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cover-sepultura05“Arise” was the summit of Sepultura’s musical evolution since its inception, and the realization of the sound they had been building towards since “Bestial Devastation” and “Morbid Visions”. It is the most unified and complete Sepultura release in terms of imagery, lyrics, music and presentation – all the pieces fell in place. As the penultimate Sepultura effort it is testament to what the band could have been. From this point onward Sepultura would only deteriorate and regress in every aspect of its being, musically as well as artistically.

The album is evolved in the melodic sense, masterfully paced, and far more controlled sounding than both of its predecessors. It is the logical conclusion of the progression in musicality and technical prowess that “Schizophrenia” introduced. What it loses in riff count it compensates in visceral intensity, memorable hooks and nuanced song arrangements. Of the early Sepultura canon “Arise” is the most ambitious and dynamic in terms of songwriting scope. As a signpost for the end of the band’s early era it was the last to feature long-time studio keyboardist Henrique Portugal in any capacity.

‘Dead Embryonic Cells’, ‘Desperate Cry’, ‘Murder’ and ‘Subtraction’ are easily the most technical cut of the record. “Arise” tones down the sheer amount of riffs per song and the album as a whole, along with the band’s patented speed outbursts, in favor of a more controlled, refined take on their earlier sound. It is a significant change that would inform the band’s decision allowing for the groove metal pandering on “Chaos A.D.” and its eventual follow-up, the band’s creative death certificate “Roots”. On “Arise” the more deliberate pace allows many of the nuances in the songwriting and riffs to come more to the fore. It is the most death metal sounding of all the early Sepultura releases. The synthesizers by Portugal and the Kent Smith produced sound effects enhance the very otherworldly atmosphere. Sadly, it would never be revisited again in the band’s post-Cavalera catalog making “Arise” a unique proposition in that respect.

‘Altered State’ is opened with simulated wind sounds and tribal percussion. ‘Under Siege (Regnum Irae)’ with an acoustic guitar section and quotes two passages of the abbreviated prologue to the controversial 1953 historic novel “The Last Temptation” by Nikos Kazantzakis. The novel was famously adapted for the screen by Martin Scorsese as “The Last Temptation Of Christ” which in turn was sampled by Tampa, Florida death metal act Deicide on its third and most defining album “Once Upon the Cross”. In order to give “Arise” the proper marketing push two promotional videos were shot. Chosen for the treatment were ‘Dead Embryonic Cells’ and the title track. The latter led to its share of controversy as MTV refused to play the video due to its apocalyptic religious imagery. A further high-quality live home video “Under Siege” was shot in Barcelona, Spain during the band’s European tour in support of the album.

Seeing how “Beneath the Remains” was mixed at the renowned Morrisound Studio in death metal capital Tampa, Florida – it was only natural that Sepultura would record its next album at said facility. For “Arise” death metal sound guru Scott Burns manned the console. Of the early Sepultura catalog “Arise” had the best production work. The lead/rhythm guitars sound crunchy and concrete, the bass guitar tone is warm and commanding. The drum tones are full-bodied, organic and warm sounding. The album has the best bass guitar and drum tone the band was ever able to capture. Although credited in the production notes Paulo Xisto Pinto Jr. did not play bass guitar on the record. Andreas Kisser recorded studio bass parts for the album.

That “Arise” is the best produced record of the band’s prime era was in no small part due to the involvement of Scott Burns. Lending their expertise to the product were a number of other respectable figures. For “Arise” artwork by Michael Whelan was commissioned once more. On this canvas Whelan depicts H.P. Lovecraft's Yog-Sothoth, a cosmic deity from the Cthulu Mythos. The bone S that would become the band’s mainstream identifier and their most recognizable sigil is introduced here, as well as the enduring font logo. The old logo that was used up until “Schizophrenia” can still be found in the booklet. The album was mixed at Quantum Sound Studios, Jersey City, New Jersey by Andy Wallace. Wallace would produce “Chaos AD”, this album’s highly divisive successor, at Rockfield Studios in South Wales, England. Howie Weinberg at Masterdisk in New York mastered “Arise”. Kent Smith at Soundsmith Productions was responsible for the sound design and numerous studio effects that can be heard on the album.

