The Reunion Illusion: Five Reasons Why I Oppose A Sepultura Reunion
Band Photo: Sepultura (?)
Posting news about Sepultura is something that I always enjoy, because they're one of my absolute favourite bands, and dread because I know of the written onslaught that will follow with each and every article. For those of you who are unaware of why this may be, the diatribes that come with the articles and the background, permit me to shed some light on the subject.
Sepultura is a heavy metal band that formed in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1984 by brothers Max and Igor Cavalera and bass player Paulo Xisto Jr, as well as a guitarist called Jairo Guedes. After releasing an EP called, "Bestial Devastation" in 1985 and a full length, "Morbid Visions" in 1986, they split with Guedes and recruited guitarist Andreas Kisser. This lineup of the band released several more albums and became one of the most well known bands to ever come from Brazil. They gained worldwide recognition for their album, "Chaos A.D." in 1993, which is considered their best album by many fans, and expanded their reputation as metal superstars with their 1996 album, "Roots," becoming one of the few metal bands to find success in the 90s along with Pantera and Machine Head. At the end of 1996, Max Cavalera, the group's singer and rhythm guitarist, left the band as a result of the other members not wishing to extend the contract of their manager, who was/is also Max's wife. Following this, the band recruited a new singer in American born, Derrick Green. Since then, the band has received a huge backlash from fans because of the lineup change, with many calling on the band to change their name, especially since drummer Igor Cavalera left in 2006 and daily pleas to reunite the classic Cavalera/Cavalera/Kisser/Xisto lineup. For many people however, it seems they don't even know why they feel the urge to demand a reunion, except that they want to see the classic lineup live... maybe. In this article, I'm going to attempt to explain why I think a Sepultura reunion wouldn't work, why people are wrong to demand it and what the alternatives are.
1. Post-Max albums
Shockingly, in practically every thread where people shout about how much Sepultura are nothing more than a tribute band now and that they're not the same without Max Cavalera, they also confess that they have never even heard the material Sepultura have released since recruited Derrick Green. That alone tells me that these people aren't worth listening to. Some people claim they heard one song and didn't like it, which is only marginally better. Since Green has been a member of the band, they have clearly taken more chances and risks with their music, and become infinitely more creative. Nowhere is this is more evident than their last two albums, "Dante XXI" and "A-Lex" which are albums based on the books, "The Divine Comedy" and "A Clockwork Orange" respectively. On these two albums, the band incorporated orchestral sounds, dark ambient influences and more, all while retaining, and even embellishing their thrash metal sound and traditional hardcore influences. Regardless of how well these albums have been received, these two albums at least are two of the more interesting releases from the last decade. Of course, "Dante XXI" and "A-Lex" aren’t the only two albums the Green era of Sepultura have released, just the most recent. The first album with Green, "Against" was not a good start. It isn’t necessarily a bad album, but it pales in comparison to their older material, there is no argument there. They certainly picked up the pace with the next album, "Nation" and "Roorback" was arguably much better, though by no means an outstanding album. One of the things that make the Green albums so much more interesting, at least in my opinion, is that Green has more variety in his voice, belting out hardcore-esque screams and shouts one minute, and experimenting with much more melodic and clean singing the next, which donates a much richer flavour to the music than the straight from the throat aggression which Max produces.
2. Criticism of Soulfly
The last album Sepultura released with Max, "Roots," has had it’s fair share of criticism, despite being one of the most popular records in the 90's metal mainstream and featuring what many consider to be their most recognized song, "Roots Bloody Roots." Popularity aside, many Sepultura fans felt that the album’s focus on tribal music was something they didn’t particularly want to hear, preferring a more straight forward approach to metal. Max has since continued the tribal style since forming Soulfly and releasing their debut album in 1998. The tribal influence isn’t the only thing that has put long time fans off of Soulfly however, as they have also been accused of jumping on the nu metal bandwagon of the late 90’s/early 2000’s, a statement backed up by their inclusion of guest spots from Limp Bizkit’s, Fred Durst and Christian Machado of Ill Nino. Although the band has begun shedding their nu metal influence since 2005’s, "Dark Ages," their more recent output has still been subject to criticism, particularly their latest release, "Omen," which received a rating of only 1 out of 5 on this very website. Regardless of how many people feel about Soulfly, the general consensus is that their work has never matched the Max Cavalera era of Sepultura. With that in mind, does it not seem that were Max Cavalera still a part of Sepultura, the band would have taken the path Soulfly has and received a backlash from fans regardless?
