The Early Days of Sepultura

In 1984, amidst the societal upheaval of post-dictatorship Brazil, the Cavalera brothers formed Sepultura. Their journey from the raw streets of Belo Horizonte to metal legends was fueled by a blend of aggression, political unrest, and a fierce DIY ethos.

Members of Sepultura pose in a rehearsal space: Jairo T. crouched on the left with 'devil horns' hand gesture, studded wristbands, and a vest; Igor Cavalera stands behind the drums, holding up a handmade "Sepultura" banner; Paulo Jr. sits on the floor, smiling, in the center; and Max Cavalera leans on his knee to the right, wearing a black t-shirt. They are amid various musical equipment, projecting a youthful, energetic vibe.
Key Takeaways
  • Sepultura, formed in Brazil in 1984 by the Cavalera brothers, was initially influenced by classic rock and early metal bands, later shifting towards extreme metal.
  • They faced challenges in Brazil’s post-dictatorship era, such as limited venue and record company support, but managed to release their first EP and album by 1986.
  • Their debut album, “Morbid Visions,” was influential in shaping blackened death metal and spurred the growth of the extreme metal scene in Brazil.

The Birth of Sepultura

In the vibrant city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, 1984 marked the genesis of a band that would become a pillar in the world of metal music: Sepultura. Founded by the Cavalera brothers, Max and Igor, Sepultura began not as a grand ambition for a music career, but as a channel for teenage self-expression and entertainment. At this nascent stage, their craft was a raw, unrefined outlet for their passion for aggressive and extreme music.

The Cavalera brothers’ early musical journey was eclectic, initially gravitating towards the giants of classic rock and early 1980s metal. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, along with heavyweights of the era such as Van Halen, Iron Maiden, and Motörhead, shaped their early musical tastes. This diverse palette laid the foundation for their initial foray into music, but it was their encounter with the band Venom that catalyzed a significant evolution in their sound.

Venom’s raw, underground style was a key influence, steering the Cavalera brothers from classic rock towards extreme metal.

Venom, with their ultra-raw, underground metal style, struck a chord with the Cavalera brothers. Igor Cavalera likened their sound to a heavier version of Motörhead, a description that underscored the impact this discovery had on their musical direction. Venom’s influence marked a departure from the brothers’ earlier inclinations towards classic rock and early metal, steering them towards a darker, heavier realm of music.

This pivotal shift was profound. The brothers began distancing themselves from what they now considered “lighter stuff” like Iron Maiden, embracing instead the unapologetic ferocity of bands like Venom, Kreator, and Exodus. This transition was not just a change in musical taste but a radical redefinition of their artistic identity.

The influence of these heavier bands was instrumental in molding the early compositions of Sepultura, blending elements of thrash, black metal, and eventually, death metal. Sepultura, meaning “Grave” in Portuguese, was Max Cavalera’s choice, influenced by the translation of Motörhead’s “Dancing on Your Grave.”

This early period of Sepultura was a crucible of musical exploration, where classic rock and early metal influences merged with a newfound passion for the extreme. It was in this crucible that Sepultura’s unique sound was forged.

Struggle and Triumph in a Turbulent Brazil

As Sepultura embarked on their musical journey, they faced formidable challenges, not just in the music industry but from the broader socio-political landscape of Brazil. The period following the end of the military dictatorship in March 1985 was a tumultuous time in Brazil, marked by repression, poverty, and corruption. The dissolution of the military regime in 1985 and the transition towards democracy brought its own set of challenges. The adoption of a new, democratic Constitution in 1988 was a significant milestone, yet this period was fraught with difficulties, including resistance from hard-liners and terrorist bombings. These events painted a picture of a society in flux, struggling to reconcile its newfound freedom with the remnants of its authoritarian past.

The economic and social landscape of Brazil during this time was equally challenging. The declining global economy, coupled with political liberalization, exacerbated existing issues. Major strikes in 1978 and 1980 underscored the discontent among workers, whose wage increases could not keep pace with the rising cost of living. The situation was further aggravated by arrests of union leaders under national security laws and austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), demanding wage control to curb rampant inflation.

Amidst economic strife and political unrest, Sepultura found their footing, shaping the future of Brazilian metal.

Amidst these upheavals, the local music scene offered little solace. There were no proper venues or record companies willing to invest in a nascent extreme metal band like Sepultura. Despite these daunting obstacles, the band, comprising Max Cavalera on rhythm guitar and vocals, Igor Cavalera on drums, lead guitarist Jairo T., and bassist Paulo Jr., remained undeterred. They performed wherever possible, often in less-than-ideal conditions, and recorded primitive demos that captured their raw energy and burgeoning talent.

