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Half-rotting ghouls dismembering and devouring a pregnant woman. Horned half-man, half-beast creatures having sex with decomposing female corpses. Rivers of blood gushing past while Satan has a good laugh. Welcome to the world of death-metal album covers.
Of all the factions that metal music has created--speed metal, punk metal, pop metal, grind core--death metal is the most offensive. Volume and shock value are its biggest drawing cards. Songs about summoning Satan, devouring human flesh and having sex with the dead are silly, and the fact that death-metal bands pride themselves on gory album covers speaks volumes about their music.
At first glance, the band Sepultura looks to fit that bill--menacing stares, spooky tattoos, long, raven curls. The cover of its last album, Arise, was a cross between the Tower of Babel and the creature from the Alien films. Although its assaultive music fits squarely into the Slayer-Metallica-Mot”rhead axis of volume n' speed thrash, Sepultura is not your average turn-it-up, gore-and-grind death-metal band.
First, it is the only Brazilian metal act of any kind to achieve international notoriety. According to its record label, Arise is one of the largest-selling death-metal albums of all time. Sepultura achieved this fame in spite a huge language barrier. To break into the Anglo-American-dominated record business, this group of Portuguese-speaking mosh men had to learn to write and sing in English.
And while the group's music is standard, machine-gun-tempo mayhem, its lyrics talk about something other than necrophilia, cannibalism and the other depravities. Unlikely as it may seem, this is a metal band whose members say they're concerned with social injustice and ignorance. Although some of its sensitivity can be written off as PC posturing, Sepultura is at least thinking about something other than making noise and being buddies with Beelzebub. While lines like "Land of anger/I didn't ask to be born/Sadness, sorrow/Everything so alone" (from "Dead Embryonic Cells"), or "Confused leaders behind our backs/Stifling our ideas/Misunderstand signs of progress/Minds of time regress" (from "Subtraction") aren't exactly Dylan, they ain't Cannibal Corpse, either.
Although its name--which is Portuguese for "grave" and was taken from the Mot”rhead song "Dancing on Your Grave"--screams death metal, Sepultura really deals in hate metal. Instead of castles, demons and corpses, this band loves to attack organized religion and repressive government--in its view, the twin evils of its native Brazil.
All this from a band whose oldest member is 24, and which has recently transplanted to Phoenix. For how long is anyone's guess.
At the group's rehearsal room in South Phoenix--located in an Argo warehouse, a few doors from where Sacred Reich practices--the vibe is that of a family. Inside the cavernous space, empty beer cans are piled in two corner trash cans. Like spoils of war, the walls are covered in billboard-size posters from tour stops in Indonesia and Germany. Several of the custom black-and-gold backdrops the band brings on tours and a Brazilian flag complete the decoration.
The floor of the room is empty save for two ripped, gold Naugahyde couches that face the band's stage set. Metal grating surrounds a raised drum platform. On either side of the drums is the band's pride and joy--two stacks of vintage Marshall speaker boxes, just like its heroes Deep Purple and Black Sabbath used to have. The group says that much of the money it's made from touring and albums has been spent on equipment. In Brazil, this kind of gear is priceless.
On January 19 at Humana Desert Valley Hospital in Paradise Valley, Max Cavalera and girlfriend-manager Gloria Bujnowski had a son, Zyon. The newborn has become a regular fixture at the band's thundering rehearsals. Lead screamer Max Cavalera is even showing signs, albeit metallic ones, of becoming a doting father. A direct-to-DAT recording that Cavalera made of Zyon's heartbeat may appear on the band's next album. In true metal-band fashion, this proud papa has even had his son's name tattooed across his own knuckles.
Since its arrival here, the band has written and rehearsed much of what will be on its upcoming new album. The as-yet-untitled set will be recorded in England in June for a fall release. The album is being produced by Andy Wallace, who engineered Nirvana's Nevermind, among other projects. The biggest news, though, is that this little metal band from Brazil has been signed by the largest record label in the world, decidedly nonmetallic Sony Music.
Max Cavalera says the new album will be "more monster."
"The songs won't be as fast, but they'll be more pissed off, aggressive," he says. ". . . We're also going to do different things, like add tribal drums and every kind of fucked-up instrument you can imagine--mix it all and see what happens."
It's obvious that over the years, the band's members have developed a finely tuned sense of us against the world. Cavalera thinks it's the key to their success.
"Traveling on trains. Getting beat up by cops. Sleeping behind the stage. It's part of growing up. It's part of the nature of this stuff," he says. "If you don't have that kind of background, you can't be a band like us."
Like most American headbangers, the members of Sepultura began their journey into volume by listening to the proto-metal pioneers: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. In Brazil, though, records were hard to find and prohibitively expensive. To hear new sounds, Max, Igor and their friends would make the trip from their hometown of Belo Horizonte to Sao Paulo, where there was a record shop that would make tapes of the latest records by American rock-metal bands. The Cavalera brothers were the only ones in Belo Horizonte--A town with more churches than houses"--who'd even heard of a band like Kiss.