3. Lyrical quality
Frankly, the quality of lyrics in heavy metal in general is one which has always been subject to debate, having been seen as both simple and pretentious, so this section will probably not demonstrate any examples of poetic brilliance. With that in mind, one cannot begin to fathom how those listeners who pay attention to the vocal tracks can continue to listen to the latest releases involving Max Cavalera and not become bored. It would seem that Max has given up on writing lyrics now, relying instead on memorable lines from old Sepultura work. An example of this can be heard on his guest appearance on the song, "War Is My Destiny" by rapper Ill Bill. Cavalera provides the chorus or "hook" of the song which simply consists of the lines, "Refuse/Resist. War is my destiny. Disorder unleashed. War is my destiny. Chaos A.D. War is my destiny. Under a pale grey sky. War is my destiny." Another example of what one can only perceive as laziness comes in the form of "Killing Inside," the Cavalera Conspiracy song which recently received the music video treatment. In the song, the title is repeated frequently along with the lines, "Look in my eyes" and "Everyone dies," the latter of which has also become a favourite lyrical point of Max’s as of late. When he isn’t using old lyrics or repeated the same ones over and over, Cavalera seems to enjoy saying "fuck" and "shit" as often as a child who’s just learned it’s first swear words. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with swearing in heavy or extreme music, but to use it constantly in music perhaps one of the laziest acts one can commit.
On the other hand, one need only looks at the group’s last two records, "Dante XXI" and "A-Lex," which, as I have previously noted, are based on the books, "The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri and "A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess, to see that the lyrical ambitions of the band have gone far beyond the "fuck the system" approach of old. "A-Lex" in particular possesses some interesting phrases such as, "Trust is just a moment in a life which you should command" and paying tribute to the controversial novel with the utmost respect, following it’s story in a way that, while devoted to the book, remains an individual interpretation. The same can be said for "Dante XXI," in which the band take the epic poem and compare it to modern day situations and events, comparing the beasts to the United Nations amongst other things.
4. "It’s not Sepultura anymore! They should change the name!"
These two exclamations are bound to be seen whenever Sepultura are even mentioned. To an extent, the latter is one of the best arguments I’ve heard when it comes to the band in it’s current formation, but it’s still not a particularly strong one. Both of these statements are also entwined together, so rather than examine them separately, I shall fuse my rebuttals into one. An example I often bring up when fans demand a name change is Napalm Death. The current incarnation of the British grindcore legends contains no original members at all. The member of the band which has served for the longest time is bass player Shane Embury, who joined the group after they had released their first album, "Scum," which itself featured an almost completely different lineup on the B-side to the A. So since there are no original members left in Napalm Death, should they too change their name? They’re certainly not the same band they were when they began, as comparing, "Scum" to "Time Waits For No Slave" will demonstrate. But are they still Napalm Death? Of course they are, just with new staff.
The best response I’ve heard regarding changing their name or splitting up is that most people consider Max as the voice of Sepultura and it’s as synonymous with the band as Tom Warrior is to Celtic Frost. One would certainly agree unto a degree, as Celtic Frost without Tom Warrior would be a strange sight to behold indeed. That said, perhaps it would be best to examine how these two singers contributed to their most popular bands. Sepultura, for the most part has always been a collective, with the band members seemingly having as much of a say as the other, with the majority vote being the deciding factor, hence why the Cavalera brothers left. On the other hand, Tom Warrior has always been the lifeblood of Celtic Frost, much like how Dave Mustaine has always been the soul of Megadeth. They’ve kept their bands afloat and at times were the sole original members and bore the brunt of most or perhaps all criticism that’s come their way. Whereas, Max left the band and has arguably never soldiered the mainstream pressures the band has faced like Mustaine and Warrior did, though he has done so with Soulfly, even firing the whole lineup at one stage. So, by leaving Sepultura, and forcing his bandmates to decide whether or not to carry on, as well as other problems, he washed his hands of any and all responsibilities and while he may be the defining voice of Sepultura, like Ozzy was to Black Sabbath, he, like Ozzy, doesn't really have a right to say what the band should and should not do after he’s gone.
I’ll admit that when Igor Cavalera decided to leave the band in 2006, I too was conflicted as to whether or not Sepultura should continue under the same banner. But, after witnessing the band live in 2007 with new drummer Jean Dolabella, the group proved to me that they were still a ferocious and riveting live act, which at the end of the day, is one of the main things people want from a band. As I have said numerous times so far, I was also extremely impressed with "A-Lex" and with the drum work on the album in particular. Regardless of the band now featuring only one founding member, they can still write creative music and they are still passionate about what they do.
