Sepultura have had a rough ride over the last decade. From being unceremoniously dumped from Roadrunner following the excellent and under-rated ‘nation’, to the years spent in the wilderness unable to release an album without it being compared to a certain guitarist who hasn’t graced their ranks now for almost fifteen years, it seemed that Sepultura were destined to spend the remainder of their time as an active band as the perennial underdogs of metal, maligned by metal fans who seemingly found it easier than to complain about what a new Sepultura release was not than to actually listen to it. The tragedy is that Sepultura’s albums have been consistently good, and the powerful ‘roorback’ was followed by the exceptional ‘Dante XXI’ and the angry, wounded concept blast of ‘A-lex’ to little or no acclaim, although it must be noted that the band retained a powerful and vocal tribe of followers despite the flack, and it is that belief that has not only kept the band’s flame alight, but which has also seen the band finally find a home with the mighty Nuclear Blast, a recognition that Sepultura are far from a spent force despite the setbacks and frustration the band have endured.
The one key element that everyone forgets when analysing Sepultura is that, unlike so many of their contemporaries, Sepultura have never deviated from the path of searing metal. Sure ‘Roots’ saw them head into the jungle bearing only acoustic guitars and face-paint, but the band’s core ethos has remained remarkably constant – to create vicious, incisive music on their own terms and even now, after all these years, Sepultura sound quite unlike any other metal band out there. They have never bowed to the pressures of fashion and have never tried to ride a bandwagon, even when times were hard and the band’s stand by their immensely under-rated singer Derek has also been commendable (especially when you consider Anthrax’s vocalist juggling) and thoroughly justified by the fact that Derek’s evolution as a front-man over the course of the last six albums has been a joy to behold. Consider for a moment the raw, abrasive ‘against’ as Derek emerged from the smoking wreckage of Max’s acrimonious departure and then fast-forward to the stupendously assured performance that the be-dreadlocked behemoth turned in on ‘A-lex’ and the simple conclusion is that he has been dismissed far too eagerly by far too many people for far too long.
So enough with the history. What we have here is the much-anticipated debut release for the aforementioned Nuclear Blast and while the haters will undoubtedly already be poised over their keyboards ready to state exactly why no-one should listen to anything the band have released post ’97, there are plenty of faithful followers out there who will want to know if the label jump has had any significant impact upon the band’s sound and whether ‘Kairos’ outdoes previous Sepultura outings. To tackle the first question, um, first, the core Sepultura sound has not changed significantly, and yet… and yet the band sound hungrier, leaner and plain meaner than they have in a while. In a previous review I suggested that ‘A-lex’ was a strong, if not classic, release. Here, Sepultura have upped the ante by producing an album that channels all of the frustration of the past few years to release a massive, pent up roar that simply annihilates the opposition. Indeed, as the tribal drums of ‘spectrum’ build over a punk-infused riff and Derek intones in his instantly recognisable voice “through these eyes, we fought the world” it sends shivers down the spine not just because it is a great piece of introductory music but also because it’s true – Sepultura have taken on the whole might of the anonymous internet flamers and won through sheer, steely-eyed determination and superlative song-writing and as the track reaches its frenzied conclusion you can’t help but feel that with a fresh start on Nuclear Blast, Sepultura and their fans have finally been vindicated. As Andreas’ ever-green guitars swirl around the mix and an eastern-tinged solo, far better produced than on the band’s previous efforts, peels out, it occurs that each member of the band is shining far more brightly than in the past and the result is a musically balanced, ferociously tight record that aims straight for the jugular. The title track is next and it feels like a cross between the bullish self-assurance of ‘Nation’ and the more thrash-orientated riffing of ‘Propaganda’, a track that still dominates the band’s set today. Derek once again comes out on top here, and his roar is as familiar as it is welcome, booming out of the speakers over a glorious riff that is cheerfully deconstructed by a rippling solo that is both refreshing and inventive. Not that the experimentation detracts from the simple head-banging fury; not at all, Sepultura’s key skill has always been to appeal to the mind as much as to the instincts and as much as this is mass-mosh-pit-inducing stuff, it is equally something that you can sit at home blasting away through the head-phones thanks to the endless stream of ideas that the band throw into the mix.
