This week it’s back to 1993. It was a bit of a strange time, the vacuum left after the events of 1991 wound up being filled by some interesting stuff. One consequence for the years after was that heavier music was getting noticed and would even see mainstream chart success. Today’s album is from a group who’d been known as pioneers of the heaviest possible sounds, and this album provided a template for the shape of metal to come.
Sepultura – Chaos A.D.
Released September 1993 via Epic/Roadrunner Records
My Favorite Tracks – Refuse/Resist, Amen, Territory
Brazil’s Sepultura had captured the attention of the world with several albums of thrash bordering on death metal. By 1993 the band had worn out on the sound and looked to change up the formula some. The results would be downtuned guitars, more groove-based riffing in place of a thrash assault, and drums incorporating tribal and samba influences. It was as if Sepultura timed their move from thrash at the same time the rest of the world did.
There are 12 songs with a run time of a fairly lean 47 minutes. Should be pretty easy to get through.
Opening with one of the album’s three singles (all the first three tracks are), this heavy hitter is an anti-police/authority song that has come away as one of the record’s signature anthems. Even with the band’s move away from thrash, this song is a chaotic, frantic mess. It does its job well of being a protest anthem, and in a time when protests and riots would see a big uptick.
The second single and most likely the best-known song from the album. Territory is a slow, plodding affair that looks at relations between leader/dictator and the people. Topical footage from the Israel-Palestine conflict is used in the video. Sepultura’s new groove-based music was being matched with incendiary political content, something that would get noticed in the same time frame that bands like Rage Against The Machine got big.
Slave New World
The final single from the album, this song was co-written with Biohazard bassist/actor Evan Seinfeld. The song tackles the issues of censorship and what it means to be “free” in modern society. As with the other two singles, this song is a common staple of the group’s live sets.
Though apparently not said outright, the song is a look at the Branch Davidian cult of Waco, Texas. The cult and its leader David Koresh were burned alive by US federal agents in April 1993 after an extended standoff. The song handles both the point of view of the cult leader and a more distant perspective that outlays the apocalyptic consequences.
We arrive at an instrumental and all-acoustic performance, featuring only guitars and tribal percussion. The album’s liner notes pay tribute to a Kaiowas tribe in Brazil that committed mass suicide in response to government taking tribal lands. I have not done the proper scholarly research to corroborate that information.
A song about …. uh, propaganda and confrontation, I guess. It’s a very nice song but I have no idea what Max Cavalera is on about here. Sometimes you just have to quit paying attention and headbang along.
Biotech Is Godzilla
Here is a track with guest lyrics written by Dead Kennedys frontman and alternative icon Jello Biafra. The song gets into the issue of biotechnology and its more insidious uses. The song offers a conspiracy theory that the US government sent lab techs to Brazil to experiment with germs and chemicals on unsuspecting citizens. While the song is brief at two minutes it packs quite a punch and a lot of information and conjecture in its slim timeframe.
An ode to the tribal and traveling peoples of the world, and an appropriately harsh, doom-ridden tune to weave that tale with.
We Who Are Not As Others
Another slow, doomy number that literally just repeats the title as its lone lyric over and over again. And it doesn’t suck. Pretty good job on making that better than a throwaway track. I mean, sure, it’s kind of damn dumb but it still works.
An interesting twist on a metal song, this track provides a spoken-word account of a bloody news item from Brazil – the Carandiru prison massacre of 1992, in which military police handled a prison riot via the slaughter of 111 prisoners (who were pre-trial and not yet convicted). Max Cavalera does offer a few brief, one-word choruses along with the spoken account. It is an interesting and different approach to a metal song that is also obviously really fucking depressing.
We wind toward the close with a cover song – this originally being an offering from 1986 and the English group New Model Army, an act that can be called “rock” but honestly defies most specific categorization. No real matter here, as Sepultura twist this song’s form into their own. It is a tale of street justice and vigilantism in the face of the criminal underworld, a song very fitting of Chaos A.D.’s themes.
Bringing it home with one of those tried and true, defiant ’till the end and I’m angry and gonna get busy with it metal songs. It’s an anthem for weightlifting, running or whatever other crazy exercise shit people do (I do cycling myself).
Chaos A.D. saw Sepultura reinvent themselves and their new form landed squarely in the 1993 metal marketplace. The album went gold in the US and three other countries and saw top 20 or better action in several nations’ charts. Sepultura would tour the US with Pantera in 1994, just as the latter obliterated the Billboard charts with their own Far Beyond Driven. Groove metal was here, a “new” metal approach that beckoned great change on the horizon.
This would not be Sepultura’s greatest success – they truly conquered with their next effort, the multi-platinum Roots. That album would lean harder towards the “new” metal approach and was a benchmark for new trends in heavy metal. The band themselves would not enjoy the full fruits of their labor, as frontman Max Cavalera would depart the group in acrimonious circumstances at the end of 1996. While both Sepultura and Cavalera press on in various incarnations, there has been no heralded reunion of the band’s classic lineup that overtook mainstream attention with their very harsh sounds.
But for all that would come after, Chaos A.D. remains as a staple of the band’s catalog. It helped that one of extreme thrash’s most promising bands helped usher in the new age of metal (though some old-school keepers of the gate did not take to the new sound..) and also that the band incorporated specific, real-world examples of big issues in society as opposed to abstract cackling about bad stuff. It is as much a thinking person’s album as it is a vehicle of aggression, and its combined form is a force to be reckoned with.