…Against the World!
David Lee Beowülf
To really appreciate Sepultura you have to say it like this: “Seeeeeeee-poooool-tuooo-raaaaaaahhhhhh!”
Brazil’s Sepultura, aside from being one of the most unique forces in late-1980’s/early 1990’s metal, has a truly special place in my heart. You see, the first request Drew Id and I received when we started our Brainhammer! Radio show was for “anything” off Sepultura’s third and then brand-new album Beneath the Remains. The sound was so brutal, so momentous, so, so, …metal! that we played a Sepultura song on every show. And when they came out with Arise a year or so later, it too received just as many requests as Slayer and Obituary (the other two most-requested bands on Brainhammer!). One of the highlights of the Brainhammer! era was Sepultura playing at the now-gone Power Station in Melbourne, Florida (home of Brainhammer!) on an off-night with Obituary and Sadus (who both played great sets, but were more interested in the Tampa Bay football team on the big screen…). It was a Monday night, about twenty fans of true metal showed up. But it didn’t matter, Sepultura put on an incredible show and left me with the memorable words from then-frontman, Max Cavalera “theeeese wan izz called `Maaas Hypnose-is!'” To this day I still repeat that whenever anyone mentions Sepultura, so much so that I even annoy people.
They followed up in 1993 with another brutal and original album, Chaos A.D., which, although by 1993 metal started to go underground, stood out as one of the best and most played metal albums. In 1996, despite the efforts to the Brazilian government to suppress their sound (hey, it’s bad for the kids…), Sepultura released Roots, their most original and ambitious album to-date, which incorporated instruments and sounds from the Brazilian rain forest as well as some of the heaviest metal ever recorded.
But 1997 saw a turn of events that nearly put an end to Sepultura. Singer Max Cavalera coupled with personal crises and differences of opinion on the business of the band with his brother and drummer Igor, left the band to do his own projects, most notably, Soulfly. Personally, I couldn’t imagine a metal world without Sepultura. I mean, Sepultura is to Brazil what Black Sabbath is to heavy metal. Nevertheless Igor, along with bassist Paulo Jr. and guitarist Andreas Kisser decided to write and record new songs and see if what they produced could rightly be called “Sepultura.”
The metal world can rest itself, as Sepultura is alive and well. The results of the nearly year-long songwriting effort were definitely Sepultura, so much so that they found a singer in American hardcore musician Derrick Green (Outface, Overfiend) and released an amazing album called Against. This new album includes such metal luminaries as Metallica bassist Jason Newsted and Japanese sound artists, Kodo. I spoke with Igor and Paulo Jr., who will be touring with Earth Crisis in Vision of Disorder and then Slayer, etc….
So, you have a new singer, tell me about picking Derrick and about finding him.
Igor: It was actually through Roadrunner in New York. Mike Gitter who does A&R here called me up and said he had someone who would be very cool to join Sepultura. He knew Derrick from his previous bands, so it was like, he sent me some tapes and after I got the tapes, I liked a lot of his stuff and then we sent Derrick a tape, which had all of our new songs. Derrick put some vocals down on it and we really liked it so we sent him down to Brazil, where, at the time, we were writing, so we got together and jammed for a week. We were auditioning people at the time but once we did something with him, we knew he was the right guy for Sepultura.
Did he have to change his voice at all? Because he came from more of a hardcore background.
Igor: Yeah, he actually did. If you listen to his earlier stuff, it’s very different from what he does with Sepultura. What’s great about him is that he can do a lot of things with his voice, like reach new levels. I felt there was a lot of potential in his voice, but I didn’t know how far he could go and he went even further then I thought he could in adapting to Sepultura.
Had you heard of his band, Outface?
Igor: Nope, I hadn’t heard one thing until I was sent the tapes!
Did he know anything about Sepultura, though?
Igor: Yeah, he was a fan, but never got to see us live. He had a lot of our CDs.
Has he learned Portuguese yet?
Igor: He’s starting to… There’s so much for him to do since he’s joined the band, a lot of shit to concentrate on and he’s already starting to pick up Portuguese! First it was learning the songs, then writing lyrics, which are on this album, with Andreas, all these things that he’s doing let me know I made the right decision.
Which songs did he collaborate on?
Igor: He wrote some of “Old Earth,” “Floaters In Mud,” and “Hatred Aside” [Jason Newsted also wrote some of the lyrics]. He wrote all the lyrics to “Drowned Out.” He also plays guitar, he doesn’t play guitar on the album, but live he’s going to be playing guitar. Also he’ll start writing when we start concentrating for the next album. Mainly Andreas wrote the songs, and then when Derrick came in they started working together, rearranged some of the stuff that Andreas had already. As far as writing riffs and melodies, they were already there. The music is pretty much a whole effort of the band, which was pretty much done before Derrick came in, but when he did he helped restructure some of the songs.
What are some of the songs about?
Paulo: Lyrically, “Old Earth” deals with what we’re going through today in the last two years with the El Nino situation, it’s crazy, where the old Earth is really revolting against people. In Brazil, when it’s supposed to be winter and it’s too warm, or in summer it’s very cold. The earth is very old, unbalanced, and distraught, and that’s really what it’s about. Nature is getting even…
Igor: “Floaters in Mud” is a crazy concept about a time where Andreas went to see a show in Phoenix. He found out that Max was at the same show, but they couldn’t make contact, it’s like he saw Max on stage, but couldn’t reach him. He felt like they were floating in mud, they couldn’t move, but knew they were there.
It’s definitely a “Sepultura” album, you can tell by the music and the subject of the songs…
Igor: That was our main concern when we were writing. We were thinking about changing the name of the band because we were thinking that the music wasn’t going to be “Sepultura.” But we listened to what we’d written and were convinced it captured the Sepultura spirit and we kept our name. We didn’t know we were going to keep the name until we wrote a lot of stuff for the album.
