Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalog. Well, every Wednesday morning, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Deciblog to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This week, Jonathan Horsley is “for” Sepultura’s Against.
Oh my, it was just so damn sad when Max Cavalera left the Sepultura tribe in 1997. Full-grown heshers were in floods of tears, not least at how expensive it would be to laser off the tattooed spinal cord “S” motif from their bicep, calf and/or family pet. How could it have all ended so suddenly after dropping the 1996 National Geographic Nu-Metal Album of the Year and dB Hall of Fame inductee Roots? That brotherly esprit de corps that Max and the boys had fostered seemingly looked incorrigible. Even against the mounting pressure of being a metal band who’d officially become a big deal, they seemed OK. Going native and hiring the in-demand producer of the day, Ross Robinson, to help them realize their creative vision and potential; that’s just what bands do after a while—i.e., lose their shit. But losing their frontman; Max Cavalera was their leonine alpha male totem. His brother Igor played the drums. It was like witnessing the disintegration of metal’s first family. Ergo to some, it was the end of the world.
But in the cold light of day, as awesome as he was, it was just a case of the singer upping sticks, taking his wife and their manager, Gloria, with him. Maybe Max also took a great deal of the label’s faith in Sepultura, the unit-shifter (people still bought CDs back then), and that would harm the band, too, eventually. But given that Max’s return to the spotlight was with the hastily assembled Soulfly—who not so much now, but definitely then, were a confederacy of groove and nu-metal flotsam and jetsam, personnel-wise and music-wise, even having the temerity to have perma-villain/noxious turd Fred Durst guesting on the first single, “Bleed”—was Max such a huge loss after all? His head was in world music and writing easy-peasy riffs for Trustafarian dropouts to headbang to. That first Soulfly record was Max Cavalera without the checks and balances from trusted lieutenant guitarist Andreas Kisser, and it made for ugly listening.
So, give up a round of applause then for Sepultura’s remaining members—Kisser, bassist Paulo Jr. and Max’s little brother Igor—for getting on with the show and bringing on board Ohio’s biggest man, statuesque former nightclub bouncer Derrick Green, and recording the righteous Against. It was a tense, awkward album that was unfairly shat upon by bedwetting mopes looking for the Amazonian Life Is Peachy. Against sounded suitably nocturnal, bridging the gap between the double doozies of 1989’s Beneath the Remains and 1991’s Arise, and the band’s pre-Green experimental period. Moreover, Kisser’s riff patterns hoisted Sepultura out of nu-metal registers and into pastures new for them. There was a bold hardcore, metalcore aggression; one that Earth Crisis and Integrity could take a bit of credit for, and in some of the riffs, Chris Haskett from Rollins Band, too. If Against has its rough edges, it more than makes up for it in ideas—hardly a sign of a band withering in Max’s shadow, at least not creatively.
For some context, let’s all agree that Beneath the Remains was Sepultura’s finest album, and “Primitive Future” from said album is their best song. On either side of Beneath the Remains, Schizophrenia was undercooked necro fun, and Arise had the tunes, but sounded muddy (the band argues it was rushed). Chaos A.D. was Sepultura’s awakening, like their heads were turned by Pantera’s groove, or maybe just the incorporation of indigenous rhythms lent itself to them slowing shit down. Roots was a great story and a product of its time, but it has dated badly. Sure, it was a great idea, but who in full possession of their faculties still sticks their first-day-release stamped digipak on the car stereo and thinks that this was some profound act of heavy metal paradigm shifting? Roots was exciting for a while, and was—all things considered—the best nu-metal album ever; principally because it was inspired by Brazilian politics and real stuff, and not just this Californ-I-Ay nu-style of sportswear and woe-is-me horseshit. Also, bear in mind that nu-metal field is pretty thin. Against, despite poor initial sales and writing the first chapter in world apathy towards a post-Max Sepultura, still sounds gnarly and fresh.
Sepultura’s next move was always going to be under intense scrutiny. Fundamentalists wanted them to change the name; so, too did Max Cavalera, who insisted it wasn’t Sepultura. But it wouldn’t be much of a tribe if it were to fall apart the instant an elder collected aerosol cans, built a jetpack, played bingo in the clouds and defected to Alderaan. Derrick Green was a man with shoulders broad enough to carry the standard—shit, you could hang the flag from him and it’d be seen in neighboring states. And Green being American didn’t exactly dilute the message; he got down with the whole Brazilian thing and moved to Sao Paolo. Fans eagerly waiting to hear what Sepultura V2.0 would sound like got a taster via the anticlimactic “Boycott,” which was released ahead of the drop through magazine covermounts. The tension was palpable, and maybe that dread/expectation nexus was what juiced Against with so much attitude.
The intro from Igor on the album’s opener and title track was as much a mission statement as it was a segue into an up-tempo tornado, the likes of which were endangered species under the old guard. Then came “Choke,” which, despite the clunky chorus, still maintained the adrenaline high from vicariously taking in a band re-branding themselves behind a new leader. And no, that leader probably isn’t Derrick Green. He’s ebullient and charismatic enough, but doesn’t really have the ego to pin the band on him. Instead, the new Sepultura spoke with a more collective voice, even if that was used just to answer questions about reconciliation with the erstwhile Cavalera and, y’know, is that delicate flower, Derrick Green, going to be OK up there barking out the old standards and new ragers alike?
Against has its off moments. The aforementioned “Boycott” shuffles along tentatively, and sometimes overall they drop the tempo when they should be jacking it as hard as they can. But, fuck, it gets the job done. “Reza,” featuring João Gordo from R.D.P., and “Hatred Aside,” featuring our buddy Jason Newsted (remember him?) from Echobrain and some other no-marks, are both hardcore blasters that took Sepultura to hitherto uncharted territory, more urban than jungle. Kisser’s off-kilter riffing lends Against this gurning, teeth-grinding quality, an unease that needed to be expunged, not manufactured, to add some danger to the recording. Even in the mid-paced slurry, Sepultura are forging ahead, coming across almost like Prong or Unsane. What sounded like a band in limbo at the time still sounds fresh, alien and fascinating once again. Green shoots of recovery or something like that; above all, Against was/is a grower for sure.
4. Old Earth
5. Floaters in Mud
8. Common Bonds
10. Reza (ft. João Gordo)
13. Drowned Out
14. Hatred Aside (ft. Jason Newsted)