Hailing from Brazil's third-largest city, Belo Horizonte in the mid-80's, Sepultura (which means "grave" in Portuguese) was formed at a time when that country was beginning to emerge from a 20-year military dictatorship. Max Cavalera (vocals/guitar), Igor Cavalera (drums), Paulo Jr. (bass) and Jairo T. (lead guitar), had a hard time even finding rock'n'roll albums, and especially "socially unacceptable" genres such as heavy metal and punk. Their early influences were Iron Maiden, Metallica and Slayer (literally the first three records purchased by Max on a visit to the "big city"), but the band soon progressed into quasi-thrash/death metal, inspired by emerging bands such as Possessed and Death. Their drive and determination (they sang in English from day one) more than made up for their geographic isolation and inexperience, and though all were still in their teens and learning how to play their instruments, the band quickly evolved into underground contenders.
After landing a deal with independent Cogumelo Records, Sepultura recorded four songs for a split L.P. with fellow Brazilians Overdose. Now re-issued on cd and named for it's first track, 1985's Beastial Devastation was self-produced and recorded in just two days - and it shows. Realizing that their ambitions were much greater than their musicianship or song writing ability, the band spent the next year working on new material while honing their chops in rehearsal and on the live stage.
They returned to the studio in August of 1986, and though their first full-length album, Morbid Visions showed great progress, its creative and commercial potential was stunted by money and time constraints (it was recorded in only one week). Still, the album's best track, "Troops of Doom" attracted some media attention, and the band relocated to Sao Paulo (Brazil's largest city and financial capital) in order to further their career. They also replaced guitarist Jairo T. with Sao Paulo native Andreas Kisser, whose musical ability would help take the entire band to the next level.
Late 1987 saw the release of Sepultura's second full-length album for Cogumelo Records, Schizophrenia. The album displayed an incredible evolution in terms of production and performance, as the band's technical profficiency finally caught up with their creative vision. It also became a minor critical sensation across Europe and America, drawing the attention of Roadrunner Records, which promptly released the album worldwide and signed the band to a long-term contract. No longer restrained within Brazilian borders, the band set about composing the first of four albums which would solidify their position as perhaps the most important heavy metal band of the nineties, and certainly the "Metallica" of extreme metal.
1989's Beneath the Remains was recorded in Rio de Janeiro under the guidance of leading death metal producer Scott Burns. Burns helped Sepultura achieve their most professional recording, clearest sound, and best compositions. The album's immediate critical and commercial success was augmented by the band's ferocious performances on a European tour in support of German thrashers Sodom, who were systematically blown off stage. The band also had their first hit with "Inner Self", for which they also filmed their first video, and finished the year-long tour with a triumphant set of shows in their homeland.
After obtaining new management in late 1990, Sepultura decided that their next logical career move was re-locating to the U.S., and chose Phoenix Arizona as their new base of operations. They also entered Morrisound Studios in Tampa, Florida with producer Burns to record 1991's acclaimed Arise album. The record contains some of the band's most popular songs, including "Desperate Cry", "Dead Embryonic Cells" and the title track, which had it's video banned by MTV America due to it's apocalyptic religious imagery. An extensive world tour followed which saw the band achieve platinum sales worldwide, a figure rarely achieved by bands of their extreme nature. Also, in a strange twist, singer Max Cavalera became romantically involved with and eventually married band manager Gloria Bujnowski (who was almost twice his age), and the couple soon had their first child Zion.
Such was the band's success that their label, Roadrunner obtained a major co-distribution deal with Epic Records for their next recording, 1993's Chaos A.D.. The album saw the band incorporating social issues (especially relating to Brazilian problems) into their lyrics, as well as displaying some of their punk and hard-core influences for the first time. The album was another world-wide smash thanks to new singles "Territory" and "Refuse/Resist". And though alternative music was then dominating radio and MTV, Sepultura attracted many new fans while supporting Ozzy Osbourne on his "supposed" farewell tour across America.
After touring for over a year, the members of Sepultura took a well-deserved break before starting work on what would be their most ambitious album, Roots, released in early 1996. By incorporating native Brazilian percussion and musical styles into their trademark down-tuned guitars and increasingly socio-political themes, the band created a unique record which could be accurately described as the first attempt at "heavy metal world music". As bizarre as this combination may seem, Roots marks Sepultura's creative peak, and the band's continual rise to ever greater fame seemed guaranteed until a family tragedy set off a series of events which would split the band.
Just hours before taking the stage at England's Monsters of Rock Festival, the band discovered that the teenage son of manager (and singer Max's wife) Gloria had been killed in a car accident. A shocked Sepultura took the stage as a trio while Max and Gloria boarded the first plane back to America. Only a few months later, the band confronted Max about severing ties with Gloria and finding new management. Still recovering from the recent trauma of a death in his extended family, Max saw this as a huge betrayal and left the band amid much bad blood and acrimony. As the band's creative leader, many expected Cavalera's exit to mark the end of Sepultura, but the band surprised all by announcing that they would carry on and soon began looking for a replacement.
After a long search, Sepultura recruited Cleveland native Derrick Green as their new singer, and began laying down tracks for 1998's Against. Though it retained much of the intensity and diversity of its predecessor (including a Japanese percussion ensemble on the track "Kamaitachi"), the album lacked the unique spark which had characterized the band's prior work. It also sold only half as many copies as Max Cavalera's first album with his new band Soulfly, clearly showing with whom fan loyalty remained. Undaunted, Sepultura returned in early 2001 with Nation. The album followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, despite better reviews and a more seasoned Green on vocals. In order to reach out to their slowly shrinking fanbase, the group released one of their last live shows with Max, Under a Pale Grey Sky, in the fall of 2002. ~ Ed Rivadavia, All Music Guide