A Looking in View: Sepultura – Beneath the Remains

"A Looking in View" is The Beacon's newest online-exclusive music review segment. With each edition, our resident metal music aficionado Parker takes a look at an iconic album released in the world of metal on the day of its anniversary.

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Parker Dorsey, News Editor

There are few international metal bands that have had the same impact as Sepultura from Brazil. They broke the barrier for heavy metal bands coming out of Latin America, with bands like Angra, Krisiun and The Chasm holding them in high reverence. They were easily one of the most important metal bands in the 1990s, releasing legendary albums such as Chaos A.D. and Roots.

Before becoming the groove-masters they’re known as today, Sepultura started off in a thrash/death metal vein, taking influences from bands like Slayer, Venom and Death. Their first two albums, Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia were important albums, with a raw thrash/proto-death metal sound that would later become equally influential in both death and thrash metal circles.

The classic Sepultura lineup consisted of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Max Cavalera, lead guitarist Andreas Kisser, drummer Igor Cavalera and bassist Paulo Jr. The incredible thing is that before 1989 they were all between 19-21 years old, and they already had two albums under their belts.

Their fourth record, Arise, was also a remarkable album in its own right, taking their primitive sound and honing it into a destructive death metal force. However, it was their third album where they reached their zenith. This was where they perfected their raw early sound into an equal parts death/thrash metal masterpiece.

On this day in 1989 Sepultura released Beneath the Remains, a quintessential album in extreme metal history. This record sees Sepultura at their most creative and at their songwriting peak. None of the nine tracks on this album are throwaways by any stretch of the margin, and none of the 42 minutes here are wasted.

The album begins rather innocuously on its title track, with a beautiful acoustic guitar intro before promptly ripping into a thrash fury. This track has incredible riffing arrangements and also has a nice melodic solo by Kisser. The next track “Inner Self” follows much of the same formula, just slower and without the acoustic intro.

“Stronger than Hate” has a catchy riff and is one of the more aggressive songs on the album. It also has an earworm of a bass solo at the tail end of the song, courtesy of Paulo Jr. The fourth track, “Mass Hypnosis,” is by far the best track on the record, and by extension, one of the best in Sepultura’s entire discography.

The main riff just destroys, with a nice second guitar line accenting it with higher pinched riffs. This song is just so good, and Kisser has multiple guitar leads interspersed throughout the song. Just check out the ascending/descending scale at around two minutes in, or the arpeggios at around 2:45, or the solo at three minutes in. Simply put, there’s a lot going on in the entire middle section of the song.

“Sarcastic Existence” has a drum intro from Igor before transitioning into a solid thrash track. About halfway through is when it really kicks up, with Igor doing his best Dave Lombardo impression with double-bass fills. There’s a lot of interesting time changes going on here.

“Slaves of Pain” is a classic track and probably has the best guitar intro of the lot, and the song settles in a mid-tempo groove before Igor really kicks off the drums at around 40 seconds in. The song promptly turns into a riff monster, and is another one of the highlights on Beneath the Remains. To the surprise of absolutely no one up to this point, there’s great guitar dueling between Kisser and Max in the middle of the song.

“Lobotomy” has a cool off-time guitar intro with furious skin-bashing from Igor’s drums. This one is a bit of a hidden gem and is one of the more interesting tracks on the record. “Hungry” also has really interesting Chuck Schuldiner-inspired guitar leads in the beginning. It’s a solid track in its own right, but it unfortunately seems to get lost in the shuffle.

The album ends with “Primitive Future,” an absolutely furious track. It is by far the most aggressive of all the tracks on here, with machine-gun drumwork and lightning-fast guitars. It is a great track to end a great album with.

Beneath the Remains is notable because it made Sepultura the first Brazilian band to sign with a major American record label, Roadrunner Records. Legendary producer Scott Burns, who later went on to produce numerous death metal classics in the 1990s, is responsible for the fearsome, yet quality sound on this record.

The guitarwork from both Max and Kisser is innovative and heavy. They often work in tandem during certain passages, and the end result is a quality guitar mix with an impressive cohesion between brutality and melody. Igor’s drumwork is pulverizing. Let’s just say there is a reason his old nickname used to be “Skullcrusher.”

Paulo’s bass isn’t very audible for much of the album, but he does make his presence known on occasion. He provides a rock-solid foundation for the musical chaos in the rest of the mix. Max’s vocals are great here and he doesn’t try to do too much. He has his characteristic low-pitched gruff style, but in these early years we also hear some hints of Schuldiner’s style pop up every now and then.

The lyrics are what you would expect from an extreme metal record. They range from post-apocalyptic themes, war and oppression. The high point is on “Stronger than Hate,” where Max speaks out directly against injustices he has seen in society.

Sepultura is without a doubt the most impactful metal band to come out of Latin America, and they wouldn’t hit their commercial peak until 1996’s Roots. However, they hit their musical peak long before that on this record. Beneath the Remains is still widely influential in metal circles, both domestically and internationally across a wide variety of genres. Such was the impact of this one little-known high school band from Brazil.