5. Were a reunion to happen
Let’s suppose for a minute that the Cavalera brothers did return to the band. The big question now is, "What next?" Presumably, the reunited "classic" lineup would begin by performing together either in their native Brazil or on the European festival circuit, with a North American tour to follow. After the tour, the band would probably say something along the lines of, "We’ve discussed a new album, but nothing is definite yet." Such a statement would prove to be either the deciding factor as to whether the band continue with the now reunited lineup, or spend years in limbo. Let’s pretend that the band decided not to record another album together, or that while working on the album, old arguments flared up again and they scrapped the material. What then? Max would certainly return to Soulfly, which he would never disband even if Sepultura did reunite with him, and Igor would probably go back to his DJ work, along with performing with Max in Cavalera Conspiracy when possible. This leaves Andreas and Paulo with the band once again. What would be the likelihood that Derrick Green, after fourteen years of loyal service to the band, would return to the fold, after being kicked out in favour of a nostalgia tour? In time perhaps, but certainly not immediately, it would be demeaning. So the now the band is faced with a dilemma, do they disband or begin searching for a new vocalist? If they didn’t disband when the Cavaleras left, it’s unlikely they’d split now, so they begin searching for a new singer. Once again, this could go either one of two ways, either they find someone quickly, or they struggle for a time trying to find the right person, a la Velvet Revolver. The botched reunion itself would probably have set the band back by at least two years, and now they don’t have a singer, so essentially, by forcing a reunion, they’ve killed the band, or at least done irreparable damage to it, exactly like Anthrax did when they reformed the "Among the Living" lineup, just because some fans wanted Belladonna back.
On the other hand, maybe the reunited group could work together and record an album. For the sake of argument, let’s call the record, "Reunited and it feels so good." They film a video for it, do the interviews etc. but they’d be haunted by the nagging question in the back of their minds that asks, "Is the album actually any good?" Let’s go with the nice idea that it’s a solid album, fans love it, the ensuing tour sells out, everybody’s happy. They continue to tour for a further eighteen months, performing at festivals, doing package tours with other metal veterans, Prong for example, and probably get booked to support big name acts like Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne. Now the band are faced with another problem, the next album. This would probably take a while as Max would more likely than not go back to Soulfly, to continue making the music he might have been prevented from writing while in Sepultura, so for the sake of argument, let’s suppose this delays work on another album by eighteen months/two years. The follow up to the reunion album is very rarely met with the same fanfare as its predecessor. Fans have got what they wanted, they’ve bought the comeback album, they’ve seen the reunited lineup live, bought the t-shirt, what more could they want? So eventually the next album comes out. It does alright, but the excitement of the reunion has now worn off and fans aren’t so keen on making sure they go and see the band anymore, because they’ve already seen them. This pattern continues, and the band begins to slide in popularity, shuffled away like many other thrash bands, who reunited due to overwhelming demand from the fans, and then found themselves struggling to fill venues and then wondered if they should have let sleeping dogs lie.
I don’t know whether or not this article will change the minds of any Sepultura fans who refuse to give the Green era a try, frankly I doubt it. But my intention here is to explain that a group under a banner is just that, a group. A gathering of people, not one person. Many towns and cities have brass bands which perform at social, political and sporting events and this band will have likely have gone under the same name since their inception, with for many of them, would have been decades ago, so of course they don’t feature the original lineup but no-one expects them to change their name. Shock rock icon Alice Cooper has stated that when he decides to retire, he would like someone else to take his place, as he sees Alice Cooper as a character, not as an extension of himself. Thin Lizzy are still performing, despite the absence of iconic frontman Phil Lynott and a few years ago, Queen returned with Free vocalist Paul Rogers, who as great a singer as he is, cannot possibly be expected to live up to the standards of Freddie Mercury, who is constantly named as the greatest rock and roll showman of all time.
The name of a band is not a musician’s sole identity, and arguably this can be said in reverse. Sepultura are a band, not a man or a duo. They are still writing creative music, taking risks and impressing the fans who go and see them perform live. Above anything else, musicians are artists. While they owe their success to their fans, they also owe themselves for writing the material in the first place. It wouldn’t be right to demand that Van Gogh painted nothing but Sunflowers or that George Orwell only wrote about politics being represented through animals, so it isn’t fair that we, as fans, think that we know who should be in a band and how they should write their music. If fans had their way all the time, Black Sabbath would never have released, "Heaven & Hell," which stands as one of the best albums of their career. This year they are celebrating their 27th anniversary as a group, so the question is, is it really fair to demand that a band risk a legacy of nearly three decades just so that fans can feel an air of nostalgia?
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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