Sepultura RELENTLESS: An Addendum and Dénouement
A little backstory for you. Even though my Sepultura biography RELENTLESS was first purchased for publication in Brazil, in August of 2013, that edition was actually the last to be published (for a variety of reasons I can’t go into here) in early-2016. The band stayed incredibly busy during that period, celebrating a seemingly unending anniversary tour and–as is always the case with Sepultura–struggling through some unexpected difficulties.
When we finally got the green light to publish in Brazil, the editors at Benvirá requested I write a final chapter to cover what was then a two-year gap and close out the story. That bit was only ever published in Brazil, and in Portuguese, so if you don’t live in Brazil or speak Portuguese, chances are, you missed out.
What follows is a slightly expanded version of the Afterword in its original, unpublished, language. Print it out and staple it into the back of your copy of RELENTLESS. Or, don’t. (Okay. Please, don’t do that.) In addition, I’ve added a Post Script, never before published in any language, to celebrate my own RELENTLESS story coming full circle.
This one’s for you, SEPULNATION.
“We can really feel that the interest in Sepultura is stronger than ever…” —Andreas Kisser
In the music industry, these days more than ever, two years is a lifetime. Twenty-four short months can break or break up a baby band. It can see seasoned veterans rise above the underground or sink like a rock beneath it, and sometimes both in the same space of time. Trends change, fashions change, technology changes. People, and their tastes, change. Even heavy metal changes.
But for Sepultura, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Since the release of their acclaimed The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart on October 25, 2013, an album praised almost unanimously by both critics and fans as the band’s strongest work since 1996’s Roots, Sepultura has been on a tear, doing what they do best: working. And the fruits of those labors continue to pay off. As Sepultura wraps up a number of 30th anniversary events—new shows, new music, new merchandise, all of it paying healthy tribute to the past while the band remain tethered to the present—there is a palpable sense of respect and awe for what all of these gentlemen have accomplished through the years, and an excitement for what is to come.
As usual, however, there were difficulties.
The months before an album release are crucial for hyping the record, even in an era where sales matter less and less. Just as crucial is the timing of the first tour. For metal bands whose careers and livelihoods are made on the road, a setlist peppered with new songs can translate into sales while the album is still young. And the greater the sales in those first few months of release, the more a record company is likely to spend on future tour support.
In the middle of September, 2013, Sepultura announced a long-awaited return to the U.S. and Canada. Admittedly, the States has always been a difficult market for the band to tour. The country is huge and ruled by whatever tripe is popular on the radio, so when bands hit, they have to hit hard. Both Sepultura and their label, Nuclear Blast, recognized a great opportunity in launching the tour there to coincide with Mediator’s release.
The Tsunami of Metal Tour, also to feature Boston-based Unearth and Canada’s Kataklysm on the bill, was scheduled to kick off November 1st at the House of Blues in Hollywood, California, mere days after the release of the album. Pre-sale tickets, as well as meet-and-greet packages, sold quickly for many of the dates, but as September rolled into October, band and management grew quietly worried. To work in the US, even temporarily, the Brazilians required a classification H visa—a work visa—the paperwork for which could only be applied for once all travel and show dates were confirmed. A surprise delay in the processing of that paperwork put the entire tour in jeopardy.
The United States Congress had one job: pass spending bills that fund the government. But in the mess of bipartisan politics, Republicans and Democrats refusing to agree on the President’s controversial health care policy, and Congress’s inability to come to a decision by the October 1st deadline, most government functions ground to a halt.
Including the processing of visas.
Even though the government shutdown only lasted 16 days, there was little hope. The last time this occurred, late 1995 into early 1996, the Congressional Research Service estimated that 20,000 – 30,000 visas went unprocessed every day of the shutdown.
With the spending bills passed and US Embassy in Brazil back to full operation on October 17, management and tour promoters did everything in their power to rush the processing of the band’s visas. In the meantime, Sepultura celebrated the 20th anniversary of Chaos A.D. with a trio of shows at SESC Belenzinho in São Paulo that saw them perform the entire album live for the first time in the band’s history. But with no visas in hand by October 29, the day before they were scheduled to depart for Los Angeles, and no idea when those documents would arrive, the entire tour, regrettably, had to be scrapped.
Rather than rest on their laurels during this unexpected break, the band played a handful of gigs around Brazil to stay warm for the first leg of a European headlining tour—with Legion of the Damned, Flotsam and Jetsam, and others in tow—that would kick off on February 1st of 2014.
