Let’s be honest: The late 80s were a golden time for thrash metal. Metallica were hitting their creative peak, as were Slayer and Anthrax. When it came to hard-hitting music, the UK and USA was leading the charge. But sometimes, a new sound can be found in the unlikeliest of places. One of these unlikely places was Belo Horizonte in Brazil, where a group of teenagers were starting to finesse a metal sound that would influence a new generation of thrash/death bands across the globe. That band’s name was Sepultura.
Originally seen as a ‘satanic’ metal band, with lyrics and an image similar to that of Venom and early-Slayer, Max Cavalera and co. ditched their satanic black metal sounds, along with the black leather and spikes, and began to put together a more melodic side to their form of thrash/death metal. While many claim that 1989’s Beneath the Remains and 1991’s Arise were the peak of their creativity, to me I think that creative peak began with their 1987 release Schizophrenia.
Beginning with a ‘Psycho’-inspired intro that ends with a blood-curdling growl, it immediately heads right into what can be described as their classic sound – lightning-quick riffs, brutal drumming and Max Cavalera’s punishing vocals. It was an immediate transformation from their beginnings, with clearer sound and improved songwriting. The three tracks that follows the intro, ‘From the Past Comes the Storms’, ‘To The Wall’ and ‘Escape To The Void’, simply pummels you from the word go. Thanks to the addition of guitarist Andreas Kisser, his presence gave the band a new vitality, in terms of maturity, technicality and musicianship, and also a more profound approach to creating their sound. They were also not afraid to experiment either, with the seven-minute instrumental ‘Inquisition Symphony’ (with its acoustic introduction) showing the level of diversity that showcases the band’s signature mixture of melody and aggression that would become more evident on future albums.
As the title of the album suggests, it feels like there is a hidden concept about mental insanity behind these nine songs. The sound of the music and the vocals seem to give a somewhat claustrophobic vibe. If there’s one way to describe what this album aims for, it’s ‘expression’. Every riff, every melody and every word are made to ‘express’ the hidden concept of madness. Even the artwork itself gives evidence to this metaphor. When you listen to the breakneck-speed riffs of ‘Screams Behind the Shadows’ and ‘Septic Schizo’, you realise they’re not just the simple sounds of thrash, they connect with you by creating ‘dramatic’ atmospheres. While the lyrics were mainly focused on violent influences, the satanic imagery vanished completely, and in keeping with the album’s concept, the lyrics are focused on a ‘psychotic’ vibe, with ‘Septic Schizo’ and ‘From the Past Comes the Storms’ being good examples of justifying the atmosphere. It’s only when you hear the lyrics to ‘R.I.P. (Rest in Pain)’ when you discover the true nature of this album: “Schizophrenia, paranoia, insane death, rest in pain!”
As good as this album is, it doesn’t come without its little faults. Compared to future albums, the sound on Schizophrenia sure ain’t clean. The production is probably as raw as any thrash/death metal album could be, maybe even more, and as a result, creates a devastating, yet muddy wall of sound. As frightening as they were on this album, Max Cavalera’s vocals weren’t the most intelligible I’ve heard, sounding almost muffled at times. It wouldn’t be fair of me to criticise the lyrics though, as at the time English wasn’t the band’s mother tongue, so at times, Max is spewing broken English as a result.
But overall, Schizophrenia represented a sign of things to come for Sepultura, as they managed to find their signature sound early on in their career whereas most metal bands would take about 4 or 5 albums to find theirs. It’s unique in its delivery, which showed that thrash/death metal could indeed be ‘expressive’, and it showed that this group of young teenagers had grown up so quickly, and had immediately adjusted to a new sound that would eventually catapult them to even greater heights by the beginning of the 90s.
2. From the Past Comes the Storms
3. To The Wall
4. Escape To The Void
5. Inquisition Symphony
6. Screams Behind The Shadows
7. Septic Schizo
8. The Abyss
9. R.I.P. (Rest in Pain)
Sepultura – Schizophrenia line-up:
Max Cavalera – vocals, rhythm guitar
Igor Cavalera – drums
Paulo Jr. – bass guitar
Andreas Kisser – lead guitar