As the most death metal sounding of all early Sepultura releases “Arise” is the zenith of the band’s individual and collective skill. Masterfully paced it is where Sepultura found the ultimate equilibrium between death – and thrash metal without doing concessions to either style. Next to being the most unified and complete in terms of presentation “Arise” is the zenith in the band’s early discography as far production work is concerned. Pushing the band to the limits of its capabilities, in both instrumentation and songwriting, “Arise” heralds the end of Sepultura as a death/thrash metal formation. The band would subsequently experience an identity crisis that would eventually fracture it at the height of its popularity. In the aftermath of said split Sepultura would regroup but never reclaim its place within the mainstream metal consciousness outside of its native land.

Supposedly after the mammoth tour in support of “Arise” Brazilian quartet Sepultura ran out of steam and, well, ideas, really. Lord knows what happened to them on that trek all over the world. Not only did it knock the air of what was formerly the most violent and cutthroat death/thrash unit on the scene, it also sucked out the band’s creativity. “Chaos A.D.” is equal amounts punk/hardcore as it is copious amounts of Pantera worship. This is the album, a gateway album for many at that, where the Brazilian contenders to the thrash metal crown lost the plot, a thing from which they never recovered. It mostly marks the end of an era. The end of Sepultura’s reign as death/thrash mavens, the last to feature Michael Whelan artwork and the one but last to feature Max Cavalera on vocals and rhythm guitars. Although you are hardpressed to find that last aspect a selling point.

sepultura92The album opens with the in utero heartbeat of Max Cavalera’s then-unborn son Zyon, and while that sample is a great intro piece on itself, it begs the first question of many: what happened to long-time keyboardist Henrique Portugal? Where’s the aggression? Where are the whirlwind riffs? And probably most importantly: where are the songs? Sepultura never hid the fact that they liked hardcore as much as they liked extreme metal, but this is the first record that actively suffers from needless experimentation. It spents far too much time on trying very hard to be something that it is not - and probably will never be. It also is a sobering reminder what happens to great bands when they decide to ditch their legacy in the name of the almighty dollar. Integrity, previously Sepultura’s most defining trait, is exchanged for an oversimplified, dumbed down stab at senseless commercialism and lukewarm mainstream acceptance. “Chaos A.D.” is big, dumb and loud. Dumb mostly, though.

‘Refuse/Resist’ is the first song, and while the lack of riffs and speed is immediately noticeable – it at least has the decency to not waste anybody’s time. The title was taken from Indian dissident Mahatma Ghandi’s ideology of non-violent civilian disobedience, and the lyrics are concise and to-the-point. ‘Territory’ starts off with a tribal drumbeat, but falls back in tempo soon after the intro. ‘Slave New World’, co-written by Evan Seinfeld from Biohazard, is another pointless hardcore ditty, and the presence of Andreas Kisser’s solo does little to redeem this track, or the ones that came before it. It has nothing to do with the Aldous Huxley novel “Brave New World” which is referenced in the song title. In truth, the most intelligent thing about this song is the somewhat clever pun of the song title. The increased levels of bass-centricness, the presence of barely two riffs per song (not counting the slight variations of each which are passed off as bridges), the stripped down hardcore approach in the songwriting and the Pantera groove metal aping is what makes “Chaos A.D.” the crushing disappointment that it is. The three singles mentioned earlier only serve to display that sad and sorry fact. No amount of label-muscle was going to be able to hide how poorly conceived and written this record is, or was rather. “Chaos A.D.” is a mess, a glorious mess at that.

