Sepultura’s ‘Arise’ turns 20

I’ve spilled lots of virtual ink in Sepultura’s name (here, here, and *ahem*cough* this criminally underappreciated, comprehensive transcription over here). That is simply because A) they loom large over my metal upbringing and B) like Sabbath and Metallica, are still without peer in 2011.

In junior high, there were three albums whose covers scared the shit out of me, and which I consequently kept in a desk drawer out of immediate view: Reign in Blood, Blessed Are the Sick, and Arise. While the former two remain all-time favorites, at the time, Arise hit the spot best. All three albums are primers on blazing speed coupled with powerful atmosphere, but Arise possessed a stronger melodic quality that never came off as cheesy or compromised. Andreas Kisser’s solos are oases of respite from the Cavalera brothers’ unrelenting, dystopian riffage. As a son of the ’80s and a disciple of films like Brazil, Robocop, and Blade Runner, I really appreciate the post-apocalyptic imagery in Cavalera’s lyrics, an aspect that he’d continue to hone on Chaos A.D.

Speaking of that album, I got shit in an earlier post about saying Chaos A.D. is the album where Sepultura “become men”. I still think that’s true, but paradoxically, I must qualify that Arise presently edges it out as my favorite Sepultura album. Ultimately, it’s a less fully-realized sonic world: the production is flat (what the fuck is wrong with those drums?!), the guitar tones are not layered in any meaningful way, and are almost fatiguingly mid-rangey. While Arise represents Sepultura at their apex as a speed/thrash/death band, Chaos A.D. is them being the band they were always meant to be. You can hear it in the confidence of the songwriting, and you have to hand it to a band when they reach that point in their lifetime; so many don’t.

So why does Arise edge it out? To paraphrase my friend Anson, MY GOD, those riffs. From “Arise” to “Infected Voice”, there’s not a dud in the bunch. It’s also worth noting how deftly they did the speed thing, especially considering they pretty much forsook the blastbeat after this record. It’s the end of an era in Sepultura’s evolution, and they closed it with all guns blazing. Arise still takes me back to a time and place, and that album cover, for all the fear it instilled in me, remains a favorite. Like the riffs, it reminds me of what I love about my favorite superhero comic books: metal, like comics, sometimes functions on more is more. That cover reminds me of those over-the-top two-page spread battles between EVERY superhero and EVERY supervillain. I’m all for simplicity and economy, but there’s something to be said for artfully cramming as much amazing shit as possible into something. Notice I said “artfully”! Even building a dagwood requires skill. Sepultura’s sonic sandwich closes this chapter in metal history with panache to spare.

— Alee Karim

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Arise turned 20 on April 2.

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ARISE: A GALLERY

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Top to bottom:
Credits, traycard back, Brazilian vinyl, Argentinian cassette tape, booklet lyrics, booklet photos, Michael Whelan original painting.

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