Review Summary: Sepultura had definitely reached their apex with the release of the groundbreaking third album. Beneath the Remains is a milestone of controled aggression, while still managing to be savage and chaoitic in it's own way.
Sepultura, while certainly not the best band from Brazil, was truly worthy of their mass attention following the release of their 1989 Magnus-opus Beneath the Remains. Unlike many thrash metal bands, proclaimed by the mainstream media to be among the best in the genre when they really weren’t (especially the mass hype surrounding heavily influencail Metallica), Sepultura actually lived up to the hype sporting genuine talent and technique, to create several masterpieces of extreme, yet controlled and somewhat sophisticated Death/Thrash metal.
Starting with the primitive, but enjoyable and thrilling Bestial Devastation ep, and their first album, Morbid Visions, Sepultura started to mature as a band, and the antics of pure speed alone started to cease, resulting in the more refined sophomore album. At this point, it was clear that the band wished to expand upon their sound, and incorporate more thrash influences into their mostly death metal sound. The fact that they were largely influenced by Metallica’s is most obvious when listening to the Metallica inspired instrumental Inquisition Symphony, as well as the more variation in their music, and more varied song structures compared to earlier efforts. Without a doubt Schizophrenia was transitional, and exposed Sepultura’s venturing into a more Bay-Area patterned format, while still preserving some of their death metal tendencies.
By the time their third album, Beneath The Remains saw the light of day, Sepultura had evolved even more since Schizophrenia, and became even more mature as a band, focusing on catchy and memorable riffs, and incorporating Metallica-like structure to their album layout (take for instance the clean instrumental preceding the first song, being much more straight forward than the other songs on the album. similar to Metallica circa 1984-88). Still the band showed no signs of slowing down, and although the somewhat undesirable (or at least in my opinion) Metallica influences became more obvious, they still managed to be surprisingly aggressive, and straight forward with their music, Exceeding the speed of both Slayer and Dark Angel.
The production of this album alone in a clear improvement over previous works, sounding sufficiently heavy and surprisingly clear, for a band that still had relatively little studio experience, largely due to a better producer. The clarity even matches that of more popular American bands, only aiding the intensity of the music even further. The main problem with Schizophrenia was the production was still very weak, and did not adequately support the stellar music on the album. BTR had a professional amount of clarity, that give little to complain about.
In terms of song structure, BTR continues, and in some aspects (but not all) expands upon what Schizophrenia started, continuing the more mature and controlled, yet fast and intense approach, only done in a more streamlined way than before. Whereas Schizophrenia was much more raw, wild and in many ways more ambitions, BTR seems to be more focused on Restrained riffs, less adventures than before, focusing more on heaviness. To me, this is the only shortcomings of the album, the simplicity of the riffs.
Schizophrenia was actually semi-technical in nature, with complexity stemming from a multitude of techniques, and constant tempo changes in each song. The riffs on BTR sound a bit tired, and more chord based, with some moments of tremolo picking, but not quite as much as on the Schizophrenia album. Take for instance the song Inner-Self, with chugging riffs similar to that of Metallica, as a pose to the rampant death thrashing number R.I.P. (Rest in Pain). The riffs just don't seem as wild as before, but still are satisfying in that they are controlled, and memorable. The true strength of BTR however, lies in the drumming.
Beneath the Remains boasts some of the fastest and most intense drumming since their '85-'86 period, easily exceeding, Slayer, and Dark Angel at the time. The Drums are also a huge improvement over Schizophrenia, being much faster, but much more clear and refined as well. While Sepultura were not the fastest of the time, with bands like Sadus, Necrodeath, and Merciless far exceeding them in the area of speed, they were sufficiently fast, and did not go overboard with speed. Just like Slayer on RIB, they were aiming for writing something that was not just mindless bashing, but controlled while still being intense and straight-forward, unlike Metallica’s overly restrained, semi-thrash, that actually had more traits of NWOBMH and traditional heavy metal than it did thrash. Sepultura basically took the formula of Slayer, and applied Metallica elements, with touches of death metal, and much more speed.
To me, BTR remains the best "popular" thrash metal album, but not the best in the genre. While being more mainstream in its production, and more controlled, it is still savage and extreme compared to other bands that crossed over into the mainstream. Additionally, the quality of the album is undeniable. While master of puppets hardly lived up to it supposed title of best thrash metal album (Just to clarify things I'm not saying it's a bad album, I just don't find it to be the best in the genre), BTR actually is a quality album that lives up to its hype. Sure, Sepultura is somewhat overrated, and this album certainly is, but this is one of the cases when the people are right. Sepultura is one of those few bands that actually deserve to be, as they have real talent and quality music (at least from 85-91). BTR is highly recommended for those who want fast, yet controlled thrash, that has a professional level of musicianship. The bands best without a doubt.