Thrash ‘Til Death #49: Sepultura (Brazil) 1984-1991

THRASH ‘TIL DEATH is a 50 week long set of features exploring the legends who crossed over between thrash and death metal between 1983-1993. The focus is primarily on under-served, unknown, and exemplar bands/releases. The selection is comprehensive but the numbering is not indicative of any type of rank or value: The order of band appearance is arbitrarily chosen. E-mail me if you want to suggest any relevant bands!

Few bands shaped my initial approach to heavy music in the early 90’s more than Sepultura did thanks to discovering ‘Beneath the Remains’ and ‘Arise’. Their approach was as accessible as Metallica and Slayer but as dark as the Morbid Angel and Immolation records I’d heard nearby, it was the perfect balance of both worlds at the time. Not only that but this was a restless bunch that’d encourage change at every turn, sometimes asking the fan to bend far, far too much as the decade progressed. From their early days as metal/punk kids in Belo Horizonte, Brazil up through their Scott Burns produced early trilogy, this ’84-’91 era of the band represents my favorite qaudrilogy of albums period. I’ll try not to focus on personal stories here, and generally stick to what made these albums special in a more general sense. I’ve also included some important side-note releases from Guerrilha, Pestilence, The Mist and a few others that are relevant to musicians who were important for the early days of the band and the scene that birthed them. We start in Belo Horizonte where Slayer, Ratos De Parao, and the warfare noise of the scene around them saw Sepultura forming as one of the earliest bestial thrash bands in their area alongside Megathrash, Armmagedon, Sarcófago, Chakal, D.E.T.H. etc. where they weren’t just a ‘scene’ band but enthusiastic leaders in a very real extreme music movement. Hey! I’ve done my best to research as much as I can but please feel free to message me ( or leave a comment if I’ve left out anything vital or gotten something horribly wrong!

Artist Overdose / Sepultura
Title [Type/Year] Século X.X. / Bestial Devastation [Split/1985]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

As far as I know this split between Minas Gerais born heavy/power-thrashers Overdose and Belo Horizonte black/death progeny Sepultura was the first release from the legendary Cogumelo Produções which would later change their name to Cogumelo Records. Before the world would choke on Warfare Noise they’d get this unassuming underground split that couldn’t have been more weirdly matched. Overdose would eventually become better known for their poor attempts at groove metal in the 90’s but this is a fine starting point leading up to their debut ‘…Conscience…’ (1987), a general peak for their pure heavy metal style. Sepultura on the other hand could be credited with forging an important blueprint for early extreme metal throughout South America on their ‘Bestial Devastation’ side. Hellhammer, Slaughter, Messiah, Poison, Kreator, Slayer, Possessed, all of these bands had an unlikely contemporary in Sepultura circa 1985 but most of the world wouldn’t know this until 1991 when Roadrunner Records would release a remastered version of ‘Morbid Visions’ and ‘Bestial Devastation’ as a compilation CD.

Extreme as this timelessly savage material from Sepultura is, the style is not at huge leap from what the underground within Germany and Switzerland was doing at the time. The major differentiation comes from drummer Igor “Skullcrusher” whose tom rolls and general sense of rhythm was already notable beyond the archetypal death metal the band were playing. This EP also notably features guitarist Jairo Guedz Braga who would most notably later join underrated thrashers The Mist and also feature in Belo Horizonte band Guerrilha alongside Max and Igor from Sepultura as well as Sílvio Gomes (Mutilator) who has been a roadie for Sepultura for years. The arms race for extremity would spread across Brazil at this point of inception, at least more than it had been since 1983-1984 when Slayer and Metallica records hit the country.


Artist Guerrilha
Title [Type/Year] Rehearsal ’86 [Demo/1986]
Rating [2.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

It bears mention that even though folks have deified early Sepultura works as works of progenitors and masters of late 80’s thrash and beyond… They were dumbass punk/metal kids back in the mid-80’s and Guerrilha is a good reminder of that. This rehearsal demo features the Cavalera brothers (Max on bass, Igor on drums) alongside early Sepultura guitarist Jairo and original Mutilator vocalist Sílvio. This is definitely more in the thrashcore vein, that wild South American precursor to war metal that was equal parts Ratos de Parao and Vulcano. Check out a quick live set from 1986, a couple months before Sepultura had released ‘Morbid Visions’ [Click/Tap Here], with a different vocalist Gentil (Mayhem, see: Warfare Noise comp.)

