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Getting Into: Sepultura: Part 2

Written by: omne metallum
Published: 26.07.2021

With the classic line-up breaking up as the band were hitting ever greater heights, you could be excused for being pessimistic if you were a fan of Sepultura. While Max would go on to form a long list of bands (with Soulfly being his primary vehicle), Sepultura would forge ahead with Derrick Green behind the microphone. While this period of the band's career is not as star-studded (and often overshadowed by the will they/won't they reformation rumours), it would be a disservice to write the band off as Max left, as the band can turn out some great songs, and on occasion, great albums as well.

1998 - Against

Exit stage right Max Cavalera, and enter stage left Derrick Green. Against is the sound of a new chapter in the band's history and also the sound of a band trying to keep pace with the ever-moving tide; where once the band were at the tip of the nu metal wave, they sound like they are desperately trying to get close enough to jump on that wave but are not fast enough. While the album was overshadowed (never a good omen) by the Max/Green dispute, it isn't because it is a compelling debate, but that Against doesn't give you much to talk about; rather, it gives you things to avoid by any means. The band don't strike out completely, but there are few high-quality tracks that will make you want to seek out this album in the band's discography, with "Choke", "Boycott" and "Hatred Aside" being the prime offerings. The rest of the album sees fragments of ideas underutilized or thrown out in a haphazard manner that sees them wilt rather than grow. While Green receives a lot of flak from fans and, truth be told, is given a poor introduction, he puts in a strong performance with what he is given; it's a shame, then, that he is dealt such a poor hand right out of the gate.

2001 - Nation

Nation is the sound of a band in crisis, seemingly gathering what thoughts they had and throwing them all at a wall in one go to see what would stick. The result is a jumbled mess of ideas that often don't flow together well and seem jammed together with little sense for the listener. Tracks like "Politricks" and "Tribe To A Nation" typify this scattergun approach while yielding little in the way of quality results; combining ideas that could work on paper but aren't fully fleshed out with a unfocused execution led to each track being an assortment of ideas that don't fit well together. Kisser's guitar lacks power and struggles to play much in the way of anything memorable or impactful ("Vox Populi"); as a result, Igor and Green take centre stage, but none of the songs provide much of a platform for them to shine. The opening track "Sepulnation" is perhaps the highlight of the album, but it pales when compared to material off of other albums, leaving it a big fish in a small pond. This is the lowest point the band would reach; while they would skirt too close for comfort to this level again, thankfully they never fully crash and burn like they do here.

2003 - Roorback

Roorback is the first time in the Green era that the band click on a consistent basis, rather than just on 2-3 tracks as on the two prior releases. The band had found the sweet spot between drifting listlessly to the detriment of a track and reining it in so that it enhances a song. Songs like "Apes Of God" and "As It Is" walk that fine line to the benefit of the listener, who finally hears the sonic shifts click properly for the first time since Roots, resulting in a record that is somewhat an overlooked gem in the band's discography. While deeper cuts like "Corrupted" and "The Rift" are forgotten by many, they add a strength in depth that had been sorely missing for fans. With that said, this newfound balance isn't maintained throughout the whole album, with "More Of The Same" being perhaps the most aptly named song of the band's career. While Roorback is a solid release, it is still a step down from any of the band's material pre-1995 when put into perspective: an album that will entertain you for the most part, particularly with tracks like "Mind War", "Godless" and "Leech", but one that won't excite in the way a Beneath The Remains could consistently.

2006 - Dante XXI

(*spoiler alert*) Until recently, Dante XXI was seen as the best Green era album by the band, and with good reason. Based off of the The Divine Comedy, the band produce an album that is hard-hitting and that fits their unconventional nature well, with their experimental tendencies serving them well as a means to channel the atmosphere and narrative of the story. Perhaps the best-known track off of the album is "Convicted In Life", which sees the last great performance by the soon to be departing Igor, depriving the band of what had long been one of their (not so) secret weapons. "False", "Buried Words" and "Nuclear Seven" are also the strongest off of what is a solid and consistent record. While the production is crisp and clear, it does rob the band of quite a bit of power in the trade-off, with the crescendo of tracks like "Nuclear Seven" sounding understated rather than bombastic. The band do occasionally make a mis-step when balancing narrative and being a good track, with "Ostia" featuring a good idea that isn't developed upon and is left as a means to continue the story.

