SEPULTURA – The Cogumelo Years – 1985-1987

Surely, there’s no metal maniac around the world who has never heard about the name SEPULTURA. Since my teens, around 1986, they already were one of the bands which inhabited the collective imaginary of the kids who were involved with underground metal – and even some who only listened to mainstream metal, since Sepultura fastly called the attention of the specialized press after their first release in 1985, a porrly recorded – but worshipped so far – split EP with the traditional heavy metal band Overdose.

Since then, they have become one of the world’s biggest metal bands, have crossed boundaries never imagined by any Brazilian band, got more than 60 releases among EPs, lives and LPs, influenced thousands of bands and genres across the planet, faced several changes in line-up (including the departures of its main founding members, the brothers Max and Igor Cavalera), had their name involved in musical and personal controversies and, above and beyond everything, made history in the heavy metal scene.


So, after 30 years, I’ll try to point out some aspects of their beginnings, when they were only a death/thrash Brazilian band trying to find their place in the sun and belonged to Cogumelo’s cast, a small but very important label of the underground scene which helped them to start their career, with the main goal of measuring their unquestionable impact on the whole scene. Please, come with me!


The First Years – Uprising and Origins

As many kids around the world, the brothers Max and Igor Cavalera started their band precariously, in 1983. After loosing their father, a diplomat who died because of a heart attack, they had to face their new condition of poverty and change to another city (Belo Horizonte, in Minas Gerais), where they started to listen to the old classic rock and metal bands, such as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Motörhead. By the way, it was exactly from a Motörhead’s song (“Dancing on your grave”) that they took their name, since Sepultura means “grave” in Portuguese – and this apparently random choice certainly displays their propensity to more extreme stuff, something that the first purchases of vynil records in São Paulo would soon help to define. According to Max, Venom and Slayer were the two first bands that made them rethink their musical direction, together with Dorsal Atlântica, the first band with a more extreme approach that they saw playing live.

So, their first line-up was set with Max Possessed, on guitars, Igor Skuulcrusher, on the drums, since he had already some experience drumming in some soccer matches, their friend Wagner Antichrist, on vocals, and Rob on bass. The last one would soon get out of the band for being musically inept for the position and the vocalist was kicked out of Sepultura for, according to Max again, stealing the band’s equipment to sell. In fact, this was the first controversy involing the band, since Wagner never accepted this charge and soon formed the eternal Sepultura rival band, the mighty Sarcófago. They never solved these differences and still today this issue follows both bands’s members. Controversies aside, surely most of you will agree with me that this crack was excellent to underground metal, considering that we gained two great bands which would revolutionize the international scene in some years. 


Well, after Max has undertaken the vocal duties, Sepultura also found a new bass player, called Paulo Jr. – who soon adopted the pseudonym Detructor – and added a second guitar player, who was going to be known as Jairo Tormentor. With this stable line-up, they started to get more visible on the city’s scene, doing blasting live gigs in which their more brutal musicality called the attention of the headbangers. In one of these live presentations, they met João Eduardo, who had a small label (Cogumelo) and got attracted by their controversial attitude on stage.

So, he offered them a deal to record a split album, since they tried to enhance their still raw musical abilities, and so they did! Within one year, they were playing much better, thanks to Jairo’s musical expertise, and once more João Eduardo asked them if they wanted to record some tracks for the album that Cogumelo planned to release with Overdose, another band from Belo Horizonte, but with a more traditional approach to metal. From this point on, the doors of the underground world were ready to opened for one of the most improbable histories of success ever in the extreme music scene.


Cogumelo and the split – The bestial devastation begins

After several personal troubles and using music with only as a shot in the dark, everyone would surely say that Sepultura was clearly doomed to failure. However, the four kids, then around their 15 years old, didn’t give up and with their entirely raw and primitive death metal they faced the challenge of learning how to play a little more in order to record first ep. By the way, for those who only know their thrash era, it’s important to clear that Sepultura started as a pure death metal band and not only as one more copycat, but as one of the first that helped to create and shape the genre in its glorious days, although this concern about genre-naming was not really an important issue at that time. So, despite all this crudity and primitiveness, “Bestial Devastation” was surely a landmark to the whole underground scene, being released in the distant 1985 by the now famous Cogumelo records.

Cogumelo was a very small record shop with focus on all sorts of rock, but mostly progressive rock (CONFIRMAR), which was founded in 1980 by João Eduardo and his wife Pat. Besides this, when João saw the second Sepultura’s live presentations – in a kind of musical contest in a radio station, where Max shouted some insults to everybody and spitted in the face of a judge – he liked the polemic attitude of the band and told them he wanted to sign with Sepultura for the prominent “Bestial Devastation” EP, an undeniable classic materpiece so far, but very poorly recorded. Anyway, at that time, this meant absolutely nothing as they had done something really special for them and for the whole scene, putting on a vinyl album some of the most brutal songs of the time!

