In Europe it would serve as inspiration to the young Mayhem and its two demos, most prominently among those the even more primitive and reductionist “Deathcrush”.

The connections with Chakal run deeper as earlier vocalist Sérgio was responsible for the artwork that adorns the “Bestial Devastation” EP. This EP and its corresponding album are thematically linked by the devil figure that appears on both cover artworks. Cheesiness and crudeness aside, it perfectly encapsulates the apocalyptic atmosphere and seethingly anti-religious sentiment that form the pulsating black heart of the release. The lyrics make a surprising amount of sense given that none of the members mastered the English language to any workable degree. Like early Slayer the lyrics boil with a seething anti-religious sentiment, with central themes being the apocalypse and warfare. In the best instances, a combination of all three. While none of the members mastered the English language to a workable degree the lyrics are surprisingly coherent. The lack of linguistic mastery excuses the more glaring examples of the butchering of Shakespeare’s language in some of the lyric passages.

“Bestial Devastation” was recorded in just two days in August 1985 at J.G. Estudios in Belo Horizonte, Brazil with Joao Guimaraes producing. For a recording done as quick and cheap as this the EP has a surprisingly worthwhile production. The EP rumbles with a thick bass guitar tone, an earthy but functional drum tone and slashing razorwire guitars. Although credited in the production notes Paulo Xisto Pinto Jr. did not play bass guitar on this record. Jairo Guedz Braga recorded studio bass parts for this album. Cavalera’s vocals are drenched in copious amounts of echo. Originally released as part of a split recording with Overdose, “Bestial Devastation” went on to sell an impressive 15,000 copies in Brazil alone. Its sales figures would boost the band’s hunger and ambition to better themselves, musically and lyrically - thus setting them on a steady path out of the underground and onto the biggest stages around the world.

Essentially nothing more than a glorified demo recording “Bestial Devastation” was the first effort from one of South America’s most successful extreme metal bands. Even at is crudest and most primal the songcraft that would later define Sepultura is in but embryonal form on this debut outing. The EP served as the template upon which its next four substantially more ambitious albums would be built. The riffing, arrangements and dynamics that would thrust Sepultura into the international limelight can be traced back to this effort. While the band would improve drastically in both musical expertise and lyrical prowess its roots lie in “Bestial Devastation”.

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“Reduced to Ashes”, the fifth Deeds Of Flesh record, had the band comfortable within its more linear writing style. Since “Mark Of the Legion” the trio opted to increase the level of technicality, and “Reduced to Ashes” is the apex of that evolution. The increase in production values is both a blessing, and a curse for a variety of reasons. It is without a doubt the most technically refined and ambitious in terms of songwriting. However within the Deeds Of Flesh canon “Reduced to Ashes” is a sturdy, reliable effort – even though it hardly offers up any notable improvements compared to preceding releases.

The album opens with a sample from The Omen (1976) that sets the proper tone for the record. The newly adopted linear writing style is perfected here, and what the record loses in nuance is complemented by the increased levels of density and dizzying levels of speed. The ailment that none of these songs tend to stay with the listener once they are passed has plagued the band’s since its debut, and it is no different here task management system. Even though the song arrangements are much better the trio’s singular fixation with linear song structure, hookless songwriting, and atonality here are pushed to their limits. Now more than before is Deeds Of Flesh a musician’s band, and any enjoyment derived from it purely comes from the technical/endurance exercise that these songs represent.

While a recurring theme through out the lyrics for “Reduced to Ashes” are catastrophic and extinction level events, the album deals with a number of other interesting topics. ‘Reduced to Ashes’ is about natural disaster, and global catastrophe. ‘Empyrean’ is about Viking conquest and afterlife, one of the band’s beloved subjects. ‘Banished’ is about mass deportation and extermination camps during World War II. ‘The Endurance’ is about the historic shipwreck of the same name. The song details the fate of Sir Ernest Shackleton - one of the prominent figures in the Heroic Age Of Antarctic Exploration - whose ship The Endurance was crushed by ice and sank in the Weddell Sea, off Antarctica, in 1912. Even though about half the record still deal with stereotypical gore subjects, it’s great to see Lindmark and Kingston move away from their serial killer obsession. As before the least typical lyrics are the best of any of this band’s albums.

The record increases the linear direction of its predecessor, and whatever negligible nuance that record held, is stamped out here. Deeds Of Flesh was never a band about nuance, or subtlety – but “Reduced to Ashes” takes it to previously unheard extremes. About half the record has the trio regressing back into tired and tiring gore subjects that characterized its early output, whereas the other half tackles interesting historical happenings. The overarching concept of catastrophic and extinction level events exists only a purely superficial level, even though far more could have been done with it. The cinematic studio effects seem to have been completely abandoned. A well-chosen sample from The Omen (1976) opens the record, but that’s the farthest that the trio is willing to go in order to create an atmosphere and sell its promising concept.

As before there’s hardly any atmosphere to speak of within the trio’s music, but is impressive from a purely technical level. The music from Deeds Of Flesh is one of laser point precision, incredible control, technical finesse and abstract songwriting at absolutely inhuman speed. For the most part it foregoes the traditional verse-chorus song structure in favor for shifting riff structures and extended blast sections with continual double bass action separated either breaks or slightly groovier riff schematics. ‘Infested Beneath the Earth’ is a far more conventional song than, say, the title track. ‘Avowed Depraved’ is one of the groovier songs of the record, although it remains tightly within the narrow confines of the band’s characterizing linear/percussive writing style. ‘Human Trophies’, ‘Banished’ and the title track are among the more technical cuts of the album. ‘Empyrean’ is reminiscent of the band’s earlier records in both riffing and drumming. Closing track ‘The Endurance’ deserves a special mention, as it is a +11 minute epic, and the only song of its kind in the Jacoby Kingston era of the band.

For the first time Deeds Of Flesh recorded at Avalon Digital Recording Studios in San Luis Obispo, California with Kip Stork producing. While the production is far more clean, and textured – it is a curse otherwise. The overly processed drums sound plastic and impotent, the kick drums sound thin and clicky whereas the snares end up sounding hollow. The only aspect of the drums that sounds sufficient are the toms, and cymbals. The rhythm guitar tone remains crunchy, and the thundering bass guitar has more prominence and body than ever before. The artwork by Toshiro Egawa fits well with the central concept, and remains one of his better canvasses. From a visual standpoint it was the most accomplished product the band had produced up to that point. Once again the record was pushed with a music video, this time for the track ‘Reduced to Ashes’.

For all intents and purposes “Reduced to Ashes” isn’t so much an evolution as it is a stylistic continuation. Everything on the record follows logically from the changes first introduced on “Mark Of the Legion”, and it is consistent within that specific style. Whether that rigorous consistency to its chosen style is a forte is debateable. At this point Deeds Of Flesh would have benefitted from a more open style of composition, and less of a fixation on nearly constant breakneck speed. The trio still refuses categorically to solo, and they would persevere with that mindset for another album after this. As it stands “Reduced to Ashes” is impressive in its musicianship and pristine production values, but that alone isn’t enough to redeem the record from its completely tunnel vision writing style, and regressive leanings within the lyrical aspect of things.