How long ago was that?
Igor: Actually, we had about 60% of the album pretty much done and we didn’t know if we were going to call ourselves Sepultura. Before we started listening to the demo CD we thought that there was no reason to call ourselves Sepultura, if we were only doing it just to keep the name. It should be something else if the music wasn’t Sepultura. We had a name like “Tribus,” which is Latin for “Tribes” and the name of one of our songs on Against. It’s a name I picked up from a Latin dictionary I was going through, and I thought “that’s a cool name” and that would be the name for Sepultura if we decided not to stay Sepultura.
Paulo Jr.: That was the only thing we thought about very much. That’s why we went into really. It was just a style of the band and it was still there. If it wasn’t we would have changed the name. If we’d had a different sound, we’d definitely had changed.
When I heard this album, it’s Sepultura. I mean, visions of a show I saw of yours in Orlando came into my mind! You had these banners over your speakers that looked like ancient Mayan carvings, they’d light up whenever you hit your bass drum!
Igor: That was during Arise, those faces! That’s an early stage of the whole tribal thing. When we finished Arise we wanted to bring some of that vibe to our show, the early Roots!
It was, the music and you put on a great show. You brought the jungle to the show… So, what’s Against about? Are you still being harassed by the government in Brazil when you play?
Igor: No, but it’s always going to be a way, that they got to keep a close eye on Sepultura, but at the same time they can’t really do anything with us! Like a situation where they do something to us, it just would increase our name so much in Brazil, but any chance they have they really keep Sepultura down. Against is really a state of mind that we were all in this whole year and a half. Once you stop fighting for something you really love, there’s going to be a lot of things against you, and that’s why we called the album that. The main thing was ourselves, the fight that each one of us had inside of against whatever it takes to make us Sepultura still be alive, get the media portraying us in a position we don’t like or people not believing in Sepultura, a million things, really.
On Roots you sought out a non-traditional percussion unit, now on Against, you’ve collaborated with Japanese percussion outfit Kodo. How’d you find out about them, how’d they find out about you?
Igor: Actually, Kodo is a very traditional Japanese percussionist band and they travel all around the world for over ten years and I found out about them during our Chaos A.D. Tour years ago. One day I walked into a record shop and they were playing Kodo, and I was like “fuck! What is this!” It was very strong, it was not metal at all, but just very strong percussion, very loud and I was like “fuck, I got to get this” and the person running the record store said, “this is Kodo…” So I went back to the tour bus with the CD and showed the guys and said “listen to this!” and everyone went “what the fuck!?”
Since then, I’ve seen Kodo many times, and eventually I actually met them through channels. I thought they were more of a folklore band, who only did shows, instead of a music band with CDs and a label. But once I found out they had so much, I went out and bought all their CDs and videos. We got the people at Roadrunner to get in touch with them, which they did. They knew who Sepultura were because we watched them perform live in San Diego, where I live, I went to see them and they knew that we were there watching them because we got tickets through the band. They were very open-minded about working with a band like Sepultura. That was the coolest thing about the whole trip. They’ve done a lot of different collaborations, but never with an extreme band like us. So it was very cool to see how much respect they had for us, independent of the kind of music we play.
How long did the recording session last?
Igor: We were there for about three days, rehearsing and recording.
Did you have any language problems?
Igor: One of their guys spoke really good English and he translated because most of them didn’t speak English. We don’t speak a word, maybe a few words, of Japanese. So we had that, but it was never a problem.
I think it’s amazing that a band so diverse kinds of music could really get into what you were doing. Sepultura continues to amaze me with the different musics you mix into the music.
Igor: I think one of the main reasons is that how open-minded Sepultura is, we don’t set any limits for ourselves, that keeps our music fresh when we’re writing we’re always picking up different things.
Now, tell me about Jason Newsted’s contributions and the weird instruments he plays on Against.
Paulo Jr.: He’s great. Jason’s a guy Andreas’ known for quite a while. Andreas supported Metallica after [Metallica frontman] James Hetfield burned his arm, and from that day they’d kept in touch. Jason’s always been a big fan of the band and always wanted to do something with us. He likes to do all types of music and he had some free time and the chance was right there and it’s something we did.
Where’d you get all those instruments, like the theramin ?
Paulo Jr.: He’s got them all, he has everything. I didn’t even need to bring a pick! He jams with a lot of different people when he’s home and most of the time I don’t think anybody brings anything!
Igor: He’s got a lot of instruments, millions of basses and guitars and shit, he’s our Godfather!
What did you think about playing with someone from Metallica after all these years, considering that Sepultura started out after you and Max listened to second-hand Metallica tapes?
Igor: It’s a trip. If I stop to think about the first time I heard Metallica, or like any of the tapes I had back then, I could never imagine that I would end up playing live with these guys, let alone that they’d come to Brazil. Back in ’85 or ’86, we’re like “yeah, right, we’re going to get to see Slayer and Metallica,” and now we’re at Jason’s house and jamming with him! We’re relaxing and playing music with him, I couldn’t go back in time and tell myself I’d be there!
What’s up for touring this in support of this album?
Igor: We’re touring in October with Earth Crisis and VOD, two very cool bands. After that we do a tour with Slayer in Europe. We’re looking very forward to these two tours. We’ve played festivals with Slayer but never a co-headlining tour.
If you’re a long-time fan of Sepultura or you’re new to the whole metal thing, you will really enjoy the new album and you should see them live. Not only do you get to experience great metal, but you can check out Igor’s awesome tattoo of some sort of evil octopus that covers his entire arm. It’s rad.