We Shall Arise: Meet the underground bands putting Brazil back on the map

Brazil’s brimming rock and metal scene was gearing up to explode, but COVID put a dramatic halt on proceedings. Now, in a country still reeling from its effects, the underground rock world is finding a way forward…

We Shall Arise: Meet the underground bands putting Brazil back on the map
Paul Travers
Violet Soda photos:
Lucca Miranda

In 1985, Iron Maiden played to what remains the largest crowd of their career, as more than 350,000 Brazilian fans turned out to the first night of the inaugural Rock In Rio festival. “We conquered an entire continent overnight with that one show,” Bruce Dickinson would tell Kerrang! decades later. “Rock In Rio was just fucking unbelievable.”

The 10-day festival also featured the likes of Queen, Ozzy Osbourne and AC/DC. It was attended by an estimated 1.4 million people and seemed to be the start of a nationwide obsession with rock and metal. Watch Maiden’s Flight 666 documentary – complete with hordes of rabid fans and a tattoo-covered priest – and you might think that this is a country that still lives and breathes rock music.

“Rock in Rio 1 opened up the minds of the Brazilian audience to rock music,” nods Theo van der Loo, guitarist and occasional bassist with Ego Kill Talent. “All the big bands come to Brazil and do huge concerts – I know lots of bands that are stadium-sized here and are not as big in the U.S. or Europe.”

When it comes to smaller bands and homegrown acts, however, the picture is not quite so rosy. Brazil is vast, both in terms of land mass and population. More than 200 million people call the country home, but very few rock bands have achieved international success. There’s Sepultura, of course, who remain the guiding lights of the scene…

“With Sepultura, I remember being a big fan of their attitude of leaving Brazil after the dream,” says Ego Kill Talent drummer Jean Dolabella. “Going to the U.S. and coming back with a contract – that encouraged everybody to think, ‘We can do it too.’”

In Jean’s case he quite literally did just that, replacing Sepultura’s legendary drummer and founder member Igor Cavalera in 2006. “He's such an iconic drummer. It was a lot of pressure especially at the beginning. The first show was this huge festival in Portugal that was live on MTV but it was an amazing time,” he smiles.

It’s 35 years since Sepultura released their debut album, though. There have been other bands such as Angra and Krisium since, but no-one else has had anything like the same impact as the Seps in all that time.

Project46 are hoping to be the first. Former manager and current bassist Baffo Neto says that the Sao Paulo metallers are now playing to crowds of two-to-three thousand within Brazil, making them the first band of their generation to achieve a major domestic breakthrough. He says that a big reason for this is that they sing in Portuguese, although – with one eye on future expansion – they also reissued an English-language version of their last album, 2017’s TR3S.

“It's a continental country, so if you do well in Brazil you don't really need an international career,” Baffo ponders. “You have to decide if you do music for the world or for Brazil. Now with the internet you can do both, but we decided to concentrate on Brazil first.

“Project46 was the only band that has been able to have a career inside the country, but still it’s not 100 per cent sustainable, so we have plans to expand across borders. Right now we are doing this in South America in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Mexico. We have to geographically progress. We got the idea for the English edition because most of the artists over here from the ’80s and ’90s did Spanish versions of their albums in order to expand through South America.”

As for why bands have struggled so much to break out both domestically and internationally, Baffo puts a lot of it down to economics.

“In January 2020 I went to see Hollywood Undead in London,” he begins. “That show sold maybe 2,000 tickets at £35 each. In Brazil they can’t afford the equivalent of £35, so tickets are maybe £10. That means you have to sell three times as many tickets for the same return. And at the same time, something like an Ibanez guitar costs three times more in Brazil than in the U.S. It’s very expensive to sustain a band in this country, which helps explain why there are not as many bands that come out of this whole territory.”

Baffo adds that major record labels stopped investing in rock and metal at the end of the ’90s, essentially creating a very much underground and independent scene. His own band grew from the ashes of a Slipknot tribute band – guitarists Vinicius Castellari and Jean Patton playing the roles of Number 4 and Number 6 respectively, hence the name Project46. They’ve since evolved into an absolutely killer unit, bringing together elements of groove, thrash, metalcore and death metal all blended into their own unique sonic stew. The band were all set to sit out 2020 anyway as “a chemical addiction within the band” saw one of the members entering rehab. They’re now ready to resume their path to world domination (or at least recognition) but, with the pandemic still very much at play in Brazil – at the time of writing there are still close to 2,000 deaths daily in the country – they remain on hold for now.

