Sepultura is a band whose work and credibility are separated by a schism so wide that it has manifested their identity into two discourses. The first is everything before (and if you feel liberal, up to) Roots. This Sepultura is a subculture god. A band whose guitar and drum work are legendary. A band whose imagery and lyrics have commanded universal loyalty. The second is after the ejection of Max Cavalera. The band in this discourse is a joke. A band who plays the most laughable of shows, release pitiful albums, and are a hollow shell of the band's glory days.
Sepultura started in the belly of one of the most notable extreme music communities in the world: the 1980s Brazilian death-thrash scene. This scene featured bands like Sextrash, Sarcofago, Mutilator, and Guerrilha. Guerrilha was the Cavalera Brothers' (Max & Igor) band before Sepultura. Along with Jairo Guedz (read: Sepultura's first guitar player, not Andreas Kisser), Guerillha released one demo before breaking up. The band recruited Paulo Jr. to start a new band. This band, Portuguese for "Grave" was called Sepultura.
Sepultura's first album, Morbid Visions, is a true Brazilian death-thrash record, a classic one at that. This album is the template of where Sepultura comes from and when. While Sepultura would later go on to incorporate a lot of tribal elements into their sound making it sound more "Brazilian", it is in Morbid Visions that we are able to truly hear where Sepultura comes from. Listening to Morbid Visions tells us more about Brazilian thrash in the 1980s than any tribal drum could. Morbid Visions is truly a product of their environment. This is not to say that they were simply the offspring of their scene and that's that... the Cavaleras made it clear on Morbid Visions that they had far too much talent and that this was only the beginning.
Their second album, Schizophrenia, was released only a year after Morbid Visions. On Schizophrenia, Sepultura stopped trying to just be a Brazilian death-thrash band and they brought in their own influences. For the Cavaleras, this meant incorporating a lot of hardcore punk into the sound. The product was an album that was faster and more pronounced (you could tell that Sepultura knew how fast / hard they wanted to play and had a better grip of keeping up with their own ambition). The lyrics had gone from death metal types about specters of death and anti-religion to more of mental instability. It is on Schizophrenia that Sepultura starts to figure it out.
Their third album, Beneath The Remains, is lauded for a variety of reasons. First, it is the first true Sepultura album. The band has harnessed their sound and declared their identity to the world. Second, it features some of the best drumming ever on a metal album. To this end, Igor Cavalera shines through in a way that few drummers have ever been able to, either before or since. This album, released in 1989, is when Sepultura finally becomes simply one of the best thrash bands in the world as opposed to being just another Brazilian death-thrash band.
Their fourth album, Arise, is something else. It is that rare stratosphere that a good band who has already excelled reaches. For Slayer, after releasing three sublime releases, it was Reign In Blood. There are rare times when a great band, a band who has been highly accomplished & decorated, still have more left in them. Where this comes from is a mystery. Something happens, the band is in the right place, certain events line up in a certain way and the end result is something next level & transcendental. This is how you describe Arise to someone. It isn't a Sepultura album. It isn't a thrash album. It is something beyond good and great. This is the folly of bands who are influenced by records like Reign In Blood & Arise and try to emulate them. It isn't possible. Not because of musicianship or ideas, but because there is something else going on there. It is intangible. You just need to hope that you're there when the spark hits and that you don't waste it.
Their fifth album, Chaos AD, is lauded by many as the standard for groove metal. For those of you keeping score: it is now 1993. Sepultura has been a band for 9 years and released 5 albums. One is a Brazilian death-thrash classic. Two are thrash classics. One is a metal gem. One is the template for groove metal. Chaos AD is Andreas Kisser's time to shine. The guitar work on Chaos AD is as interesting as it is technical. The band becomes more ambitious in their flirtations with the tribal sound (which would go on to become the major element of Roots). This is arguably the last good Sepultura album.
The rest of the story is pretty tragic and paints the schism in Sepultura's history. After Roots, Max's stepson died. The band wanted to fire Max's wife from being the band's manager. Max is thrown out of the band. Max starts Soulfly. Sepultura replaces him with some guy that looks (and basically sounds like) the guy from Sevendust. The band drifts along on the Sepultura name, getting checks from audiences who go to their shows to hear the old songs. Eventually Igor leaves the band in 2006. The band has continued on with Andreas Kisser & Paulo Jr as the surviving members from the glory days. That's well and good but they can't say they're Sepultura. Neither of them were even in Guerillha. Sepultura is Max & Igor. Sepultura are those records. That's immortal. If you've ever wanted to see a body without a soul, look no further than Sepultura in 2014.
Included is all of their albums up to Chaos AD & the Under Siege live set.