The following months saw Sepultura attacking gigs with a fresh vigor, excited as they were to show off the drumming talents of Eloy Casagrande on the first batch of original songs with his new family. Fans responded in kind. Tracks such as “The Vatican,” “Manipulation of Tragedy,” and “Trauma of War” inspired violent, old-school style moshpits, cyclones of sweaty bodies tearing through the mostly sold-out crowds, which were more and more filled out by younger generations that weren’t even as old as many of the band’s albums.
Sepultura had truly become elder statesmen.
Summer and early autumn of 2014 were spent mostly in Europe and mostly on festival stages, as had become a tradition, including the usual suspects such as Download, Hellfest, and Graspop Metal Meeting. There were a few notable exceptions. The first was a pair of shows in China. After all these years, the band continued to break new ground and spread their particular brand of Brazilian metal to places they’d never been before. The second was a return to South Africa for the first time in 11 years, and the third a very long-awaited return to Australia and New Zealand for the first time since 2003 and 1999, respectively.
Even during the occasional downtime, Derrick, Andreas, Paulo, and Eloy remained busy with both musical and non-musical projects, some band-related and others on the side. In late September, they flew to New York City for a surprise appearance—and reunion—with Les Tambours du Bronx, performing “Structure Violence (Azzes)” on a Rock in Rio stage constructed in Times Square to announce the inaugural U.S. edition of the festival. This was a major coup for Sepultura, granting them wide-scale exposure to an audience that would typically be difficult for a metal band to reach. The promotional timing fit; that same month, a CD, DVD, and Blu-ray document of the two bands’ collaboration the previous year was released under the title Sepultura and Les Tambours Du Bronx: Metal Veins—Alive At Rock In Rio.
Back in Brazil, Andreas passed some time writing the soundtrack to a television series titled Dupla Identidade, which the band would record as a whole. A crime drama revolving around the hunt for a serial killer, Dupla Identidade ran for one season, with all of Sepultura’s original music for the program released only digitally. While not considered an “official” release, the 10-song, 22-minute soundtrack is a unique, atmospheric mix of soundscapes and killer riffs, working nicely to fill the gap and tide fans over until The Mediator’s successor is written in 2016.
The band continued to expand the reach of their music, also penning a ferocious one-and-a-half minute anthem for DarkSide Books, a Brazilian publisher of horror and dark literature.
A long holiday break with a handful of Brazilian shows sprinkled in rolled into the kickoff of Sepultura’s celebratory 30th Anniversary Tour on February 4, 2015, at the Motorcycle Rock Cruise mounted in the beachside city of Santos in the state of São Paulo. Opening with a vicious rendition of Schizophrenia’s “From the Past Comes the Storms,” the first song Kisser penned with the band, the setlist featured a number of tracks that had not been played live in years. “Bestial Devastation” segued into “Kairos,” “Breed Apart” flowed into “The Vatican.” Old songs and new fit perfectly together, proving that the essence, the spirit of Sepultura was as strong as ever.
The anniversary tour continued on in Russia. Meanwhile, dates—and more importantly, visas—had finally been secured for a North American trek. But in April, another shift occurred in the administration as Sepultura quietly parted ways with the last Cavalera associated with the band, manager Monika. (For more insight into this story, check out the 7-page Sepultura spread in the November, 2015 issue of Playboy Brasil.)
They forged on, continuing to exalt their history with commemorative merchandise and a new song, “Sepultura Under My Skin,” written especially for those fans dedicated enough to honor the band in ink. The single’s cover, a mosaic of fan tattoos arranged by artist Javier Andrés to form the trademark tribal S, paid tribute to the unique relationship established between band and fans throughout the years. It was released digitally and in colored vinyl on June 9, but the song debuted live exactly one month before at Rock In Rio Las Vegas.
The Rock In Rio festivals are known, in part, for pairing artists of disparate styles together, and the Vegas edition was no different. At the close of their main set, Sepultura welcomed guitar legend Steve Vai to the stage, where the 5-piece performed a mashup of “Kaiowas” and Vai’s “Bad Horsie,” as well as the requisite “Roots Bloody Roots” with an extended lead guitar break. Streamed live on the Internet, Rock In Rio’s first US event was a rousing success, an extremely high-profile gig that once more raised the band’s profile and exposure. In fact, of all the musicians who played on that rock weekend, including Deftones and Metallica, the Las Vegas Sun marked Sepultura as a particular highlight, even featuring a gloriously coiffed Andreas Kisser in mid-headbang on the Sunday edition cover of their newspaper.
What better way to kick off a North American tour?
And just when it seemed the 30th Anniversary Tour might be coming to an end, Sepultura would book more dates. And more dates. And then some more. Clearly, they were having a blast. If any band planned to turn in after a streak like this, it would be a good way to go out.
