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In the late 1990s a new charge of South American underground bands stormed the world due to the increasing popularity of Brazilian export Krisiun, comprised of the three Kolesne brothers. Every label you could imagine was seeking out their personal Brazilian death metal band, and as such every band that could write a decent song and play really fast was offered a contract. Within the year there were albums released globally by Abhorrence, Mental Horror, Nephasth, Ophiolatry and a couple of others.
Notable among these young hordes were Rebaelliun. Not because of their music, especially, as they were cut from a rather typical cloth of Slayer-meets-Morbid-Angel – but because of their do-or-die attitude. The fact that they had sold all their possessions (furniture, clothing, etc) in Brazil and moved to Belgium of all places to get a start in their productive but ultimately short-lived metal career, custodian only to a locally produced promo tape, speaks volumes of these men’s dedication. In one week they had secured their first gig, and based upon that very first gig (at the legendary Frontline club in Ghent) they were able to land a record deal with Holland’s Hammerheart Records.

11704863_875570659158593_2958795480706328621_nThe popular consensus at the time was that Rebaelliun was just another Krisiun clone, and to an extent that is true. The difference with Krisiun is that Rebaelliun relies heavier on the influence of early Slayer, and their Morbid Angel leanings are only secondary to that foundational aspect. The point is also that Rebaelliun, even this early in their career, knew to how to arrange a song. Certainly, they play at blistering speeds most of the time but the dynamics are actually very clever for a genre as limited as death metal. The leads/solos of Ronaldo Lima were another high mark and selling point for this band. Of the two guitarists, Lima is more technically proficient and melodically gifted compared to the more straightforward approach of Fabiano Penna Correa. The band took the template of early Krisiun and worked their individual strengths around that basic framework. The result is an album that is savagely brutal, dynamic in composition but with an old school charm and warmth that was lost on Krisiun from “Ageless Venomous” onwards.

While Sandro Moreira’s drumming is intensely hammering and mostly unrelenting, the way he incorporates fills, rolls and cymbal crashes is a lot more creative and engaging than anything Moyses Kolesne from Krisiun ever did at that point or later on. In a lot of ways you could see it as thrash metal drumming sped up to the standards of the then-emerging blast death movement. On lead and rhythm guitar is the pair of Ronaldo Lima and Penna Correa, both whose primary source of inspiration lies with Slayer and Morbid Angel. The opening riff to ‘Spawning the Rebellion’ is vintage Slayer worship and the track ‘Hell’s Decree’ channels “Covenant” more than once, to say the least. The leads and solos are mostly of the Hoffman era Deicide variety. Marcello Marzari’s vocals are more barked than grunted, and while his bass playing provides the band with the most of its heaviness, it isn’t exactly special or captivating.  The bass playing is just typical doubling of the guitars and not much else otherwise.

11754495_876032055783910_8060379560008370254_oAnother thing that Rebaelliun understood, and what Krisiun didn’t seem to grasp, is that playing a bit slower, or mixing up faster and slower sections, adds to the depth of the song. Where Krisiun has a very single-minded approach to how they construct and perform their death metal, Rebaelliun had no problems with letting some early thrash architecture slip into their formula. This, of course, is much more beneficial to the band in the long run. Occasionally there are guitar lead trade-offs, but these are hardly as prominent as those in Diabolic’s original three-album run in the early 2000s. The lyrics are far from compelling as they deal with the usual subjects of war, extermination and religious defamation. Not surprising when you consider this band hails from Brazil, who like Poland, are amongst the most religious conservative Catholic countries in the world.

The album consists almost entirely of new and original material written specifically for this session. Outside of opening track ‘At War’ and mid album crusher ‘Spawning the Rebellion’ no demo tracks were refurbished. This is fairly logical considering that their “Promo Tape ‘98” consisted of only those two earlier mentioned tracks. Interesting is also the instrumental track ‘Flagellation of Christ (the Revenge of King Beelzebuth)’ which consists of spooky church organs, chiming funeral bells, sparse percussion and esoteric minimal guitar playing. The limited digipack of this album also contained the “At War” mini-CD, which was a single-CD limited repress of the band’s “Promo Tape ‘98”.

There are no weak moments to speak of on this record, although towards the end the riffing tends to get a bit samey. ‘Killing For the Domain’, ‘Spawning the Rebellion’, ‘Hell’s Decree’ and ‘The Legacy Of Eternal Wrath’ are the strongest tracks of this session. The production work is of the old school variety, meaning that not everything is balanced and equalized to glossy perfection. Moreira’s drums suffer the most from the limited production, having the snares sound like buckets, with indistinct sounding kickdrums that despite their lack of clarity add much to organic feeling of the record. Marzari’s bass guitar is mixed deeply under the meaty guitars and doesn’t get much space in the production other than providing the deeply rumbling undercurrent and thickness.

Like the erupting volcano that made up the album art for this record, Rebaelliun exploded unto the scene with finesse and conviction. In the wake of this record the band would tour Europe extensively, before recording another EP and finally a second album. After the touring campaign for their second album “Annihilation” Rebaelliun would fall apart due to a number of reasons. Years down the line Penna Correa would resurface with the more thrash-oriented The Ordher, Sandro Moreira would enroll in Mental Horror and Marcello Marzari would rejoin Abhorrence on a permanent basis. Little is known of what became of prodigious guitar player Ronaldo Lima, but the rumors persist that he stopped playing altogether after the Rebaelliun adventure ended as the band members returned to Brazil and all went their separate ways at various points.

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.