Brazil in the early ’90s, seen in popular imaginaries of the West and as a rich cultural oasis of bustling urbanity and golden, suntanned sexual expression, loses its luster when looked at through the lens of its imperial history. Riddled with almost 400 years of direct colonialist rule, since its independence, the country has witnessed the trademark political volatility of a state haunted by a violent past. During the end of the last century, and well into the aughts, Brazil fell to the vagaries of international finance, and found itself beholden to debt, and subsequently pillaged by the World Bank and the IMF. Counter to the iconic imagery of exotic fauna, Samba, and Latin American zest popularized by Disney’s 2011 technicolor vomitorium Rio, Brazil’s twentieth century history is a tableau of indigenous battles over land and water, political unrest, rampant poverty, and moribund urban slum life. And it is within this context that Sepultura, Brazil’s premiere thrash and death metal troubadours, released their fifth studio album, Chaos A.D. The album was their third release for Roadrunner Records, and it marked a fresh sonic direction for the metal stalwarts, a space for breaking new ground in production, arrangement, and experimentation. It also brought Sepultura into the realm of intensely political punk, with an album reminiscent of, and clearly influenced by, two of their punk and d-beat idols: Discharge and Dead Kennedys (Jello Biafra even wrote one of its tracks, “Biotech Is Godzilla”).
Sepultura clearly pined for crossover, hardcore-punk-meets-metal appeal, but Chaos A.D. still makes strange bedfellows with the now burgeoning groove sounds of North American, mall-friendly heavy music.
Sepultura clearly pined for crossover, hardcore-punk-meets-metal appeal, but Chaos A.D. still makes strange bedfellows with the now burgeoning groove sounds of North American, mall-friendly heavy music. The album bears little sonic similarity to the ’80s west coast punk and European crust pioneers — who lead singer and rhythm guitarist Max Cavalera had frequently tipped his hat to in the past. Producer Andy Wallace’s polished, compressed engineering ensures this much, and beyond the overtly politicized lyrical imagery, the album loses all rawness in a digital wash of delays, wahs, and vocal processing. Nevertheless, Chaos A.D. does exist on the same continuum as the band’s first four records — and their unrelenting, aggressive, and underground sound. Opening banger and single, “Refuse/Resist,” makes haste to introduce the fancy new tribal-tom chops of the band’s drummer (Max’s younger brother, Igor) before embarking on decidedly groove-metal phrasings and laying into a catchy New York Hardcore 1-2-3 beat. Cavalera bellows frustrated lines against the absurdity of state-led violence, delivering “I’m seeeck of theees” with particularly angsty panache. And the album’s other two singles, “Territory” and “Slave New World,” explore similar rhythmic dimensions, as co-writers Cavelera and Andreas Kisser mount further Discharge-esque chants. The all-acoustic “Kaiowsa” brings together cavernous harmonies and percussion as a memoriam to the almost extinct Guarani-Kaiowá tribe. And Biafra contributes searing and true-to-form paranoiac elements to “Biotech Is Godzilla.” Other songs regurgitate flirtations with mid-tempo, proto nü-metal breakdowns, and the album closes with the acrid “Clenched Fist,” on which Cavalera seems to defend his mode of expression: “Don’t get me wrong, you don’t know where I’m from / Don’t get me wrong, you don’t know where I’ve been”. Overall, Chaos A.D. is an interesting and sometimes arresting full-length from these Brazilian rebels, leaving one to decide on their own whether it should be judged as an incursion from the underground into the mainstream — from the political regions of the global South to the global North — or from long-haired thrash metal to more mohawk-friendly punk.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.