In fact, despite the precarious recording, the album gave both, Sepultura and Cogumelo, a fast recognition in the scene even out of Brazil, with classic tracks like “Antichrist” “Necromancer” and “Bestial Devastation” giving the macabre and chaotic tone of the near future in the underground music. After this, the owners of the label decided to invest heavily in the metal bands of the region, becoming one of the most renowned labels of the entire history of the underground. Surely, everybody knows their releases that followed, like Warfare Noise compilations, Sepultura’s debut full-length, Sarcófago, Mutilator, Holocausto and others, but this something to be told any other day.


Coming back to Sepultura and its first release, the EP was recorded only in eight channels, but this was enough to show the world that these four guys were not kidding! Their strength was confirmed gig after gig, especially because of their destructive attitude. They were also very Lucky for having recorded with Overdose, but in a strange way: since Overdose’s music was too traditional, more like Iron Maiden, when they did some shows together, Sepultura’s brutality – which was way bigger than Overdose’s – surely got much more attention of the audience, what made their fame grow fastly. Maybe if they had recorded with any other more extreme band – if Holocausto, for instance, was ready to record – they could not have succeeded, but this is only a hypothesis. What really happened was that their name spread with such a speed that soon Cogumelo asked them to make their own full-length, and so a new step into the realms of chaos was given.


The year was 1986. The world was astonished by two tragedies: the explosion of the space bus Challenger, only 73 seconds after its departure, and the burst of the nuclear power station Chernobyl, in Ukraine, killing thousands of people and leaving a trail of destruction and disease. In Brazil, after two decades of a severe military dictatorship, under a scenario of unstable economy, deep crisis and lots of social problems, a new currency (called Cruzado) was created by the undirectly elected president, but the general mood was of hopelessness and anger, especially for the young people, since the purchase power of the biggest part of the population was near zero with the high numbers of inflation. At the same time, in the music scene, the Brazilian pop rock was strong and famous, although some outraged kids in the underground were swimming against the tide and making lots of noise in the suburbs of the country. 

So, in Rio de Janeiro, Dorsal Atlântica released the mighty “Antes do Fim” and, in São Paulo, Vulcano launched the furious “Bloody Vengeance”, at the same time that Venom and Exciter landed in Brazil for the first underground live presentations held in the country! This, together with the chaotic situation lived in Brazil, meant that the winds were blowing favorably to the rise of more extreme forms of manifestation and this was the perfect environment to the first Sepultura’s full length, the now classic “Morbid Visions”.

Personally, this album has a high sentimental value to me, since it was the first stuff from Sepultura that I heard about, reading a review on the LP in the first metal magazine I bought. A picture of Max with his hair in front of the eyes, just like I saw in Sodom’s and Destruction’s albums, the fucking logo and the description of something out of the normal metal standards, talking about “death metal”, a genre whose name already sounded really extreme to the ears of a young kid like me (I was 13!), this was enough to fuck my head forever! I had to listen to that album and in some months (things were pretty difficult then, buddy!), I remember me and my brother got a tape with the full album recorded. It was astonishing!!!


The first chords of the unforgettable Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana introduction make my spine shiver and my mind blow up to these days, since the scaring expectation that it creates in the soul of a young kid is something from another world! Just after it, “Morbid Visions” comes up with a tremendous death metal approach that only a few bands in the world would do in years of history: the fast untuned guitars (yes, according to Max, they weren’t able to tune the guitars properly. So, part of that unique sound is a by-product of their technical ineptitude and what could be seen as failure is exactly what gives this album and some others of the same time their singular flavor, for sure!), the harsh vocals and the amazing drumming, which is one of the best of all death metal albums released so far, with its dry and treble sound that would deeply mark “Morbid Visions” for kids like me


The first guttural scream that opens “Mayhem”, as well the singing rhythm used by Max in the stanzas and the growl that announces the title (“mayheeeeeeemmmm”), are eternal symbols of old school metal, followed by the unmistakable guitar riff that cuts the soul like a knife! This song was so crushing that even today it seems to carry the real meaning of the word “mayhem”, a strange and strong word whose meaning we (me, my brother and some friends) didn’t knew for sure, since it was not found in our poor school dictionaries. However, as it was only used by the more extreme bands, we identified “mayhem” as something very especially destructive and mean. So, hearing Sepultura scream “mayheeeemmmm” was perfect and we certainly repeated it nonstop!

But the mayhem hasn’t finished yet! It had just started, because this track is followed by “Troops of Doom”, one of the greatest (and finest!) classic songs of all metal history and surely Sepultura’s first hymn, since they have been playing this song for decades in almost all their gigs. Its midpaced rhtythm in the beginning is perfect to bang heads and open the circle in the audience, something they provoked a lot, considering the amount of live presentations they did at this time.

