Rearviewmirror: Remembering the 90s – Sepultura – Roots

‘90s Score – 9/10

2020 Score – 10/10

Brazilian thrashers Sepultura’s sixth album Roots is probably their most important to date. Not only is it the last album to feature founding member Max Cavalera, but it revolutionized metal by crossing over into world music and freed the genre from the stranglehold of Western culture. The first time I heard of the album, it was mentioned in Sam Dunn’s 2008 documentary Global Metal. Though I was aware of its significance, I didn’t listen to the album from front to back until a couple of years ago. 

Drummer Igor Cavalera briefly experimented with Latin percussion on their previous album Chaos A.D., but on this album, the Latin beats are present on every track, giving each song an exotic spice. Without that flavour, songs like “Roots Bloody Roots” and “Straighthate” would otherwise be straight-forward by-the-numbers metal songs, though the squealing of Adreas Kisser’s guitar blending into Max’s screams still sounds incredible.

Max isn’t the most versatile singer, but he has that raw aggression necessary for fiercely political songs like “Ambush” (about a murdered rainforest activist), “Dictatorshit” (about the bloody coup d’état that instilled a military dictatorship in Brazil for more than 20 years), and “Endangered Species” (about environmental destruction). My favourite song from this album has to be “Ratamahatta.” It features Latin singer Carlinhos Brown, who goes back and forth with Max on vocals. The Portuguese lyrics celebrate Brazilian culture’s dark nature, and reference horror icon Zé do Caixão (Also known as Coffin Joe in English, played by José Mojica Marins, who passed away earlier this year), making me love this song even more than I did before.

Roots has the best elements of Nu-Metal (which was pretty new at the time). It has all the bounce and groove, without any cringey rap-rock or whiny clean vocals on the chorus. The album was produced by Ross Robinson, who had previously worked with Korn and Deftones, and most of it was recorded at Indigo Ranch Studios, where many notable Nu-Metal albums were birthed. The track “Lookaway” is the epitome of a Nu Metal song, as it features guest vocals from Jonathan Davis (of Korn) and Mike Patton (of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More) and turntable-scratching from DJ Lethal (of Limp Bizkit and House of Pain).

“Jasco” and “Itsári” provide a much needed cool down from the pure heaviness. The latter is recording the Xavante people chanting and drumming in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. I was a bit disappointed when I found out that this was the only track to feature the Xavante tribe since I was under the impression that the album had a strong indigenous influence, but I understand that coordinating such an event was very complicated to arrange, and the Xavante people were gracious enough to receive these long-haired white guys into their village for that brief amount of time. Judging from the occasional chuckle seeping into the recording, everyone had a fun time being part of this.

The album ends with a 13-minute drum solo on the hidden track “Canyon Jam.” The echo of the drums and the crickets’ constant chirping makes it sound like Igor is playing way out in the wilderness in the middle of the night. It’s a fitting end to an album with such a heavy focus on the rhythm.

Roots encouraged bands worldwide to stop imitating the metal giants from North America and Europe and bring their own culture and traditional instrumentation into their music. It pushed listeners to take an interest in indigenous cultures in their own countries and to respect their struggle for recognition. It’s a shame the Cavalera-era of Sepultura fell apart shortly after the release of this album. Still, both the Cavalera brothers and the remaining members of Sepultura continue to break down heavy metal boundaries to this day.

Written by Chris Aitkens
*Edited by Dominic Abate

About Chris Aitkens 69 Articles
Chris Aitkens has been writing about music since the tender age of 16, getting his start writing reviews for Vermont-based zine Verbicide. More than a decade later, he has dedicated his life music. Having graduated from Concordia’s journalism program, he is now working graveyard shifts as a board operator at Virgin Radio, CJAD 800, and occasionally, CHOM. He also hosts his own radio show on CJLO 1690AM called Sewer Spewer, a weekly guide to Montreal’s punk and extreme metal scene. In the little free time that he has, Chris sings in a shitty punk band called Gutser, and from time to time, writes about horror movies for Nightmare On Film Street. None of these ventures have made Chris wealthy at all. In fact, he’s more broke than ever. But it’s all worth the sacrifice to live a life filled with art.

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