2009 - A-Lex

A-Lex is the sound of a band trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice with another concept album in quick succession; such is the rush that the band appear to neglect the circumstances that made the first time round so special, and as a result the album feels like a lesser version of Dante XXI. While the concept provides fertile ground off which to build an album around, it also provides the band plenty of distractions from focusing on making high-quality music first and foremost. This is perhaps what ends up shooting the album in the foot, as the band are unable to juggle carrying the narrative forward and making standalone great songs. "Sadistic Values" sounds like it was made solely to carry the narrative and doesn't work as a song in and of itself, while "The Experiment" is constrained by the need to fit in rather than just be its own thing. Perhaps the only song that really sees the band's creativity and the concept meld together perfectly is "Ludwig Van", seeing the band work from the source material but remembering to put their own spin on things as well. Alongside the odd track like "Moloko Mesto", "The Treatment" and "We've Lost You!", you have an album with a few highlights but plenty of potential had it not been overburdened with the narrative.

2011 - Kairos

Kairos has promise, but one that is grinded down to the point of being a record that could have been greater than it is, one that comes close to being realized had the band been more selective and focused. As if to add insult to injury, Kairos features some of the best production on a Sepultura in years, with Kisser's guitar having a concise but crunchy tone that should have elevated better material alongside some punchy drums and well-placed vocals. Tracks such as "Dialog" have a great idea in the catchy main riff that makes you think you're about to hear a great song, before it shoots itself in the foot with needless meandering to the point it's a good riff in a bad song, while "Mask" has some good soloing in an otherwise average-at-best track. Add into this tracks such as "Embrace The Storm" and the Ministry cover "Just One Fix", and it dilutes the impact one song at a time. "Kairos", "Relentless" and "No One Will Stand" highlight what the band were capable of when everything clicked into place, what could have otherwise been the cream of a rich crop instead smacks of what could have been.

Perhaps the easiest way to sum up this album is to look at its title, overly long and convoluted for what it is trying to convey, that the band needlessly overdo a good concept to the point of rendering it a bad end product. The Mediator? is a bloated album with middling ideas that overshadow and suffocate the few good pieces that are scattered across its eleven tracks. "Impending Doom" and "Manipulation Of Tragedy" have good components but they are not well utilized and end up falling flat shortly after hitting play as a result of the band taking the unconventional route for the sake of it, stretching and contorting good ideas until they break; alongside tracks that go nowhere like "Grief" and "Da Lama Ao Caos", you better hope your skip button isn't already broken. With that said, once again Green and Kisser produce good performances and give the songs some conviction that helps push tracks like "The Vatican" to the right side of middling. The latest face behind the drum kit, Eloy Casagrande, has a rather subdued introduction as he is confined by the songs rather being able to spread his wings. The album does, however, feature some tracks worth seeking out in "The Bliss Of Ignorants", "The Age Of The Atheist" and "Obsessed", giving the album something of value if you are to listen to it.

Machine Messiah is a grower of an album; upon the first few listens, you will likely be minded to sell the album short as there is little in the way of tracks that will immediately grab your attention on the first listen. Given the benefit of time, the likes of "Cyber God" and "Iceberg Dances" will seep into your subconscious and you will find yourself enjoying them a lot more than you did on initial listens. Alongside the few tracks that will hit you from the off, such as "Sworn Oath", "Chosen Skin" and "Silent Violence", they combine to make Machine Messiah the strongest offering the band had put out in nearly a decade. Given the quality of their recent past output, however, you will realise what that means in context, with the album sharing much of the same shortcomings as before: songs that don't fully utilize strong components ("Phantom Self") and tracks that lack direction ("Alethea" and "Machine Messiah"). For the first time since the departure of Igor way back after Dante XXI, the band produce several tracks that allow the drummer to flourish, with Casagrande putting in frenetic performances on songs like "I Am The Enemy". If you are selective with what tracks you listen to, you will find yourself a solid twenty to twenty-five minutes of entertainment.

