Brazilian thrashers opened up a whole new can of worms with its third studio album
Sepultura’s 1999 seminal album Beneath the Remains was an absolute game changer in the heavy metal world. The band’s third full-length album (released April 7, 1989 through Roadrunner Records), was unleashed upon unsuspecting metalheads who would soon welcome the “Jungle Boys” from Brazil with open arms.
Formed in 1984 in Belo Horizonte, the Cavalera brothers, Max (guitars/vocals) and Igor (drums), along with Paulo Jr. (bass) and Jairo Guedz (lead guitar), who would be replaced by Andreas Kisser in 1987, were driven to succeed by their love of metal. Hailing from a poor and corrupt area of Brazil, the opportunity for the band to be signed by an American label and release Beneath the Remains to such overwhelming praise was a classic “rags to riches” storyline.
Releasing its debut studio album Morbid Visions in 1986, which Roadrunner reissued in 1991 and included bonus tracks from its EP Bestial Devastation, was a decent introduction into the local Brazilian metal scene. However, it was 1987’s full-length album Schizophrenia that really opened the door for Sepultura to the International metal world. Current Sepultura guitarist Andreas Kisser told me in a 2016 interview that “Roadrunner signed Sepultura because of Schizophrenia. Beneath the Remains and everything else happened because of that album.”
Former Senior Vice President of A&R for Roadrunner Records Monte Conner, responsible for signing Sepultura, agrees.
“Yeah, that’s true. When I signed Sepultura, the record that was current at the time for them was Schizophrenia,” Conner explained to Rock and Roll Globe during a recent phone interview. “I had heard them on Bestial Devastation, and then of course we got Morbid Visions, but Schizophrenia was the record I heard that I felt like, ‘Wow, these guys have huge potential.’ My love for Schizophrenia is what prompted me to sign the band.”
Along with Conner, Blabbermouth founder Borivoj Krgin and Kerrang! journalist Don Kaye — described as the three Musketeers of the New York underground metal scene — were very important conduits in getting Sepultura discovered and hooking them up with producer Scott Burns, who had a great reputation as an engineer at Morrisound studios in Tampa, Fla.
Recorded over Christmas in 1988 in Rio De Janeiro at Nas Nuvens Studio, Burns was flown to Brazil to record the album.
“Scott Burns was an up and coming guy and engineer in Florida,” Conner said. “I had found Scott because he produced the Obituary Slowly We Rot record, or at least what was to become the Slowly We Rot record. We flew him down to Rio, and from what I remember, the whole record was done (there). When the record was done, Scott burns flew back to Florida at Morrisound to mix (it).” From start to finish, every single one of the album’s nine death-thrash attacks are equally memorable and musically punishing. The combination of Kisser’s piercing guitar melodies with the pummeling rhythm section of Paulo Jr. and Igor, as well as Max’s primitive vocal barks — along with his chugging, precision-like riffs that changed at the drop of a dime — solidified the band’s skillful attack.
The title track opens the album with a haunting acoustic instrumental segment for the first 49 seconds before unleashing a barrage of blasting drums, distortion-laden guitar riffs and harsh-barked vocals that no one at the time had heard anything quite like it before. Second track “Inner Self” packs even more of a punch by possessing one of the greatest metal riffs ever to grace the genre, accompanied by Igor’s pummeling double bass and machine gun-like snare drum rudiments.
On third track, “Stronger Than Hate,” prog/death-thrashers Atheist vocalist Kelly Shaefer was brought in to write the lyrics and to help Max with his phrasing and pronunciation. Max’s broken English only added to the charm of his harsh vocals.
“They were in need of some lyrics and at that time, Max was still learning English,” Shaefer explained during a recent phone interview. “They thought it’d be easier if I wrote a couple songs and they ended up using them. Once they chose the song, I went up to Tampa and worked with Max on it and did some backups on it as well.”
The anthemic “Mass Hypnosis” with its chantable chorus and worn-torn, brainwashed soldier lyrics is decorated with Kisser’s fiery guitar solo, while “Sarcastic Existence’s ascending double bass rudiments and aggressive hardcore riffing segues into a choppy staccato rhythm. “Slaves of Pain,” “Lobotomy” and “Hungry” round out the back half, while album closer “Primitive Future” perfectly ends the 42-minute album with an exploding, finale thud.
On the artistic side, Beneath the Remains was Sepultura’s first album in a series of albums to feature Connecticut-based fantasy illustrator Michael Whelan’s brilliant cover art. The painting wasn’t specifically commissioned by the label but was selected by the band from Whelan’s vast portfolio.
However, there was a bit of controversy over the cover art work. Originally, Max and the band wanted the cover art from Whelan to be what later became Obituary’s Cause of Death cover, but Nightmare in Red was ultimately picked by Conner’s boss Doug Keogh at the label.
The band was pissed.
“(Roadrunner) kind of made the executive decision without consulting with the band that we were using this other cover, and the band was fucking pissed,” Conner remembered. “They blamed me because I was the A&R guy, they didn’t know Doug Keogh. So, when we changed the cover art work and we gave the cover art work to Obituary later, the band were furious because they blamed me. Even though I explained to the band that it wasn’t my decision.”
However, I think the band agrees today that it was ultimately the best decision to use Nightmare in Red. Of course, Whelan was then commissioned to paint their next album, the brilliant Arise, as well as their next two.
Beneath the Remains will always top numerous metal publications’ top 10 records of all time, and it still holds up well 30 years later as one of the best “Thrashterpieces” ever created.
AUDIO: Sepultura Beneath The Remains (full album stream)