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Proto-death metal is often rawer than death metal! - 97%

Hellish_Torture, July 9th, 2014

Sepultura: I think they don’t need to be introduced. The only thing that can be said about them is that they are the greatest Brazilian band EVER. Since 1985 until 1996, their contributions to metal music has been incalculable, in many different sub-genres. Well, we all know the incredible impact of “Beneath the Remains” and “Arise” on the thrash metal scene and the historical importance of “Chaos A.D.” and “Roots” for modern metal; but hey, I said “since 1985”, not “since 1989”, so it’s not just about that. There are plenty of average metalheads who praise Sepultura shouting the “Roots Bloody Roots” refrain to death (don’t get me wrong; I’m also a HUGE fan of “Roots” and even of most Max Cavalera’s post-Sepultura stuff); well, I’d be curious to know what they think about the band’s debut, if they actually ever listened to it.

“Bestial Devastation” was originally just part of an anonymous split made by two unknown Brazilian metal bands (Sepultura and Overdose). I must admit that, at that time, metal from Brazil wasn’t a very ordinary thing, but we’re still talking about two absolutely underground bands. Who could think that the songs made by Sepultura in this split would have become a seminal influence on extreme metal? Yes, it happened. Taking some influence from the fastest and rawest bands of that time (the usual list: Venom, Motorhead, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and so on) and combining it with the theorem of pissed off teenagers born in a pretty poor country (valid also for Germany, just look at bands like Sodom or Kreator), this bunch of Brazilian boys with stereotypical pseudo-satanic pseudonyms created one of the most extreme releases of those times. For 1985, the names with which they could compete were very few, and we all know them, but all in all, Sodom is the only one that could really be considered heavier, in my opinion.

Those were the years when thrash metal began to be recognized as a proper genre, apart from classic heavy and speed metal, and in the meantime, some thrash bands were beginning to forge the “death metal sound” (which would have been standardized few years later by early death metal bands like Death, Morbid Angel, Necrophagia, Deicide, Obituary, Master, Autopsy, Entombed). “Bestial Devastation” is one of the most extreme examples of what “proto-death metal” is. Comparing it to other contemporaneous proto-death metal releases like “Seven Churches” or “Hell Awaits”, the first Sepultura work sounds way rawer and closer to the actual death metal standards of some years later. Listening to it, you immediately feel an incredible ingenuity, both in composition and execution, especially if compared with Possessed and Slayer’s releases (which sound more “mature” and “defined” under many points of view). But, you know what? In my opinion, “Bestial Devastation”, in its “immaturity” about every fucking thing, shines not just above most proto-death metal albums (including “Hell Awaits” and “Seven Churches”), but even above EVERY death metal record, including classic masterpieces of the genre like “Altars of Madness”, “Scream Bloody Gore”, “Cause of Death” and so on. Yes, maybe I exaggerated a bit, but, even if I love all the death metal albums I mentioned before, none of them freaks me as much as this little lovely EP.

Beginning to listen to “Bestial Devastation”, you will notice immediately the weird intro, titled “The Curse”:

“The curse is launched, beware.
The Lord of Death declared the war,
Satanas is invoked to destroy
and to command the BESTIAL DEVASTATION!”


These verses are spoken with a pretty laughable guttural tone. Many people find it just ridiculous, but I think it’s awesome as fuck: the fact is that they did it without any effect applied to the vocals! It’s incredible, if you think about it: a bunch of crazy Brazilian metalhead teens who just want to have fun playing extreme music in the vein of Venom and Hellhammer, in order to make the ordinary “satanic tongue-in-cheek” effect, come up with a monstrous intro using GUTTURAL GROWLS before everyone else... they were totally ahead of their time, and they didn’t even know it!

However, after this, the title-track comes in and the mayhem begins. The first thing that you notice is the weak production, which actually increases the incredible rawness. The most ironic thing is that the recording quality on this EP is far better than on most Cogumelo releases (including the first Sepultura full-length “Morbid Visions”). And then, we have the music. This is basically thrash, but the approach is far more extreme than usual, so it’s evident that something new is going on here. The riffs are faster than usual, and the unbelievably “evil” atmosphere generated by the chord progressions is a real standout in the thrash environment, second only to the first Sodom EP (released just the year before). Even Slayer’s “Haunting the Chapel” hardly resembles the same vibe, though being “dark and evil” in its own (more than laudable) way.

The main riff of “Warriors of Death” is something legendary: nothing at that time sounded closer to death metal than this. Not even Possessed. Some other riffs here are really simplistic, and the average metal listener of nowadays would consider them “banal”, but actually they’re not. Think about “Antichrist”: its riffs are very basic and, if a guitarist wants to learn to play extreme metal, this would be a good song to start with as first step (along with Sodom’s “Blasphemer”). It’s clear that a riff like this would be extremely formulaic nowadays, but at that time it was totally bone-crushing in its immediacy, and despite all the clone acts that followed it, the magic of this song hasn’t disappeared. Surely, in 1985 there were already a lot of bands that sounded more complex, but remember that “complexity” doesn’t always mean “better music”. I’d also suggest not to underrate the slowest parts of the EP (some parts of the title-track, “Warriors of Death” and overall the “Necromancer” intro), where some very fascinating doom riffage comes out and creates an incredibly gloomy atmosphere, and guess what... it would’ve become a standard in death metal too.

About drumming, what you immediately notice is that Mr. Igor “Skullcrusher” Cavalera was still far from achieving his level of ability that would have brought him to be one of the greatest thrash metal drummers. Right from the title-track, you take his primitive and sloppy blast-beat in your face. His snare drum sound exactly like a bin of detersive (far from being a “St. Anger”-style snare drum), but all of this does nothing but increase the rawness and the beauty of this necro-masterpiece. “Antichrist”, again, represents the peak of sloppiness: Igor Cavalera didn’t use his feet at all and there’s no trace of double bass here: just a blind, furious single blast-beat. At least Igor doesn’t lack speed and he keeps the pace pretty well, and this is what really matters. By the way, the “Antichrist” blast-beat would’ve become a standard for other bands like their countrymen Sarcofago, and it’s no coincidence that Wagner Antichrist contributed to make this song during the short period he spent in Sepultura.

Regarding the vocals, Max Cavalera’s vocals are totally different from his well-known vocal style developed since “Beneath the Remains." This is just a primitive and hellish growl that seems made by Satan himself and coming from the infernal depths. I know it’s a silly and overused description, but I really couldn’t think about something better to make my point. This is exactly what Max’s vocals remind me of, certainly moreso than most other “satanic metal” acts.

I really can’t choose a highlight in this. Maybe “Antichrist” is my favourite song, but every track here is a little masterpiece. All I can say is that “Bestial Devastation” is one of the highest peaks ever achieved by extreme metal in general and demonstrates again that you don’t need to be an awesome musician and take yourself too seriously to make awesome music. Sometimes you just need a bunch of pissed off teenagers with a little knowledge of their own instruments and a strong passion for metal. This passion, if VERY deep-rooted into them, can be enough to make a monumental work of necro-music. The fact that death metal standards were not well defined increases the spontaneity of this EP, which doesn’t stand on its own defined genre, but discovers unexplored territories without even knowing it (they just wanted to play heavy and fast as possible, nothing more). As I said in the title, proto-death metal is often rawer than death metal, and you can feel it!