2020 - Quadra

Quadra is perhaps the first time since Max's departure that the band produce an album that can compare to anything pre-1997, finally seeing the band's experimentalism enhancing a track rather than being an unnecessary or ill-fitting mid-track tangent. "Capital Enslavement" is a hard-hitting thrash track that has added frills and spills that actually add to the track while not diminishing the more conventional parts of the song. Kisser's guitar finds the perfect middle ground between power and atmospheric, allowing him to juggle both elements without one being the weaker of the two. Combine this with an urgency behind the kit from Casagrande and a dominating performance behind the microphone from Green, and tracks like "Ali" burst out of the speakers with authority. All these elements combine to make a host of material from the haunting "Guardians Of The Earth" to the shifting "Autem" click properly into place. As much as Arise felt like the band's prior work culminating in that moment, Quadra has the same vibes, with the three preceding albums back to Kairos seeing fruition here. The production with Quadra is a problem with the production, with tracks like "Last Time" utilizing the whole band to crescendo at the same time; rather than a combined sonic attack, it comes off as an unruly cacophony that dulls what is otherwise an explosive crescendo.

As the inevitable question of will they/won't they reunite with Max and Igor will probably remain until the band call it a day, it would be unfair to overlook the contribution Green has made with the band. Joining the band when at their most dysfunctional, burdened by Max's shadow and with little quality material to work with, Green has done well to hold his end of the bargain and ride out the rough start before the band hit a stuttering stride and produced some quality latter-day albums. While the second half of their career is not a patch on their first, Sepultura have still managed to produce some moments of brilliance here and there, while also remaining a formidable live act.

Written on 26.07.2021 by Just because I don't care doesn't mean I'm not listening.


Comments: 7   Visited by: 85 users
01.08.2021 - 19:23
I have already summed up what I think of Sepultura in this review so no need for repetitions. Very nice write-up, and I mostly agree although I don't consider Dante to be so exceptional and after having spent quite some time with Quadra, I find Machine Messiah a tad more enjoyable and engaging. Still, the two last albums are the best of the Green era for me, which makes me happy because I thought they were never going to be listenable again for my taste. Eloy is one of my favorite drummers right now, the guy is a hero, he took a dying and irrelevant band by the hand and made them great again.
01.08.2021 - 19:46

I seemed to remember people half-liking The Mediator... when it came out, and I've actually gone back to it on rare occasion, but seems like nobody particularly cares for it these days, which surprises me. I perhaps preferred it to Machine Messiah, but I do think Quadra was an impressive step up from that album. As for the rest, I haven't heard anything prior to A-Lex, and apart from Dante XXI, I've never seen anything here or elsewhere that would make me reconsider that, but maybe Dante is worth a try. Nice write-up
02.08.2021 - 03:49
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Interesting to read but nothing for me here musically.
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
02.08.2021 - 10:27

Yeah, the second part of Sep's career is quite the mixed bag, between a few moments of good quality, even brilliance (Dante XXI, the last two, parts of A-Lex), complete and utter crap (Nation, Roorback) and rather decent if unremarkable stuff (the rest). I'm quite partial to Derrick Green, always loved his vocals and his commanding stage presence. To me he's the highlight of pretty much every album he appears on (with Eloy Casagrande on the last few albums).

I agree with a lot of your ratings, I'd just add a full star to Against which is a decent metalized hardcore album, and to A-Lex which really worked on me despite its disjointed nature, and I'd take two stars off Roorback which is a sordid piece of shit. Also, as someone who quite enjoys this part of Sepultura's career and does not give a damn about the Cavaleras returning to the band, I'd like to thank you for this fair and reasonable article
03.08.2021 - 13:32
Brutal Water

I listened to Against and Nation back when they came out and gave up on the band. I guess I should give Dante, Machine Messiah and Quadra a chance.

