Each week, The Perfect Chord looks back at albums you may have missed when they dropped, or miss now that they've faded from memory. This week's glimpse into the crates:
Sepultura – Roorback/Revolusongs
Brazil’s Sepultura weren’t just national treasures by the turn of the millennium—they were indisputable legends of the global heavy metal scene. Formed in 1984 by brothers Max (guitarist and lead vocalist) and Igor Cavalera (drummer), the band began as a Venom-influenced death metal group before veering in a slightly more thrash-oriented direction in the late 80s that catapulted them to the forefront of international heavy metal bands. When Max left the group in 1996 after his stepson’s murder and a subsequent, very public falling-out with lead guitarist Andreas Kisser over the band’s management, Sepultura elected to continue with a new frontman. The ensuing search brought Derrick Green, a Black American who’d previously fronted Cleveland-based Outface.
Sepultura’s first couple albums with Green—1998’s Against and 2001’s Nation–garnered some critical acclaim (at least, in the case of the latter), but sold relatively poorly when compared to the band’s landmark album with Max, 1996’s Roots. By 2002, the band had left longtime label Roadrunner Records and released Revolusongs, a limited-edition EP of cover songs; in May of 2003, SPV re-released the EP as a bonus attached to their proper full-length, Roorback. Whether because of the refreshing environment of a new label or the band finally finding a comfort zone with its new singer, both the full-length and the EP are a surprisingly refreshing listens, and clearly sound like a rejuvenated band finding a new identity.
Roorback begins with slow fade-in, Igor’s thunderous drums shepherding a roaring noise that eventually becomes the double-kick-heavy introduction to “Come Back Alive.” As Igor flits between blast beats and half-time grooves, Green’s voice—a glottal roar somewhere between that of a lion and the scrape of a Claymore being sharpened on flint—soars into the front of the mix, spitting a chilling tale of wartime combat. Not only is the song a compelling story (akin to Alice In Chains’ “Rooster”), its tight performance—especially Igor on drums and Green’s vocals—suggests a band hitting its stride after a period of uncertainty.
Indeed, while Green’s emergence and apparent comfort within the Sepultura dynamic were certainly clear on Nation (if only slightly present on Against), it wasn’t until Roorback that he clearly felt fully comfortable bringing his own influences into the mix. As the album continues, Green sounds more and more like a charismatic frontman in his own right, not simply Max’s replacement. From the staccato bursts of “Godless” and “Corrupted” to the mid-tempo lurch of “More Of the Same,” Green consistently turns in performances just as aggressive and unique as his predecessor; furthermore, on songs like “Urge” (a rolling, punishing thrash excursion) and “Bottomed Out” (a murky, churning slow cut with, of all things, acoustic guitar), he successfully integrates something into the band’s sound Max Cavalera never could: melody. Green’s slightly-nasal baritone fits neatly over Kisser’s intricately aggressive guitar arrangements, recalling Bad Brains vocalist H.R. circa I Against I, adding the precise ingredient to separate the new Sepultura from its new incarnation.
Versatility aside, however, the band is still at its best when hitting hard and fast. “Apes Of God,” the album’s third track, is easily its best. Beginning with a slow swell of guitar and keyboard noise, the song properly begins with a thunderous Igor drum explosion before settling into a mid-tempo groove. Green joins Kisser on guitar, alternating between thrash riffed choruses and doom-y verses as he roars his vocals, before the song pauses and begins a slow breakdown clearly inspired by Green’s hardcore punk past.
Revolusongs, in turn, is entirely about inspiration, be it Green’s or anyone else’s; still, the singer’s own versatility is the only thing that makes the songs work. The EP begins with “Messiah,” a cut by Swiss metal legends Hellhammer, featuring Green growling at a lower pitch than normal (almost sounding like Max). Interestingly, other than Exodus cover “Piranha,” the opener is the release’s only song whose original version fell into the realm of metal; while some of the songs were close enough in their original incarnations to make the transition seamless (particularly the update of U2’s “Bullet The Blue Sky”–which, interestingly enough, was attached to US versions of Roorback and released as its only single—and their take on Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song”), others are unexpected enough to make Sepultura’s versions seem all the more interesting. “Mongoloid,” the 1977 Devo single, gets a hardcore punk rock update, but the band’s epic version of Public Enemy’s “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” incorporates so many different elements, not even all the members of the band could provide them. Brazilian hip hop producer Zé Gonzales adds programmed beats and scratches to the song, which features some pleasantly precise interplay between the band’s bassist Paolo Xisto and Kisser, while Green trades verses in English with original Portuguese verses penned and spat by Brazilian rapper Sabotage. The song is one of the EP’s highlights, made significantly more haunting by the fact that Sabotage was shot and killed two months before it was released. Most impressive, though, is the band’s cover of Massive Attack’s “Angel,” with Green beginning the song in a tender baritone and ending it at a howl.
Fortunately, despite low sales, Revolusongs and Roorback weren’t the last audiences heard from this version of Sepultura. Following 2006’s Dante XXI, Igor left the group, and was replaced by Jean Dolabella; with Dolabella, the band released A-Lex in 2009. The album, a concept piece meticulously constructed around the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange, is arguably the band’s best release in any incarnation, garnered considerable critical acclaim, and was the band’s highest-selling release with Green as vocalist. The band continues to record and perform to this day; in 2011, the length of Green’s tenure as frontman officially exceeded that of Max, cementing his presence in the band’s legacy—and, by extension, the metal genre’s.
A. Darryl Moton is a freelance writer/Iowan/curmudgeon attempting to escape Portland, Oregon.