Keeping the ears open, the album still has other underground metal hits, like “”Funeral Rites”, “Show me the Wrath” and “Crucifixion”, although “War” and “Empire of the Damned” can also be considered eternal classics. By the way, this release is from a time when there not many albums available. So, the ones we have at home were listened to up to drill the vinyl record, what meant every song was heard thousand of times a week. Everybody knew each guitar solo (by the way, Jairo Tormentor left his mark here, since the solos, although chaotic and noisy, are memorable), each scream, the lyrics from the beginning till the end and the whole record. It’s important to say that the artwork was also an essential part of the album and this one in special is fantastic, showing the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves, with the devil choosing the son of god to take to hell. Simple, primitive, but efficient and  classic forever!

Of course, a perfect release like that took Sepultura to higher steps towards the success Max and Igor had promised their mother they would achieve, for they had given up school to dedicated fully to metal music. So, in a way, their dedication was so high that they really deserved to go beyond the frontiers of their land and even get out of Brazil, since their debut had been fastly spread all over the underground and Belo Horizonte was too small for them. A next step should be given and it wuuld be faster as a shark!



Well, everything seemed fine for the band then, but suddenly Jairo Tormentor, their main musician, decided to get out of Sepultura for lots of personal reasons. Anyway, despite getting shocked at first, the other members didn’t feel like giving up. So, it was Jairo himself who suggested a new guitar player: Andreas Kisser, which was Max’s roadie when they played in São Paulo and who had impressed them a lot for his abilities in his old thrash metal band, called Pestilence. Max and Igor talked to their supportive mom and she allowed them to invite Andreas to live with them for a while in Belo Horizonte. Of course, her attitude was amazing for them and this change would redefine their music and the geography of the underground forever.

After the enormous success of “Morbid Visions”, Cogumelo decided to give their best to support their new release, spending a good amount of money to make the something still unseen in the history of Brazilian metal. So, in 1987, “Schizophrenia” was released, starting a new way of doing music in South America with a groundbreaking mix between thrash and death metal with an excellent production that was way beyond all recordings done in this continent. I remember when I bought it, around 1988, and me and my brother got really upset by the ultra clean production, something no other band had so far in Brazil. This was a clear harbinger that their future would be built out of Brazil, because Sepultura had attained a level that only could be compared with the foreign bands in terms of production.

Of course, in terms of presenting excellent metal music and energy, there were other great bands in Brazil too (Vulcano, Dorsal, Sarcófago, Mutilator, Korzus, Panic, Holocausto and other awesome bands released remarkable albums in the same year), but the whole quality of “Schizophrenia” really meant a step further for the Brazilian scene. Not only the music, but the artwork was also great, as well as the unique gatefold cover, showing extreme professionalism, both from the band and also from Cogumelo records too.


The album brought some eternal gems of the underground, like “Escape to the Void”, “From the Past Comes the Storm” and “Septic Schizo”, for instance, most of them floating in that space that Salva Rubio (author of the book “Metal extremo – 30 anos de obscuridad”) called “gray zone” (“zona gris”, in the original Spanish), referring to that overlapping area where all the old extreme genres of metal met and no one could state with accuracy if a band was death or thrash metal, situation which cannot be seen today anymore, since the genres gained very well-defined features after the 90’s. So, the tracks were really fast and aggressive and most of their old fans were still happy to see that Sepultura had enhanced technically, but kept their extreme music intact. Anyway, the fact that they were playing much better and the use of an acoustic guitar, as well as some intrincated solos, brought them some criticism too, especially from the independent underground freaks, who accused them of seeling out for thrash metal, which was quickly becoming a trend after the growth of Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer etc.


On the other hand, the foreign fans and especially the metal business men didn’t give a shit about that and Sepultura got their total attention, showing that the band was ready to conquer the world, as they have dreamed since the beginning. And, as everybody knows, this really happened after the release of ‘Schizophrenia” when Max decided to send the album to several international contacts, including Monte Conner, the almighty executive from Roadrunner Records. Although Monte Conner and some other big guys of the industry had already heard about Sepultura and their previous releases, now they could measure the real potential of the band and so the major decided to sign a deal with the “exotic” guys from Brazil. Finally, the way was paved for Sepultura to become the biggest Brazilian band of all times, a feat nobody else would achieve in the same magnitude here, despite the strength of several bands which helped to carve the name of Brazil in the global metal panorama.

In the end, whether we like it or not, in spite of all the controversies that revolve around their name, mainly the harsh criticism from die-hard freaks who did not accept the departure of all original members over the years and the radical change in their musical direction,  Sepultura is still a big reference in the international scene and has proven its force by the deep marks their three first records carved in the memory and history of so many people that, 30 years later, their legacy is certainly undeniable. 


Cristiano Passos 

Poprawiony (poniedziałek, 24 kwietnia 2017 18:31)