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Under a pale grey sky... well, you already know it - 98%

Hellish_Torture, December 19th, 2014

After “Beneath the Remains”, Sepultura’s fame went massively growing all around the world. That album had a very strong impact on the whole thrash/death scene, and it was just the beginning of the band’s ascent toward the mainstream crowd, that would’ve culminated with the next three albums. After a long tour in Europe, the Brazilians entered, for the first time, in the well-known Morrisound Studio, where most death metal classics of that time were being recorded and produced by Scott Burns, and created a new, incredible extreme metal opus: “Arise”. Surely, overcoming that magnum opus of bone-crushing thrash metal called “Beneath the Remains” was impossible, but this album comes really fucking close to that result, placing itself just right under the previous chapter. “Arise” continues exactly where “Beneath the Remains” left, but expanding and enriching its “dry” and “merciless” approach, going in a slightly different direction: so, in some way, “Arise” could be considered as “the wiser brother” of “Beneath the Remains”, for its more expanded and complex approach to thrash metal. This is gonna be a pretty complex review as well. Prepare to travel across this album, because it really deserves to be explored in all its fragments: it’s something more than what most people consider it to be.

The album begins with an industrial intro, which is already an anomaly in comparison to the band’s previous outputs. Then, when the title-track kicks in with that annihilating riff, you apparently hear no difference. The formula is the same of “Beneath the Remains”: bone-crushing, up-tempo thrash with shitloads of riffs, mind-blowing melodic solos (always thanks to Mr. Kisser) and some mid-paced moments. Igor’s drumming still hammers like an insane beast, and that wicked high-pitched riff gives this song a definite sense of catchiness, which brings it to be one of Sepultura’s classics. Something you don’t instantly notice is that Max Cavalera’s vocal performance has really improved since “Beneath the Remains”: the style is the same of the previous album, but now, Max’s vocals are way more compact and you can truly feel a constant, intense anger and frustration in his words, leaving behind the little ingenuities of songs like “Mass Hypnosis”. This is surely his best vocal performance during Sepultura’s thrash days.

However, from the second track, some remarkable anomalies begin to appear. After another industrial intro, the song “Dead Embryonic Cells” displays a slightly different style, going for more complex and articulated structures and a more mid-paced approach which is uncommon even for “Beneath the Remains” (which featured several mid-paced moments). To me, this style sounds more reminiscent of classic Bay Area thrash, such as Metallica and Testament, rather than the trademark Brazilian thrash style, but it still conserves all the trademark brutality of Sepultura: these mid-paced riffs are very creative and recognizable, resulting to be some of the most “iconic” material every recorded by the band, and they sound definitely more brutal than most stuff coming out from the Bay Area. Surprisingly, despite staying stuck in the thrash territory, the song features even a groovy breakdown, which is just a vague anticipation of what Sepultura is gonna become in the next years. However, sometimes the pace accelerates, and when it does, the riffs just slay the listener as always, giving even a deflagrating vibe of pathos that even “Beneath the Remains” lacked. At this purpose, even the guitar melodies and the solos are slightly subtler and more sinister than usual... and it’s just a taste of things to come. Welcome the most interesting and original part of the album.

What really few people understand is that “Arise” is not just a common thrash album: it’s a monument to human alienation. The lyrics, mostly dealing with mysterious/introspective and social topics, already speak themselves; but, especially from the third track, you begin to truly understand the real nature of this incredible opus, which, in many points, is able to evoke a unique atmosphere that has nothing in common with any other thrash band. If I had to think about a movie that fits perfectly to this album, for some strange reasons, it would be “Shining”; in fact, both opuses are always able to give me the same kind of feeling: a claustrophobic, psychotic, bloody vision. It’s evident that the band worked very hard in order to employ this subtle feeling throughout the whole record, both in the riff-department and in the solo-department. Kisser’s melodies, as I anticipated before, have become more sinister and dissonant, giving a very disturbing feeling to the listener. Most of these songs sound more complex and varied than most stuff of “Beneath the Remains”, but even the most straightforward tracks like “Murder” and “Subtraction”, thanks to a morbid approach to high-pitched/melodic riffs, end up being anomalous and sick pieces of music.