Artist Sepultura
Title [Type/Year] Morbid Visions [LP/1986]
Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

This debut full-length from Sepultura can rightfully be considered one of the first death metal full-lengths and certainly one of the most extreme metal centric records from the band’s classic era. From my point of view it is a prime balance of death and thrash metal styles with consideration for ‘death metal’ not being entirely defined in 1986 as it would be later. 80’s death metal, if you will. This is Sepultura at thier most brutal, bestial, and havoc causing state where a head full of 80’s hardcore punk and ripping heavy metal would deliver songwriting on the level of Kreator‘s ‘Pleasure to Kill’ nearby. Most of the world, the above ground metal crowd, wouldn’t discover this album until 1991 after Sepultura had released their fourth album to worldwide acclaim; For this reason ‘Morbid Visions’ is seen as a primitive, unlistenable mush of ideas but it is far more sophisticated and heavy than it is given credit and surely features as a solid accompaniment to the much more popular ‘Schizophrenia’. If you’re not hearing a version of Carmina Burana on the album then you’re listening to a remastered version of ‘Morbid Visions’ so, keep in mind that all of the original recordings from Sepultura leading up to ‘Arise’ were originally far more raw, even the Scott Burns/Morrisound stuff. I prefer the originals! Listen to the original title track [Here] and decide for yourself if it has more character; I love all of that nasty reverb that made the original guitar sound so crazed and powerful.

As for interesting trivia for this release… I mean, it is the only release to feature bassist Paulo Junior until ‘Chaos A.D.’ (1993) and the last to feature guitarist Jairo Braga before the Cavalera brothers would recruit Andreas Kisser from São Paulo based thrashers Pestilence. One of the engineers for the album played keyboards on Mystifier‘s ‘Göetia’. The cover artist for this album, ‘Schizophrenia’ and classic albums from Chakal, Holocausto, Psychic Possessor, Sex Trash etc. albums was the brother of Cogumelo Records founder Pat.


Artist Pestilence
Title [Type/Year] Slaves of Pain [Demo/1987]
Rating [N.A/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

A small side-note for folks who’re looking for early trivia, Andreas Kisser‘s first band was named Esfinge and they played mostly 80’s metal covers from Black Sabbath to Twisted Sister. By 1987 they’d changed their name to Pestilence without realizing there were bands in Netherlands, Hungary, and the United States with that same name and recorded a two song demo that wasn’t widely circulated. Although folks have suggested that some of these compositions were early versions of songs Kisser would re-write for Sepultura on ‘Schizophrenia’ this isn’t true, he would write some lyrics with similar themes and phrases, though. Despite claims that “Escape to the Void” is a cover (with different lyrics) of “Escape Into the Mirror” by Pestilence, this is not true… The opposite is true actually, that some of the lyrics were used from the original song and the music was entirely different. The live clip that a superfan uploaded on YouTube I’ve linked might as well be a Sunn O))) demo.

Artist Sepultura
Title [Type/Year] Schizophrenia [LP/1987]
Rating [5.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube | Spotify

Here’s one of the weirdest fuckin’ stories in the history of thrash metal where guitarist Jairo Guedz basically wrote the entirety of ‘Schizophrenia’ minus vocals and one or two songs then just before finishing it… decided he was sick of death metal and left the band. Max and Igor quickly snatched up Andreas Kisser, a shred-capable player with a much more refined skill level, and finished the songs. The rest is history and I guess the way things fell into place was all for the sake of the musicians doing what they wanted to do, regardless. ‘Schizophrenia’ is that sweet spot in Sepultura‘s formative years where they’d hit upon the industry standard for late 80’s thrash metal speed and precision but still had their raw Belo Horizonte underground death metal sound. Did that underground scene ever top this album? I guess that is a matter of opinion but by most standards it was ‘Beneath the Remains’ that was truly untouchable on a worldwide thrash metal scale, this record is largely seen as a first draft of that record by many fans. This is where the characteristic early Sepultura sound was first identifiable and where the band differentiated themselves from what the rest of the extreme thrash world was doing. These were barreling, high speed thrashers chunked out at an unheard-of pace and this album set a new standard of intensity that influenced thrash, death and everything in between at the time. This is where the band blew up and attracted the intrepid folks at Roadracer Records (pre-Roadrunner) who’d host the bands releases from 1989 through 2001.

‘Schizophrenia’ is one of the first records I’d seen in my local record shop and had to have immediately, it was the 1990 reissue which I guess was the first of many remasters of this notoriously rough and beaten up recording session. Beyond that 1990 Fullersound remaster from Scott Burns the 1997 second run of remasters from Roadrunner Records is palatable enough; Don’t bother with any other version, though, as it is one of the most notoriously bootlegged records I’ve come across, I don’t even bother looking for early pressings on Discogs anymore.

