Let’s ruminate on the next generation: Death and Sepultura

And so we finally turn our attentions to artists who were directly influenced by the pedigree of the early and mid -1980s. Although the two releases we will be looking at here are pretty much contemporary to the classic works of Slayer, Celtic Frost, Bathory and, Sodom, this was now a younger generation of artists, who grew up on the seminal works of these artists, and were making their own mark on the music they loved. In the case of both of these artists however, they probably put together their debut a little prematurely. They are remembered as classics all these years on, but when compared to their subsequent works, they are but a shadow of what these musicians would go on to achieve.

Death’s debut ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ of 1987 is messy affair to say the least. It’s remarkable how much Chuck Schuldiner’s voice sounded like Jeff Becerra of Possessed at this time. The music is definitely sloppier than ‘Seven Churches’, but there is a sense in which this was deliberate. As well as exhibiting more tempo changes and slower passages than their thrash forebears whilst keeping it primitive and simple, the horror film music influence is more pronounced on ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ than it had been in this music to this point. If you were to record this album on a keyboard using clean strings and piano, it really would play like a gore film soundtrack. These musicians later disavowed this style as childish, like the slasher films that inspired it. This does the music and the fans a great disservice however.

This is one of the earliest examples of an album that deals exclusively with death (go figure), zombies, and gore, sure it’s cartoony and fun, but why not? It was to pave the way for more serious explorations into the philosophy of death, the meaning behind the obsession with gore, rotting, decay, the great equalisers. Musically, this album revels in its primitivism. Twisted solos suck you along simple three power chord riffs. Drums may struggle to keep up at times, but when music is this dirty, enthusiasm will get a long way.

Brevity has not yet crept into this music as a virtue as yet. The structures, the riffs, they are not yet complex enough to warrant the length of some of these tracks, with one line repeated over the same riff usually just beyond the point where interests peaks. Death’s progressive tendencies on subsequent releases were to quash this particular shortcoming however.

Equally primitive and sloppy is Sepultura’s debut of 1986, ‘Morbid Visions’. The production is of demo quality, the guitars are thin, the drums are produced completely without embellishment, the occasional use of reverb on the vocals or THE ENTIRE ENSEMBLE stands out like a sore thumb. It is quite apparent that Sepultura rushed to get this release out. With a bit more time this could have been something more than the sum of its parts. As it is, we get hints of intelligent death metal beneath the punky chaos. Tracks like ‘Crucifixion’, ‘Show me the Wrath’ and ‘Troops of Doom’ all exhibit a sense of the epic through the lens of..well…morbidity. This calls to mind Sarcofago or Hellhammer.

This is DIY music in the extreme. The musicians were barely capable of playing at the speeds they were attempting here, the album cuts corners in every aspect of how it was put together. But it is also a useful illustration of the fact that when confronted with an music that offers few redeeming features at this superficial level, there can still be hidden gems of appeal beneath the chaos.

Sepultura employ the beginnings of a riff salad style of composition that was to be perfected by Morbid Angel a few years later. Riffs are strung together, seemingly at random, with no verse or chorus, and there interchanging weaving nature completely dictates the structure of the song. Respite from the chaos, and the occasionally reference to a previously used riff gives this music coherence and structure that takes much longer to unfold than the pop sensibilities of the verse and the chorus. It was still in a very primitive state on ‘Morbid Visions’, and maybe with a little more time this music would have been the first example of death metal proper. As it stands it remains a classic, but one only slightly further along the road than Hellhammer, definitely more developed structurally, but almost unbearably sloppy nonetheless.

Subsequent releases would take these musicians in more of a thrash metal direction, and they were to prove to be highly competent at this, but I can’t help but wonder what would have become of Sepultura if Jairo Guedz had not left after this release, and Andreas Kisser had it taken the reigns of composition from him had.

Considering both these albums together it is apparent that one makes up for the shortcomings of the other. Early Death is primitive and heavy in all the right ways, what they lack in musicianship at the time they make up for in power and aggression. ‘Morbid Visions’ may lack the punch of their North American counterparts, but at this early stage in these artists’ careers Sepultura exhibited a more refined sense of the spirit of metal. They knew how to convey an impending sense of dread through riffcraft, they knew how to manipulate the tritone and contrast it with fast, primitive thrash riffs, and they knew how to craft a sense of epic scope through their music despite some very apparent technical limitations. For this reason, although ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ is the more impactful release when listened back to back with ‘Morbid Visions’, it lacks much appeal beyond the combination of extreme thrash riffs and homages to slasher films. It is true that Death later disowned this debut, but it is an important stepping along the road from thrash metal to death metal proper, and remains a fun classic as a result. ‘Morbid Visions’ on the other hand, is a more subtle release. There are nuances of something far more mature beneath the chaos of what these youthful musicians produce. It remains influential to this day, and makes for indispensable listening for anyone documenting the history of extreme metal, or indeed metal as a whole.

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