Sepultura's ascension in the 1980s from a derivative if energetic death metal band to one of the world's premier thrash metal bands is one of the biggest success stories in heavy metal, especially considering their origins in Belo Horizonte, Brazil – not exactly a hotbed for heavy metal when Sepultura were starting out.
Inspired by the likes of Venom and Celtic Frost, Sepultura released a promising first album (“Morbid Visions”) before really upping their game with their second album “Schizophrenia”. Here they began to take their music in a more thrash metal direction à la other seminal 80s bands such as Metallica, Slayer and Sodom: fast, palm muted guitar riffs anchored by driving drum tempos, and lyrics characterised by Cold War paranoia and an apocalyptic vision of humanity's future.
It was with “Beneath the Remains” that Sepultura released their first stone-cold classic. The production will be primitive to modern ears – the album was recorded in a cheap studio in Rio De Janeiro not exactly suited to documenting a thunderous heavy metal band – but this is actually one of the record's strengths. Compared with the glossy, overproduced sound common to metal records these days – pro-tooled to the hilt with click-tracked drums – this album has a much more honest and organic sonance.
The drumming of Igor Cavalera in particular needs mention: just the right amount of punchiness. One of the best moments on the album is close to the end of “Inner Self” when the drums drop away for a moment as the guitars build to a climax. Beginning with a light brushing of the cymbals and then underpinning the moment with some dextrous double bass work, the song suddenly explodes with a battery of beats. If you don't pump your fist in the air and bang your head there's something wrong with you.
By this point in time Sepultura's musical chops had caught up with their ambitions. Every song sounds like it has a million moving parts, dipping in and out of each of other with frightening complexity. Tempos suddenly shift, chunky riffs spin into the opposite direction or are shattered by mind-blowing guitar solos from lead axeman Andreas Kisser.
Anchoring everything is the gruff vocals of Max Cavalera. Possessed of a gnarly Brazilian accent and sounding seriously PO'd, his lyrics are coloured by the social deprivation and injustice in his native Brazil, even as he makes these themes universal and looks towards a ‘primitive future’.
Sepultura would go on to release several more classic albums. Their next record “Arise” took their thrash metal aesthetic to its logical limit, before they began to incorporate more Brazilian influences into their sound and went in a groove metal direction with “Chaos AD”. These albums would establish Sepultura as metal superstars. But it was with “Beneath the Remains” that Sepultura first truly entered the international consciousness and showed what they were capable of. An absolutely essential album.