But the boys from Brazil (and Cleveland) aren’t quite ready to retire. When asked by interviewers, “What comes next?” the members frequently respond with, “Maybe we go for another 30 years.” Ideas have begun to gestate for a new album. There’s a feeling in the air, as Kisser stated, that the public interest in Sepultura is stronger than ever. The guys are happy, healthy, humbled, and content with their place in the heavy metal lexicon.
Another milestone is creeping up. At this moment, January 23, 2016 is just a couple of months away, a date that will mark 25 years since Sepultura’s first appearance at Rock In Rio, on a sweltering summer day, in an unenviable time slot, where the promoters hoped—and expected—the Brazilians would make a little noise and then disappear forever.
But Sepultura is still here.
And they’re not going anywhere.
—November 12, 2015
Note from the Author
In January of this year–as if I didn’t have enough work to sift through already–I accepted a gig writing weekly album reviews for Ghost Cult Mag. My first assignment was, fittingly, Sepultura’s newest release, Machine Messiah. (Let me be clear; I wrote the review, but the score GC chose for that album wasn’t mine; I would’ve given it a solid 9.5 out of 10, a half-point short of perfection only because I believe perfection is always juuuuust out of reach, and rightly so. Why strive for something greater when you’ve already reached the apex? But I digress…)
The Wayback Machine tells me I first approached the band about writing their biography on April 21, 2011. Even though RELENTLESS has since been published in four languages worldwide, it was on April 21, 2017–six years later to the day–that a particular chapter in this journey came to a close.
Prior to this date, and due to a series of near-misses, cancelled concerts, and tightly wound promoters, I hadn’t yet been able to deliver contributor copies to the band in person (or even get my author copies tagged by the guys). I came close in the summer of 2016, road-tripping 650 miles across the northern border to catch them at the Amnesia Rock Fest in Montebello, Quebec. Thanks to ridiculously strict security, I was able to meet with Andreas Kisser and Derrick Green only for a few minutes, and thus the box of books in the trunk of my car went undelivered. (The day was won later, however, when Senor Kisser dedicated the set closer, ROOTS BLOODY ROOTS, to yours truly, in front of a rabid crowd of thousands. But there I go digressing again…)
Later that year, I mailed off the second-to-last batch of books to the band–the Brazilian edition–and was left only with a handful of copies in French that they hadn’t even seen yet. Then, in January, with the release of Machine Messiah came a U.S./Canada tour announcement. I was cautiously optimistic. The one Stateside show I could’ve made on the 30th Anniversary Tour had been cancelled, with the promoter trying to make last-minute demands that more or less amounted to him attempting to rip the band off. And before that, as noted in the Afterword above, the Mediator tour had been cancelled due to politricks.
Now, with the orange-haired troll doll we currently have in office, and his xenophobic crackdown on immigration and visa processing, I feared a similar situation might occur.
But, as Andreas would later tell me, Sepultura breezed into the country much easier than any time in recent memory.
It was on.
And there’s that date again: April 21, 2017. A buddy of mine (Trebmal Photography–check him out; he does good work)–rolled into Worcester, Massachusetts early. Matt had his copy of RELENTLESS (which he had read a number of times already…ahem), and I had a Wegman’s wine bag full of books. We ran into Tour Manager, Drummer, and All Around Good Dude Jeramie Kling almost immediately. (Yes, another parenthetical, this one simply to say Jeramie is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and if you don’t listen to his bands Necromancing the Stone and The Absence right now, I will hunt you down and…)
Within a mere matter of head-spinning moments, Matt and I found ourselves on the bus where this happened.
And then this happened.
And then this happened.
“Heavier than a two-ton heavy thing,” in the words of Mr. Kling. You ain’t kidding.
I followed the band down to Long Island the next day, where I would again photograph the show, and this time interview Derrick for a Ghost Cult video feature. (Note: As of press time, the interview has not yet hit the web. I will update this post when it does.) It was a sweet, relentless weekend hanging out with some of the nicest, most respectful and talented and welcoming and hard-working and professional humans on the planet. You can’t keep a machine like Sepultura running for thirty-plus years without crews like that.
So. MASSIVE thanks to Andreas Kisser, Derrick Green, Tio Paulo Xisto, and Eloy Casagrande for letting me play the kid in Almost Famous for…oh…six years or so. Equally as massive thanks to Jeramie the King of Klings, Maicon Scherer (the Master of Lightning), and Art “MAGIC IS REAL” Cruz for taking care of me. And super huge thanks to (Ghost) Cult Leader Keith Chachkes and acolyte Omar Cordy for the hang and for making me look so good on camera.
In the words of Jesse Hughes, “I love you motherfuckers so hard.”
Until next tour, until next time. The beginning of a new chapter awaits…