The late ‘80s was one of the most revolutionary time periods for extreme metal, as this is when it would really begin to erupt. The molten rock of aggressive riffs would bring many a thrash metal band into death metal territory, with Sepultura being no exception. In their home country of Brazil, they would gain a healthy following thanks to their unique style of death/thrash metal storming the land, which was captured on two raw and abrasive albums as well as an EP. To that point, Brazilian metal may not have made much of a mark in heavy history, but Max and Iggor Cavalera would take in every ounce of Sao Paolo’s wretched lifestyle and turn it into an art-form that greatly reflected their harsh reality. As remarkable as such early Sepultura classics may be, it was Beneath The Remains that truly brought the band to wildly influential magnitudes, and it happens to be the record’s thirtieth birthday!
Gaining this much of a following would require stepping outside the boundaries of South America. With Max being the only English speaking band member at the time, it was quite a leap of faith that the band took in taking to American soil. Monte Conner, the chief over at Roadrunner records had never worked with a band out of Brazil before, which made him equally as nervous to take them onto their roster. Ultimately, signing would benefit both parties, as Beneath The Remains became a thrash essential, which was good for the label and brought the band onto the turntables of a far wider audience.
With this in motion, Sepultura would recruit producer Scott Burns, who was a bit of an amateur himself but still proved to be the perfect fit. While the first couple Sepultura efforts were raw, residing heavily on a harsh and rather uncomfortable atmosphere, Beneath The Remains extracted the aggression, speed, and intensity and reworked it on a cleaner platform. That’s not to say that the songs weren’t nasty and heavy, they just flowed through the speakers more fluidly and had a warmer touch. Of course, a change in writing style would go a long way too, containing lyrics far more relatable. Rather loading it with demons and the occult, Max and co. would take on lyrics built around personal struggles, abandonment, emotion and the like.
The most obvious monster hailing from this disc is the title track, as it not only sums up every aforementioned aspect of the record but does it in a way that sticks to the brain so well. “Beneath The Remains” begins on a chorus type structure that is lead in by acoustic guitars, only to break free with one of the most iconic thrash riffs of the ‘80s. There are intricate cuts of guitar battling that carry steady rhythms as well as strong vocal bridges that blow this track into stellar proportions. Songs like “Mass Hypnosis” capitalize on the beefy guitar work even more with the death metal leanings in build while dropping hot thrash shredding that’s topped off with unsettling melodies. Something about this track’s darker riff construction and the way it’s introduced makes it the most menacing on the disc. Sepultura’s ability to create something so brooding and harsh all the while containing such depth not only musically but lyrically is out of this world.
To keep from staying formulaic, more straightforward tactics are melted on top that stray further away from the death metal end and closer to something that sounds like it could hail from the Bay Area. “Inner Self” dials the intensity back and focuses more on classic sounding construction that jumps between steadier rhythms and speed-bursts equally. The following number “Stronger Than Hate” is similar in nature but shreds just a tad more, and wanders off into more aggressive territory part way through. Plus, the utilization of gang vocals in this one’s chorus is pulled off very well.
Clearly, there’s something to be said overall with how well Beneath The Remains comes together so beautifully. The biggest thing that all of the songs have in common is that they’re primarily on the longer side and never stop throwing in surprises that mold into the main idea smoothly. Even the odd noodle at the end of “Stronger Than Hate” doesn’t sound out of place, and same can be said about the change in attitude about the previously mentioned “Mass Hypnosis.” Even by the bottom half of this, songs like “Lobotomy” or “Primitive Future” display the same level of memorability which prevents anything from sounding overused, especially because the death metal riffing becomes more prominent again. Another constant is the angles the drummer takes for the more intricate passages. It’s easy enough to ride side by side with the bass guitar, but the fills and advanced time-keeping that rides perfectly with the borderline proggy moments work as the ultimate garnish on top.
As a fan of death/thrash, I’ll gladly admit that it’s difficult to produce something that’s going to really shine bright and separate from the pack. Beneath The Remains does exactly that and stands high above many of its peers. A few years later Sepultura would find themselves dipping into other musical styles, making Arise the last record by the band that truly channels everything that they’ve built in the ‘80s. This record is just where it shines the brightest, or as Dick Hallorann from The Shining would say, Beneath The Remains “shines” really bright!
Beneath The Remains came out on April 7th, 1989 through Roadrunner Records and can be found on CD, cassette, and vinyl. There are a handful of different versions from different countries, as well as re-pressings and CD remasters with a few bonus tracks. All are available at Discogs.