For Ego Kill Talent the pandemic was a lot more disruptive. At the start of 2020 they had an album ready to drop and tours and festivals lined up with the likes of Metallica and System Of A Down throughout the U.S. and Europe. The band have a more mainstream rock sound than Project46 and it sounds purpose-built for the arenas of the world.

“The band started with me and Jean when he had just left Sepultura and I had no idea how it would sound,” recalls Theo. “We were like, 'Okay, we love the metal world, we love the guitar riffs, but we are also passionate about melodies.' I think our sound spans both worlds – from pop to metal – and it's very natural.”

If Project46 and Ego Kill Talent are the two bands most likely to break out of Brazil, the enforced sense of independence that Baffo describes has also resulted in a creative – if somewhat fractured – underground scene.

Far From Alaska hail from Natal in the northeast of Brazil, but were forced to move to Sao Paulo – the largest city in the Americas – as a matter of logistical necessity.

“Natal is a very cool city with a really strong rock scene, but Brazil is so big, it's like five countries in one,” explains Cris Botarelli, who plays synth and bass with the band. “Sao Paulo sucks but it’s where we have most of our concerts: in the city and the countryside around it. You can tour Sao Paulo while driving but to get anywhere from Natal you have to fly.”

Her band plays a genre-blending mix of sinuous Queens Of The Stone Age-style stoner rock, mixed with garage rock, pop and electronic elements. “We consider ourselves part of this Natal scene where you don't know if the music is old or new or if it's grungy or if it's stoner. It's something very Natal to have this way of thinking, the same attitude,” Cris grins.

The band crowdfunded their last album, Unlikely, which appears to be the common way of working in the new Brazilian underground, although they won’t be using that model for their forthcoming third full-length.

“Rock is not a mainstream genre in Brazil right now, so fans are used to being part of the process,” Cris explains. “It's not something that only we did, I think almost every band that was doing stuff also involved the fans. We won't do it this time though because it was a very cheap album to record: we couldn’t get together, so we pretty much made it on the computer.

“The state government is thinking ahead and opening this programme where you can get some money to record and play gigs and record videos,” she says, adding that the federal government have “done absolutely nothing to help”.

“You apply for that and you have to give something back to the government like free gigs or whatever you can think of. So this time we'll do things this way and hopefully the pandemic will be over soon and we can release the album and get back to playing shows.”

Violet Soda are yet another band who had to hit the pause button, although they ended up using the time to record an unplugged version of their 2019 self-titled debut.

“We made the album and we never got to tour it; we played just three gigs before everything happened, so we thought we would revisit the songs,” says singer Karen Dio.

The resulting record takes huge inspiration to those classic MTV Unplugged shows, which is apt as there is a huge streak of ’90s influence running through Violet Soda’s sound, running the gamut from grunge to alt.rock and pop-punk.

“At the beginning it was natural because that's what we grew up with,” explains guitarist Murilo Benites. “The ’90s sound was natural but we also tried to experiment with other directions and aim for a broader inspiration. We’re also trying to add a more modern twist so it's like a milkshake mix of all these things!”

So is there a thriving underground scene in Brazil right now?

“It's hard to say,” shrugs Karen. “The rock scene was about to grow before the pandemic. Lots of bands were starting up and there were loads of bands with girls as well, which is great because it’s been very male-dominated until recently. The scene was maybe about to explode.”

“The rock scene has hardly ever been mainstream since the ’80s,” adds Murilo. “It's always been very much an underground scene, but I think bands have learned to be more organised and creative and that’s why it had started growing again.”

The burgeoning success of some of the scene’s leading lights has also started to have a knock-on effect. “There's a phenomenon we're seeing with our 46 logo,” says Baffo. “We’ve seen around 3,000 tattoos of that and a lot of those people have gone on to start their own bands. I think we're inspiring a lot of new bands. It’s not there yet, but there's a strong movement that’s starting to grow to build a strong metal scene.”

“The music is spreading,” adds Violet Soda’s Karen. “Like just through the internet it’s amazing that we can see we have fans now in India and Japan. And then Brody [Dalle] from The Distillers followed me and I was like, ‘What the fuck, how did this happen?’ I remember I started crying, I couldn’t believe it. And Billie Joe [Armstrong, Green Day] as well when he followed Violet, and Mark [Hoppus] from blink-182. We can become friends with our fans and our idols know who we are. It's amazing!”

It’s still an uncertain time and no-one really knows what will happen next. One thing is for certain, though: there’s a lot of musical talent lurking in Brazil, whether it’s fermenting in the depths of the underground or bubbling over and looking towards a much wider audience. When the explosion will happen, only time will tell, but there are some amazing bands out there for anyone who takes a look.

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