Their tenacity and unyielding spirit bore fruit with the release of their first EP, “Bestial Devastation,” in 1984. This was followed by their debut full-length album, “Morbid Visions,” in 1986. These early releases were not just milestones for the band but symbolized their resilience and determination to succeed against all odds. Sepultura’s journey during these formative years was a testament to their perseverance in the face of adversity, laying the groundwork for their eventual rise to prominence in the global metal scene.

The Unpolished Edge of “Morbid Visions”

Sepultura’s early albums, particularly “Morbid Visions,” exemplified the seat-of-the-pants ethos that was a hallmark of early extreme metal. This approach, raw and unrefined, was not just a matter of circumstance but a deliberate choice that shaped the distinctive sound of their music. Max Cavalera, reflecting on those days, admitted to an almost casual attitude towards guitar tuning during the recording sessions, contributing to a sound that was raw and unpolished.

This do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos was typical of many underground bands at the time. Lacking the resources for professional studio equipment or advanced production techniques, Sepultura embraced a more organic approach. This method often led to a sound that was less about technical precision and more about capturing the raw energy and spirit of the music. Max Cavalera’s candid admission about their irregular guitar tuning practices underscores this approach, highlighting the band’s focus on authenticity over technical perfection.

Sepultura’s unpolished approach in recording “Morbid Visions” contributed significantly to the early sound of blackened death metal.

This unrefined style played a crucial role in the development of Sepultura’s sound, influencing the blackened death metal genre. But it wasn’t just the musical aspects that lent their work its distinctive character; the language barrier also played a significant role. Max Cavalera mentioned that they used a dictionary to write lyrics in English, as they were not fluent in the language. This resulted in a lyrical style that was unique, combining basic English vocabulary with the themes and imagery common in metal music. This aspect of their work added to the raw, unpolished feel of their music, making it stand out in the metal landscape.

The band’s lyrics, often derived from a dictionary due to their limited English skills, were characterized by themes of blasphemy, reflecting the influence of Venom’s focus on Satanism and the occult. This thematic choice, coupled with their rudimentary English, contributed further to the uniqueness of Sepultura’s early sound, creating a raw and authentic feel that resonated with fans of the genre. Through their embrace of a DIY ethos and their unique approach to lyricism, Sepultura carved out a niche that would see them become influential figures in the world of extreme metal.

Sepultura and the Rise of Brazilian Metal

The early recordings of Sepultura, namely “Bestial Devastation” and “Morbid Visions,” hold a significant place in the mid-1980s metal underground scene in Brazil. These records, which skillfully blended elements of black metal and thrash metal, were instrumental in defining the band’s unique sound. Their lyrical focus on themes such as Satanism and the occult drew heavily from influences like Venom and Slayer, resonating with the growing appetite for more extreme forms of metal.

By the time “Morbid Visions” hit the scene, Sepultura had not only carved out their niche but had also played a pivotal role in establishing a robust metal scene in Belo Horizonte. This burgeoning scene was starting to gain recognition on a global scale, drawing comparisons to other prominent metal hubs. Max Cavalera likened the Belo Horizonte metal scene to the death metal scene flourishing in Florida, USA. This Brazilian metal hub boasted bands like Mutilator, Sarcófago, and Holocausto, each contributing to the region’s growing reputation as a center for extreme metal. The influence of bands like Venom, clearly evident in Sepultura’s early work, played a significant role in shaping this local scene.

Sepultura’s rise not only marked their own success but also helped forge a vibrant extreme metal scene in Brazil, echoing in metal communities worldwide.

The release of “Bestial Devastation” and “Morbid Visions” marked the beginning of Sepultura’s ascent in the underground metal community. Their strategy of distributing cassettes to fan magazines worldwide garnered them attention beyond Brazilian borders. This period of growth and recognition also brought changes within the band. In 1986, following the departure of Jairo T., Sepultura welcomed Andreas Kisser into the fold. Kisser’s addition marked a significant shift in the band’s musical direction, bringing a pronounced thrash metal influence that would be prominently featured in their subsequent album, “Schizophrenia.”

The early journey of Sepultura, from their formation in the challenging environment of Brazil to their emergence as a force in the global metal scene, is a story of resilience, innovation, and the transformative power of music. Their influence extended beyond their own music, contributing significantly to the development of a vibrant metal scene in Belo Horizonte, and by extension, shaping the landscape of metal worldwide.