One of the surprisingly effective new ideas was the instrumental cut 'Kaiowas’. Consisting of acoustic guitars and tribal percussion the track exposes a frail and sensitive side the band had not shown prior. The execution and delivery isn’t lacking per se, but a bigger deal could have been made out of it. ‘Kaiowas’ exists, and it passes the listener by without the realization that it hints at something bigger and better. It is unfortunate that this lone great track is surrounded by a veritable morass of bad ideas. ‘Amen’ and ‘Nomad’ follow the architecture of previous tracks, and the inclusion of crudely sampled religious chants does not redeem it. In fact it further exposes the eroded songwriting capability of this once mighty band, and the chants accentuate the absence of any real riffs. ‘Nomad’ follows suit, and while it has some decent riffs (especially the one after the break) and drumming it still is lacking in about every department that the band used to excel at. ‘Biotech Is Godzilla’ was co-written by Jello Biafra who also adds backing vocals. It is a fast and short hardcore/punk track that really feels out of place on a Sepultura record, and even on the subsequent Nailbomb album it would have been considered pointless and lacking. ‘Propaganda’ is much of the same as ‘Biotech Is Godzilla’ and ‘Manifest’ is another experiment in sound that really shouldn’t have been allowed to happen in the first place. ‘We Who Are Not As Others’ is something, although I’m not entirely certain what. It consists of about two riffs and a mantra-like repetition of the song’s title. The solo does little to redeem it, but that goodwill is crushed by the idiotic laughing that concludes the track. ‘The Hunt’ is a functional cover of a New Model Army song with a ton of neat little acoustic guitars in the background and a slightly better vocal performance by Max. ‘Clenched Fist’ is a prototype for the later Nailbomb album, which would become the companion piece to this record.

“Chaos A.D.” is, no matter how you spin it, Sepultura’s artistic death certificate.

This is a record of changes, superficial and profound. The songs all are mere shells of what the band used to write. The lyrics are still socio-political, but they seem more based around one-liners and quips rather than actual dissections of ideas or ideologies. The absence of riffs per song is hard not to notice, and the riffs that do appear are one-two note excuses that even hardcore bands would be embarrassed to use in their songs. The band that once stuffed their songs to the brim with impressive riff after riff here contents itself with building a song around a single, or two riffs at most. The fire is gone and so is the passion. Max Cavalera’s vocals regressed to a severe degree. His once mighty roars and thrash metal screams became a caveman shout that was supposed to convey all the anger, frustration and righteous indignation at the world while it mostly comes off as comical, and well, mentally challenged, if we’re being honest about it. The fact that the songs are largely build around Cavalera’s grumbling, percussive tough guy vocals don’t help matters either. That this record has the highest count of expletives makes the new vocal style even less defensible. This isn’t tough. It is embarrassing. The songs all are a lot slower too. It is hard to believe that this band wrote “Beneath the Remains” and “Schizophrenia” – both classics of riff-oriented high speed thrash metal.

Some call the production unlistenable, but for one reason or the other this is one my favorite productions of the era. Without a single doubt this is, literally, the heaviest Sepultura has ever sounded from a production standpoint. Igor’s kickdrums sound ominous and powerful, Paulo’s bass guitar finally gets the attention it deserves, and the guitar tone, both for rhythm and leads, is earthy and organic but never lifeless or sterile. What the production does bring to attention is that, while the band sounds heavier and cleaner than it was ever before, the song material on this record is lacking, and when it does occasionally deliver something of note it is lowest common denominator pandering. This is why this record is so divisive and polarizing for many, even a full two decades after its original release. This was my first metal record, and while I have some adoration for it, mostly through nostalgia, that doesn’t change the fact that it isn’t very good, or even worthy of half the lavish praise it continues to get with the casual masses.

R-6455452-1419688264-4300For all the praise the record gets it seems to focus on the wrong elements of this particular equation. The songs on here are drawn out, listless affairs based around one or two riffs, tons of caveman grooves and daft anti-authorian lyrics that don’t really say a whole lot than the band has established on earlier records. Sure, it is the band’s most direct and confrontational record, but how much does that say exactly? The crunchy and concrete production is bass-heavy and absolutely stellar, but it is wasted on a dull, meandering record that doesn’t seem to have any real purpose, or direction. “Chaos A.D.” is indeed a chaos of mismatched ideas, disjointed groove riffing and listless chugging that would have the most ardent Pantera disciple running for cover. The 90s were an ugly time for metal above and below the mainstream, this is a reminder of that.