By 1991, it was obvious that metal needed something new. Decades usually blur at the overlap — the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s had a lot of stylistic similarities — but in the evolving arms race of speed, technicality, and pure rage, a revolution was in order. Glam was OD’ing on the bathroom floor, having tried so hard to stand for absolutely nothing; meanwhile, thrash had graduated college, and was using lengthy, humorless songs to desperately attempt to stand for something.
Metal needed a shock to the system. It needed a hard dose of instinct. It needed Sepultura’s Arise, an album that, on the 30th anniversary of its release, sounds as frantic, hostile, and utterly vital as it did when it first shouldered its way onto the scene.
Sepultura weren’t new to the game in ‘91. The band had built a significant following with early releases like Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia. 1989’s Beneath the Remains, the band’s first album with Roadrunner Records, had thrust them into the spotlight, with tracks like “Inner Self” and “Stronger Than Hate” grabbing the attention of thrash fans around the world. But even Beneath was a still lead-up, a progression of the stark sounds of the international scene that was none the less content to live in that realm alongside Sodom, Pestilence, and Sarcófago. Sepultura needed something to take them onto the world stage.
Arise is the sound of a band embracing what they do better than anyone else. Not only do the parts of these songs sound driven to their furthest limits, they sound settled into, controlled by the people making them. The acid-edged guitars are deliberate in their precision, the drumming is enthusiastic but never flamboyant, and the vocals are the roar of a lion rather than the bark of a teen metalhead. Like the Lovecraftian monstrosity on the album’s cover, Arise’s many fearsome parts seem to exist together in a perfect harmony of sickness.
The sleeve of Arise also speaks to the atmosphere surrounding the band at the time of its release. There is something about Sepultura’s Bazilian-ness that permeates the record, giving it, with lack of better words, a physicality. By ‘91, even thrash bands were part of the music industry whirlwind of LA, NYC, and greater Europe, surrounded by PR reps and promotional appearances. But Sepultura were from a country where shit happened, a massive nation that was no stranger to upheaval and whose voice needed to be heard. This wasn’t a band raised in a typical suburban neighborhood dreaming of rock stardom. These were dudes from the streets, and they were fucking pissed.
To this day, so many other albums pale in comparison to the anger on Arise. Bands can load their music with all the blastbeats, tremolo picking, and electronic noise they want, but the frantic pace of “Murder,” the apocalyptic scope of “Altered State,” and the sadistic drive of “Infected Voice” sound more merciless and energetic than any of that overkill. Crowning all of these songs is the title track, a war cry for all of those emerging from the neon cataclysm of the ‘80s into the wasteland of our current society. Extremity is always worth striving for, but on Arise, Sepultura sound like they’re nailing it without even trying.
Today, Sepultura’s legacy is a more multi-faceted creature — part thrash, part groove, part nu-metal, all woven together in a web of primal drumming and tribal tattoos. But 30 years after its release, Arise remains their most ferocious album. Listening to it in 2021 only proves its timelessness, giving listeners the believable sound of an apocalyptic clash, of the blissful, beautiful obliteration of mankind.
Words by Chris Krovatin