After stretching its wings with the exercise in technicality and experimentation that was “Schizophrenia” Sepultura streamlined its sound for maximum effect and impact. On its Roadrunner Records debut from 1989 Sepultura perfected its death/thrash metal sound to widespread acclaim and accolades. Structured in the same way as the legendary Cliff Burton-era Metallica albums “Ride the Lightning” and “Master Of Puppets", “Beneath the Remains” trimmed off all excess ballast. With a singular focus on efficient song construction compared to the overly technical but scattershot “Schizophrenia”, it was the album that broke Sepultura to a global audience thanks to the partnership with its American label.
“Beneath the Remains” is famous for applying speed metal techniques within a nascent death metal format. “Schizophrenia” already toyed with the idea, but the distribution of ideas is more effective here thanks to the solidified and more confident writing. Thanks to the increased songwriting expertise and technical skills within the ranks. On “Beneath the Remains” Portugal remains underutilized but he would get his moment in the spotlight on this album’s successor. “Beneath the Remains” forgoes the instrumental tracks of the preceding record, and is very much like Slayer’s iconic “Reign In Blood” in spirit while being influenced by Cliff Burton-era Metallica in construction.
The notion of an obvious Metallica influence in the writing is strenghtened by the brief acoustic guitar intro on the title track. In fact ‘Beneath the Remains’ is structured nearly identical to Metallica’s high velocity thrash epics ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ or ‘Battery’. ‘Slaves Of Pain’ was a song originally by Kisser’s former band Pestilence, but its lyrics were rewritten to fit better with Sepultura. ‘Stronger than Hate’ features vocal contributions from Kelly Shaefer (Atheist), who also wrote the lyrics, John Tardy (Obituary) plus Scott Latour and Francis Howard (Incubus). Kisser continues his ascent as a leadplayer. His best contributions can be heard on ‘Stronger than Hate’, ‘Mass Hypnosis’, ‘Slaves Of Pain’, ‘Lobotomy’, and ‘Hungry’. ‘Inner Self’, ‘Mass Hypnosis’, ‘Slaves Of Pain’, and ‘Hungry’ has Sepultura at its most rabidly efficient.
At this point Sepultura fully moved away from its nascent death metal imagery, and headlong into the socio-political arena with its lyrics. ‘Beneath the Remains’ is about the horrors of war. ‘Inner Self’, ‘Stronger than Hate’, ‘Slaves Of Pain’, and ‘Hungry’ are about overcoming personal limitations and tribulations. ‘Sarcastic Existence’ deals with isolation and depression. ‘Mass Hypnosis’ and ‘Lobotomy’ concern political demagoguery and the military-industrial complex. ‘Primitive Future’ is interesting in that it combines the post-apocalyptic imagery of its none-too-distant past with abstract socio-political musings that would define “Arise”. At any rate, Sepultura had drastically improved on the lyrical front by abandoning its anti-religious charade, and tackling relevant socio-political problems of its home country.
The artwork for “Beneath the Remains” was created by Michael Whelan. Given the choice between two Whelan works the band reluctantly agreed to use ‘Nightmare in Red’. When the label pushed Sepultura towards chosing the current artwork it led to some embarrassment for drummer Igor Cavalera who had part of the canvas tattooed on his body at that time. This, understandably, led to some friction between band and label. The artwork originally intended for “Beneath the Remains”, a ghastly piece named ‘Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre’, was eventually used to Tampa, Florida death metal combo Obituary on their second album “Cause Of Death”.
For this session the band decided to record at Nas Nuvens Studio in Rio de Janeiro with engineers Scott Burns and Antoine Midani. The greatest improvement is that the instruments are balanced better against each other while being tonally richer and more defined. Especially the drums, the bane of earlier Sepultura records, sound crunchy and commanding with a deep rumbling bass drums. Tom Morris and Scott Burns mixed the album at the famed Morrisound Studio in death metal capital Tampa, Florida. “Beneath the Remains” was mastered at Fullersound in Tampa, Florida by Mike Fuller. 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.
By slightly reducing the amount of riffs, and giving each riff a specific function, allows Sepultura a greater dexterity in its songwriting. No longer overcompensating by sheer number - each chord, riff, solo or transition is embued with a greater sense of purpose within the song. Where the band previously sounded unhinged and out of control “Beneath the Remains” does not so much streamline the band’s sound, as much as putting the band’s convoluted writing style in a more efficient and lean form. The title track shows that the band has lost none of its belligerence, or speed, but it is distinctly more individual than any of the band’s prior works. “Beneath the Remains” not only was a good deal faster and more aggressive than the thrash metal of the day, it also cemented the promise and potential of the preceding “Schizophrenia”.