As if ‘Kairos’ wasn’t heavy enough, ‘Relentless’ more than lives up to its name with a riff that not only slam dunks you with its ferocity but which also cheekily references ‘refuse/resist’ in its outro. It’s an insanely good track which flew past me in a blur while I was writing up my notes to the previous song, and then caught at my mind like a fast moving fish-hook, reeling me in and forcing me to replay it at neighbour-annoying volume until my metal-craving was finally sated. Furnished with a blistering solo and a memorable chorus it’s an awesome track, one of the band’s finest, and if faced by one of the band’s irritatingly carping detractors, slam this on and see the look of furtive shame flood their features. Following the brief interlude that is “2011”, Sepultura take the unusual step of blasting out a white-hot cover of Ministry’s ‘just one fix’. It’s one of those weird moments on a record where you stop for a moment, perplexed by something so familiar trying to figure out what it is you’re listening to, but it works well and once again Derek’s monumental roar tops the list of accolades as the band churn out their explosive take on the track, stripped of the technology and rendered raw, primal and possessed of that classic Sepultura groove instead.
‘Dialogue’ continues to drive the album forward with an off-kilter riff that suddenly takes a step into left-field, Faith no more territory albeit with a chorus constructed from reinforced concrete. It’s a brave track that highlights not only that Sepultura are utterly unafraid to try something different when the mood takes them but that they have the skill to pull it off. It’s a great track, reminiscent of the tense, unpredictable ‘Nation’ album and crammed with almighty, pummelling riffs although if it’s riffs you want, then the punk-infused ‘Mask’ adopts a more straightforward Sepultura groove, head-down, fret-board scraping stuff that gives Derek more than enough room to spit lyrical venom in the direction of people who hide behind masks in order to say what they really think.
Another segue, ‘1433’ provides a moment of unsteady calm before the perfectly titled ‘Seethe’ tears out of the speakers with the sudden violence of a precision bombing raid. It’s familiar territory for Sepultura, and it’s great to hear the boys attacking their material with such obvious enthusiasm and fire. Hardly epic in length, the song is followed by the gloriously unhinged ‘born strong, an atonal gem in the style of ‘Dante XXI’ that features Andreas’ distinctive lead work over a huge thrash riff and topped off some solid drum work. Again, Andreas’ guitar work is way up in the mix giving listeners the chance to appreciate just what a strong musician he actually is and the production job (courtesy of Roy Z) deserves praise overall for its fine balance of clarity and power. That power flows through the crushing ‘embrace the storm’, a stunning piece of work, the riff of which flows over you like a metallic tsunami, and only abates for the eerie segue ‘5772’.
The final act of the album recalls the bruising lurch of ‘A-lex’ with ‘no one will stand’, a dirty, punk-encrusted mass of on-the-cusp-of-chaos drumming and guitars. It is a notable skill, that only Sepultura have ever quite pulled off, that sees the band staring complete musical collapse in the face and yet somehow holding the whole thing together as the song plunges headlong towards its giddy conclusion with Andreas even finding time for a stunning harmonised solo before crashing back into the main riff. ‘Structure violence’, on the other hand, is easily the strangest thing that this incarnation of Sepultura have recorded, all spooky industrial percussion and cold, clanking synths which is rather how you’d imagine a Satyricon remix of the band might sound like. It’s different, certainly, but also interesting and well executed and it leads you, like a lamb, to the odd closer ‘4648’ which ends the album on a brief, quiet note.
Of course no special edition is complete without the odd extra track and here Sepultura shoot straight into a deranged cover of Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’, demolishing the Prodigy original with cheerful abandon (and erasing all memory of Gene Simmons’ god-awful version) and then tops that spectacular feat with the hellish, brutal ‘point of no return’ which is worth the extra cost alone. Throw in a ‘making of’ DVD and it’s a no-brainer that fans will hanker after the limited version and the awesome art-work deserves a mention too.
Kairos is, without a doubt, the album that Sepultura have been threatening to make for the last couple of releases. While I have enjoyed all of their post-Max albums, ‘Kairos’ is easily the most complete release and it benefits from the excellent production of Roy Z, a producer who clearly understands the band, all of which combines to make ‘Kairos’ not only a landmark in Sepultura’s recording history but also one of the stand-out metal albums of the year. While it is highly likely that the poison-pen writers, safe behind their shield of ridiculous usernames and anonymity, will continue to be unswayed by the band, anyone with an interest in metal will find this to be a spectacular, exciting, first-rate metal album and for the long-term fans of the band who have suffered every insult and derogatory comment alongside the musicians, this is nothing short of the ultimate “I told you so!” Intelligent, blistering and beautifully played this is a triumphant, defiant blast that epitomises the blazing spirit of honesty and integrity that Sepultura have steadfastly nurtured over the years. Utterly unmissable.