Arise is the album that made Sepultura great
With a career that spans 15 studio albums over more than 30 years, and numerous line-up changes – to the point were many would argue that it’s not even the same band anymore – delving into Sepultura’s past is not so much research as whacking a hornets nest with a big stick. There are those who will insist that only the band’s death metal material was any good, while others will argue that current frontman Derrick Green, who replaced Max Cavalera in 1997, is a better man for the job. Some will argue – quite furiously – that the groundbreaking Roots album of 1996 is awful, while others consider it to be their finest work. Opinions, it seems, are like assholes; everyone’s got one and we all think the others stink.
One thing that (nearly) everyone can agree on, however, is that Arise, the band’s 1991 fourth album, is the band’s most important album, both in terms of both commercial success and musical progression. Aside from being Sepultura’s first record to enter the Billboard charts (at number 119), Arise was also the first to gain music certification (gold in Indonesia), and the first to gain them international recognition outside of the metal press. Moreover, it was their first record to feature influences from genres such as hardcore punk and industrial metal, not to mention the tribal drumming that would become a trademark of later recordings.
But to fully understand why Arise is such a big deal, we must go back to a time before the internet. Older readers will get it, of course, but imagine, if you will, not being able to just Google shit. No YouTube, no Spotify, no Bandcamp, just word of mouth and a handful of specialist magazines. The fact that anyone outside of Brazil had even heard of Sepultura was remarkable in itself. That they were becoming a global concern was nothing short of incredible.
Granted, the band had laid the foundations with earlier albums: Morbid Visions in ’86, Schizophrenia in ’87 (which was bootlegged in Europe and later re-released on Roadrunner), and Beneath The Remains in ’89, their first album on Roadrunner. They had even toured Europe in support of Beneath The Remains, opening for Sodom, and made it as far as the U.S. and Mexico.
“I signed Sepultura based on the incredible growth they showed between Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia,” says Roadrunner man Monte Conner. “In between these two albums, Andreas (Kisser, guitar) joined the band. He was by far the best musician in the band at that time, and he really helped step up their game in every way possible, not to mention Max now had a writing partner. Not to take away one ounce from the amazing, powerhouse drumming of Igor, but the Max and Andreas creative partnership was where the true magic of Sepultura came from. Could I have predicted the even bigger leap they would make with Beneath The Remains? While it would be nice to say I saw it coming, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen that kind of monumental leap.”
But Arise was on a totally different level, both in terms of budget and musical prowess. At this point, of course, some of the purists will start to rattle their cages, but let’s be clear: by their own admission, the band didn’t even tune their instruments for Morbid Visions, and they were still learning to speak English. And, yes, Schizophrenia is a fine album, albeit one that largely copies their death and thrash metal influences. Beneath The Remains, likewise, is a great album considering their minimal funds, and a massive step forwards thanks to production by death metal guru Scott Burns. But Arise eclipsed them all.
With Scott at the helm once more, the band were afforded the luxury of taking their time with Arise in a proper studio. Scott had traveled to Brazil for Beneath The Remains, offering the band a huge discount because he was curious to see the country, but this time Sepultura came to him, recording at the legendary Morrisound Studios, in Tampa, Florida. By all accounts, he and drummer Igor Cavalera spent a week getting the drums to sound just right. The album was mixed at Quantum Sound Studios in Jersey City, New Jersey by Andy Wallace, who would later produce Chaos A.D.
So, yes, Arise, is a better album. Perhaps not their best, but, like we said, certainly the most important.
“Arise was definitely the band’s most important release,” agrees Monte. “It was where their relationship with Andy Wallace began, and continued through to Chaos A.D., Roots, and even the first two Soulfly albums. It was the album where the true, modern Sepultura sound began, and it became the foundation for all the music to follow.”
Just one day after they’d finished recording the record, Sepultura set off on a world tour that would span some 220 shows in 39 countries over the course of two years. Despite MTV’s refusal to air the video for the title track, due to its seemingly blasphemous content – several gas-masked Jesus characters being crucified – the band went from strength to strength. They bagged their first Kerrang! magazine cover in June ’91, were the first Brazilian band to play Russia, and the first to play Donington, and Dynamo Festival in Holland. Not to mention headlining Rock In Rio and two colossal stadium shows in Indonesia, playing to 100,000 people.
The year was marred by an incident in Sao Paulo, where the band played a free show. Local police expected maybe 10,000 fans, but instead an estimated 40,000 showed up and ran out of control. Six people were injured, 18 arrested, and one fan was murdered with an axe. But even in the face of this tragedy, there was no stopping the monumental rise of Sepultura.
“I think that out of all of the Sepultura stuff, probably Arise is the closest to my heart,” said Max, some years later, also stating that the title track is one of his favourite songs to play live. “I really love the energy of this song. It’s about war, and it’s really powerful. And I love the chorus: ‘Under the pale grey sky / We shall arise.’ Of course it came from U2’s Under A Blood Red Sky. I totally rip off U2 there. But don’t tell anyone.”
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