Sepultura – Bestial Devastation

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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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