Silence means death
For many, Chaos A.D. marks the beginning of the end for Sepultura – this highly divisive album is seen as their fall from grace and their first step into the pits they inhabit today. While sonically it did pave the way for the slop the band would put out after it, the transition made here is a successful one. On this album, Sepultura underwent a fairly drastic shift in sound to groove metal – obvious comparisons to Pantera can be made, with the riffs here being much simpler than on previous efforts. The band relies on texture, directness, percussive heaviness and simplicity for impact as opposed to an assault on the senses through speed and technicality. Max’s vocals always tended more towards shouting than growling but here he sounds higher pitched, a bit more monotone, consistently louder and more angry sounding. The soloing and drumming meanwhile is in fact more active and technical than on past efforts – in a similar fashion to Pantera the reduced technicality of the riffs means the soloing and drumming has been spiced up to provide more variation to the songs.
However, the feel of this album certainly isn’t merely that of a Pantera clone, as there is a distinct punk spirit running throughout the album, which manifests mainly in the focus of the music. The various songs here are much more stripped down in presentation than even something like ‘Walk’, with a lot more focus going towards big and simple messages and motifs within the songs, with anything else taking a back seat. The soloing for instance has been stripped of most of its melody, and as such they exist solely to serve the song by being a point of contrast within them for some variation. While there are a good few riffs in any given track of varying types, they are the principle motifs of the songs and exist to be as memorable as possible, with the band stripping them down to the bare minimum to make them and thus the songs as immediate and high-impact as possible. The drums exist to accentuate those riffs and give them impact by doubling up their percussive nature. The songs are built around verse-chorus song structures with very catchy, simple choruses usually consisting of just a few words, as well as simpler verses. The vocals are more straightforward too – they are there simply to relay the lyrics and as such are stripped of what little tonal variation they had. Everything exists solely to turn each song into an engaging and memorable vehicle for the band’s anger and their messages – it’s all been stripped down to the bare essentials.
Music this focused and stripped down requires a great deal of passion and creativity to get by, in a similar fashion to punk and alternative rock, and it is here where the band succeeds. They have a knack for making things stick by picking only the most memorable riffs to put in a song, as well as penning the most memorable lyrics (this album’s lyrics are full of earworms and quotables – this review’s title being one example.) The solos, while noisy, atonal and technical, never go overboard and start noodling or otherwise detracting from the focus of the songs. The drums are hit hard, and despite the simple nature of the music the drum performance is loaded with lots and lots of interesting fills (often influenced by tribal music) to back the riffs up. The guitars sound heavy, textured and thick, and the riffs are played with a great deal of conviction. The vocals too sound righteously angry, with Max making for a convincing, truly captivating frontman. It sounds as if he put his heart into the messages he is shouting forth which makes it much easier to take them seriously, and the general passion of the performances all around results in songs that feel very crucial, as if the band have to get their sounds out there. The band also does well to mix it up in songs too, with very few tracks ever stagnating on one idea for too long. There’s always a faster thrash/hardcore influenced section, breakdown, solo or some other contrasting section around the corner, with each part consistently bringing its own memorable ideas to the table (a riff, a set of lyrics, a drum pattern or another idea entirely.) For all the deliberate stripping down Sepultura’s music has undergone, most of these tracks are as energetic and dynamic as before and due to their simplicity have a much more immediate impact on the listener as the band waste no time in getting to the meat of a song’s ideas and messages.
The album mostly remains within the realm of hardcore/groove/thrash, with some songs leaning more towards one or two of the three. The opener, title track and most famous song here ‘Refuse/Resist’ is a perfect mission statement for the album as a whole. The song drips with a rebellious, angered spirit that translates into how furious and strong the performances are, with its mid-tempo verses and undeniable hook backed up by a set of fantastic groove riffs, before the band break into a speedy bridge as Andreas solos away like there’s no tomorrow. Tracks like ‘Territory’, ‘Nomad’ or ‘Amen’ go for more mid-tempo, crushing grooves while ‘Biotech is Godzilla’ is excellent and to-the-point crossover thrash song and tracks such as ‘Propaganda’ and ‘Manifest’ mix up faster and more mid-tempo sections. ‘We Who Are Not As Others’ in an interesting, mostly instrumental, piece that continuously builds up from a slow groove riff to the climax of the band shouting the title, with an increasingly frantic drum performance, strings and leads accenting the song nicely. The New Model Army cover is a successful translation of the song to the album’s style, creating a rather dark track that thematically fits in quite well and provides some variety to the album. Another interesting track is ‘Kaiowas’ – an acoustic jam with pounding tribal percussion that functions as a protest song of sorts, one that fits in perfectly with everything else here in spirit if not in style.
Whatever it may have represented for the band and metal as a whole, Chaos A.D. will remain as a truly remarkable milestone and one of the genre’s crown jewels for years to come. It’s an extremely creative, potent and cohesive blend of aggression, memorability and passion, one that remains virtually unrivalled in metal to this day. It’s not for everybody, but giving it a chance and allowing it to grow on you might just turn out to be very rewarding.