“Sick atmospheres” aren’t a new thing for Sepultura, since they already experimented with them in a very mature and creative way on “Schizophrenia”; but that album was closer to the most extreme side of thrash, and applied the “morbid” component in a totally different way. As I already said... this time, Sepultura take a “subtler” approach. While “Schizophrenia” was for the most part an up-tempo-oriented album, characterized by merciless razorblade riffs (and featuring just few mid-paced episodes), “Arise” dwells a lot more on slow and mid-paced/“semi-groovy” rhythms. If you take a song like “Under Siege (Regnum Irae)”, you clearly recognize it as a thrash track, but you notice the abundance of slow parts, often infected by morbid and claustrophobic melodies. The vibe of the slowest riffs is very upsetting and menacing, and even the thrashiest parts are kept pretty slow in comparison to Sepultura’s standards of that time. At some point, there is even a very simple, yet disturbing groovy riff which sounds like an anticipation of “Roots” (purist thrashers, approach with caution).

Throughout most of these songs, Kisser’s tendency to dissonant and atmospheric accompaniments is very remarkable, and it just helps to emphasize the excruciating and upsetting atmosphere of the record. I suspect that the band took some influences from the industrial metal wave that was spawning during the early 90s (and this would also explain the industrial intros of the first two tracks), though I have no evidence of it. After all, many big names of the death metal scene were falling in love with Godflesh’s music, so I wouldn’t be surprised if even Sepultura appreciated that kind of stuff.

However, the weirdest episodes of the record, where the music reaches its experimental peak, are without doubt “Desperate Cry” and “Altered State”. Considering their very complex and varied style, they both need a very detailed analysis, describing minutely their structures and the feelings they give, to wholly get their nature.

“Desperate Cry” begins with a gloomy, spine-chilling arpeggio; it’s so intense that you could even have some horrific hallucinations. Then, the song explodes into a slow, disturbing thrash riff with little hints of “semi-dissonances” that increase the bloody vision in your head; after this, a very characteristic mid-paced riff establishes itself, giving a catchy feeling to the song. The band is extraordinary capable about building up an increasing sense of tension during these verses, culminating in the final break of the chorus (where Max yells the memorable verse: ”All we hear... DESPERATE CRY!”). Pretty much like “Dead Embryonic Cells”, this track is very progressive, changing its pace very often and going from rapid, infectious thrash assaults to (yes, again) groovy breakdowns. In particular, notice that the breakdowns of “Desperate Cry” are gonna be heard again, many years later, on the popular Soulfly hit “Unleash”.

“Altered State” is an even stranger beast, and you recognize it right from the intro: in fact, this song begins with the very first experimentations with tribal elements in the whole Sepultura’s career, a component that’s gonna be brought forward on “Chaos A.D.” and “Roots”, and then will be constantly present during most of Soulfly’s discography. Then, the song kicks in with some very weird and disturbing guitar dissonances (probably the most upsetting moment of the whole record), and then goes for one of the chuggiest and grooviest riffs ever written by Sepultura until that moment. The song builds up an almost “martial” rhythm, which sometimes loses itself temporarily into ephemeral dissonant moments where Max Cavalera’s voice gets really weird. There are a lot of up-tempo moments (the one at 2:31 sounds very disturbing and destabilizing) and even some menacing sludgy parts. At the end, the chugging riffage comes back very suggestively, offering a definite highlight at 5:01 (thanks to that absurdly wicked melody). This song is a big cauldron of different stuff, all blended together perfectly, and should be studied by everyone who wants to play some really original thrash.

After the experimental songs are gone, the album ends with a straightforward fast track in the typical vein of Sepultura, “Infected Voice”, which closes perfectly what I consider to be a true masterpiece of extreme music in general. Between all this godlike stuff, it’s very difficult to pick up a favourite song, considering the presence of immortal hits such as “Arise” or “Dead Embryonic Cells”, or the complex experimental beasts I discussed right now; but, surprisingly, my choice would go more on the criminally underrated “Murder”: it probably contains the catchiest, most twisted and most wicked riff of the whole album (the one at 0:42) and it’s a really addictive song. I wonder why no one seems to take it in consideration.

In the end, “Arise” is a timeless masterpiece which deserves every single bit of the popularity it achieved (though very few people fully understood this opus in its entirety). It represents a band evolving in a genial way in a time when metal was in a renewal state: 1991 was the year of complex/experimental extreme metal masterpieces such as “Slow, Deep and Hard”, “Time Does Not Heal”, “Mental Vortex”, “Human”, “Unquestionable Presence” or “Effigy of the Forgotten”, and Sepultura gave us an album that lives up egregiously to most of them.

”Under a pale grey sky we shall ARISE!