Artist Sepultura
Title [Type/Year] Beneath the Remains [LP/1989]
Rating [5.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube: Side A | Side B 

I’ve never liked how bigger music publications portray Brazil in the late 80’s, as if it were a violent jungle, a primitive ‘third world’ Hell rather than a corrupt division of social classes not unlike much of the world past and present… Sure the streets that birthed Sepultura were rough, and this sort of violent music isn’t possible without some exposure to some kind of raw existence. Sepultura‘s earliest influences were just as violent, though, in their protest of local and global insanity of the 80’s and by most accounts ‘Schizophrenia’ had gone a step beyond those influences, preparing the world for a new level of speed and mayhem in music. ‘Beneath the Remains’ was the new death metal, that big fuckin’ ripper that brutal thrashers could get behind and heavy metal lifers couldn’t deny. This wasn’t far from genre-defining debuts from Obituary and Morbid Angel on the death metal timeline and it’d been recorded (er, mix/mastered) almost in tandem with Atheist‘s ‘Piece of Time’, hell it even features Kelly Shaefer’s lyrics on “Stronger than Hate” along with backing vocals from a lot of the Morrisound crew at the time (Obituary, Incubus, Atheist). By all accounts this was -the- band blurring the line between new found death metal and classic thrash metal, kicking it towards an unknown future. These days most folks would file this under ‘classic thrash’, Hell, I put it as #1 on my top 50 classic thrash albums… and that is fair enough but, at the time it was a key release for death metal all the same. Probably my most listened to record of all time.

Even here on their third record Sepultura were still hammering out these things in short periods of time on a smaller budget. ‘Beneath the Remains’ was recorded in the last two weeks of December in 1988 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil working through a language barrier and with little regard for outdoing ‘Schizophrenia’ in terms of fidelity. It was surely too punk rock of an undertaking for this album, which was meant to be the big worldwide debut from a band meant to be a big international tentpole for their label. As such it went through intensive revisions landing upon a contested mix from Scott Burns and tweaked versions from Tom Morris with input from Max Cavalera. The 1997 remasters of ‘Beneath the Remains’ are acceptable but they generally only improve the render of the guitar sound and over-emphasize the bass range for this originally somewhat ‘scooped’ sounding thrash record. You’ll only find the ’97 remaster on the internet.


Artist Sepultura
Title [Type/Year] Arise [LP/1991]
Rating [5.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube [Remaster]

Depending who you ask at the time 1991 was shaky ground for the shredding, hair poofing, years of classic heavy metal and no doubt death metal’s public-shocking presence was the last gasp of the true in the early 90’s as grunge, last-gasping glam, and groove metal were quickly on their way to mainstream pay-to-play channels. Sepultura saw this coming after ‘Beneath the Remains’ opened their minds to a globe’s worth of ideas on the verge of happening. These were still those metal-punk kids, the heavy metal cover band teenagers now adult on a big label and making big records that saw them jetting far beyond New York and Rio in the years since their third album hit it big. So, how did this mid-paced death/thrash metal record fit in with early 90’s Prong, Pantera, Anthrax and the few other bands who’d survive at least a few more years before a tough-guy reinvention? They didn’t fit in, actually, and in fact they were much heavier and precise in a live setting than many of those well-established sold-assed bands. Check out any live performance from their well documented touring for ‘Arise’ and you’ll find Sepultura at their absolute prime era of performative precision having written some of their heaviest songs.

‘Arise’ takes smaller tricks of the trade from emergent groove, industrial, and death metal of the era and uses them to create an unusually atmospheric socio-political thrash metal epic. Scott Burns surely deserves some credit for the product, having been the right sort of translator between the underground and the big leagues that’d receive a huge sonic boost from big name knob-twiddlers Andy Wallace and Howie Weinberg. This is very much a ‘mainstreamed’ corporate rock polishing of death/thrash metal in the best way possible where the material is unaltered but the sound is entirely wiped and polished into a 1991 appropriate record, and it’d gotten high on the Billboard charts as a result. This was as far as Sepultura could go within the realm of death/thrash metal without fully modernizing their sound within their mainstream status. This is the point where their band had become a career and a livelihood. Of course this is where I jump off as a listener, not because I don’t like ‘Chaos A.D., great record, but because Sepultura are most relevant to extreme metal as one of the few bands that made a huge career in the midst of extreme metal’s launch in the 80’s. Go read fucking Kerrang, Revolver or whatever if you care about the rest of the story. Also check out The Mist‘s ‘The Hangman Tree’ if you’re curious what ex-guitarist Jairo was up to after he left during the writing process of ‘Schizophrenia’, great thrash record.

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