THE EARLY YEARS: PROTO-DEATH METAL
Sepultura was one of the early bands who can be described as death metal. The sound was rooted in thrash, but with more extreme vocals, Max Cavalera's harsh rasp at the time. Morbid Visions was their first full length album, and my copy has the Bestial Devastation EP (their very first recording) tacked on as a bonus. The sound was raw, the drummer Igor Cavalera frequently played out of time, the vocals were not consistent, the bassist could barely be heard, and the production was terrible. It's a classic album, and to this day one of my favorites. All of the faults just add to the charm of this early death metal album.
Schizophrenia was next. Still a little more on the death metal side of things, the musicianship improved by leaps and bounds. The guitar solos sounded better and Max fully developed his harsh growl that he still uses to this day. The album also featured one of their most recognizable songs "Escape to the Void". It was clear at this point that the band was headed in the thrash direction and would be one of the leaders in the scene.
THRASH METAL YEARS
Beneath the Remains is one of the all time greatest thrash metal albums. More of a brutal thrash metal record as Max's vocals were certainly not for the weak of heart. The first few songs were classic tracks and still are popular with fans of the band and thrash in general. The rest of the album drags a little bit but remains at a high level.
Arise carried on with the sound of Beneath the Remains. Once more, several classic songs appeared making this another classic thrash record. This was the height of Sepultura's career creatively. The dual guitar work of Max Cavalera and Andreas Kisser was tighter than it had ever been, Igor Cavalera had turned out to be a very capable drummer, and bassist Paulo Jr. is one of the better bass players in the scene.
Other releases that I picked up in this time period were the Dead Embryonic Cells CD single featuring a cover of Motorhead's classic "Orgasmatron", and Third World Posse, an EP featuring a few live songs, a cover of a Dead Kennedys song, and "Dead Embryonic Cells". These releases are not essential unless one is a huge fan of the band, however Sepultura is an incredible live band.
GROOVE METAL YEARS
Sepultura begn declining creatively after Arise. The popularity of groups like Pantera and Machine Head began to rub off on them and they altered their sound to get more in line with the popular trend. The songs became simpler and slower, the vocals remained basically the same, the bass became a much more prominent instrument, and the guitar solos toned down. Sepultura did succeed in becoming a more popular band.
Chaos A.D. was the first album released in this period. The opening track "Refuse/Resist" is possibly their most well-known song. "Territory" won an MTV Brazil Video Music Award. The biggest development though was the song "Kaiowas" which was an acoustic instrumental song showcasing the band's Brazillian roots. Not a bad album, it just pales in comparison to their previous work.
Roots was next, an album which saw the band expand upon the tribal influences seen in "Kaiowas". Many songs featured tribal drums instead of the standard drum set. "Itsari" was an acoustic song played in the jungle with Xavante people chanting over the top. Unfortunately, the songwriting suffered greatly and there were very few standout tracks. Roots was a critical and commercial success, but widely panned by metalheads.
The band also released an EP called Refuse/Resist featuring the song of the same name, a couple of other tracks, and some live songs. Finally, after Roots released, the record label Roadrunner decided to capitalize on the band's newfound fame and release Blood-Rooted, a collection of rare tracks and live versions of songs.
Unfortunately, soon after, singer Max Cavalera left the band due to a dispute between his wife, band manager Gloria Cavalera, and guitarist Andreas Kisser. This lead to Derrick Green becoming the new singer. Against was the first album released under the newly formed band. Essentially Roots II, this album offered nothing new and Green was not the dynamic frontman that Max had been. The band went on to release several more albums. Max went on to form Soulfly which has released several albums along the veins of Roots as well.
Recently Igor Cavalera left Sepultura leaving Andres Kisser as the only original member of the band. Igor and Max rejoined to form Cavalera Conspiracy which combines the groove metal sound and thrash metal sound. Not a bad album, but not a full time band either. Max is still busy with Soulfly while Sepultura just released a new album as well.
Sepultura has been accused of being a bandwagon jumping band and there is certainly evidence to that effect. Starting out as a proto-death metal band, Sepultura softened their sound to the thrash metal that was popular in the late 1980's. After Pantera and Machine Head popularized the groove sound, Sepultura followed along. When nu-metal became popular with groups like Korn, Sepultura again dumbed down their music. Fortunately, they released some killer albums during the time.