What's up with the Mediator title? I know it's a quote from Metropolis (love that movie and I'm glad the full 3 and a half hours version has been recently restored), but when I looked at the song titles, it didn't seem like a concept album. Wasn't the point of the quote something along the lines of the rich upper class needing to communicate with the working class better? Is that what this album is about?
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.
06.08.2021 - 15:15
hi-fi / lo-life
Written by Deadsoulman on 02.08.2021 at 10:27

and to A-Lex which really worked on me despite its disjointed nature

Yeah, A-Lex seems to be underrated, I think for me it actually resonated the most out of all the post-Max albums. "Sadistic Values" is absolutely fantastic, don't understand how you could think that it is a failed song. Love the Voivod-isms in this song and others on A-Lex
08.10.2022 - 03:44
Oxygen Thief

This was quite a pleasure to read. Really well written and a really good summary of the albums.
I find myself agreeing with a lot of what's said, but, as my thumbnail might imply, I don't fully agree with how important some of those points are when it comes to the overall review.
For example, I think Against is an excellent album, a little rough around the edges, and with a questionable flow from one track to another, but the energy of Against, Choke, Boycott, Hatred Aside, alongside the sinister rage boiling under the surface of Old Earth, Floaters in Mud, and Rumours make this an album I come back to time and again. Also Derrick seems oddly at his most varied and confident here (oddly only because he's replacing a well loved principal band member, and I believe he had little to no input into the song writing). So I basically agree with the write-up, but I'd come out with a much higher score.
For Nation, I'm thoroughly biased, as I have a strong nostaligic fondness for this, it was one of the first albums I bought for myself, and although I was moderately indifferent to it for a while, I clearly remember listening to it one summer afternoon and something just clicked with me. I love that album, even the odd radio interludes stick with me like the catchiest pop song hook.
Roorback is one I always struggled with, never quite being able to fully love it. It starts so slowly for the first 3 or 4 tracks, but then there are some great high energy pieces from the middle to the end, I appreciated the reference to "The Rift" and "Corrupted", I love those songs, but I'd add "Activist" in there too. I get the impression "Bottomed Out" was included to fill the purpose that "Water" did on Nation, and "Grief" will on The Mediator, i.e. a mellow atmosphere track to give space to the final track. I always liked those.
A-Lex and The Mediator - I think these are continually underrated, I can see A-Lex being a bit of a slog for anyone on the fence, especially with the interludes that don't seem to add a lot, but "We've Lost You", "Forceful Behaviour", "Sadistic Values", "Strike", easily compare to the best of Dante XXI, whether you're interested in the theme or not. The Mediator's filthy production sound gives it a gritty violent feel which I became quite addicted to, the one criticism I would level at the album is the way it seems to peter out unimpressively with the cover of "Da Lama Ao Caos" sung by Andreas, followed by a long silence and then whatever comes after that, I can't remember because I can never be bothered to go back to it. The fact the last track is a cover makes me think of the penultimate track as the final track, but "Obsessed" doesn't feel right as a closer, so the album doesn't really feel like it ends properly for me.
Now, Kairos always seems to sit in the middle for people, and I remember when it came out it got lots of subdued praise (the usual things that annoy me in Sepultura reviews, like "the best album since Max left", and "it's a move in the right direction after a rocky period since Max left" etc.) but in my mind it's the most dull of their albums, unadventurous, simple, and a bit too similar to Soulfly in some places. There's some good songs, "Kairos" itself is a great live staple, with an opening riff that could be off classic Sepultura.
Until the 2 most recent albums the meaty riffs, hardcore barks, and powerful rhythm section always made me feel like the hero monologuing at the end of a social commentary themed movie; powerful and righteous. The latest albums are fun, and technically more typically metal, but somehow a little less engaging for me (although "Resistant Parasites" and "Agony of Defeat" give me similar feelings, and I find Quadra to be stronger than Machine Messiah, even if the structure of the album means the flow is more like steps rather than a wave).

I love Sepultura, even with all the flaws. It's like how with most bands the album which is perfect all the way through will usually be played much less than the patchy album which has some great moments and some not so great. The not so great moments let the great ones shine even more.

So, that was excessively long, and probably not very well structured, and it wasn't a fraction of what I would say if I wasn't aware how tedious I can be on this subject (my wife has no problem letting me know).
I'll probably be frustrated that I've worded things badly, or not said what I meant to say, or not engaged with the article's points enough or something, I'm sure :-)

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