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SEPULTURA – Hell, Purgatory Or Paradise?
Anthony Morgan
March 2006

Sepultura (l-r): Andreas Kisser, Igor Cavalera, Derrick Green and Paulo Jr.

Belo Herizonte, Brazil quartet Sepultura gleam blissful smiles to their appreciative audience of late, ripping through prime cuts as ‘Roots Bloody Roots’, ‘Troops Of Doom’, ‘Against’ and ‘Convicted In Life’. Cynical media coverage savagely paints a tempestuous image of the band in its dying remnants, though such a discriminatory sketch negates the truthful reality.

2006 beckons the release of Dante XXI, a conceptual album woven around ‘The Divine Comedy’, a vastly epic poem of Italian literature written in the early 14th century. Three canticles, namely ‘Hell’, ‘Purgatory’ and ‘Paradise’ document a humble man’s spiritual journey towards philosophical wisdom. A warming tale of poignant tragedy and ultimate triumph, it’s a premier staple ambitiously remodelled when the occasion possibly warrants. Hell, purgatory or paradise? Which will the listener encounter? Bassist Paulo Xisto Pinto Junior, dubbed ‘Destructor’ in the band’s initial outings, has weathered the storm commonly executed by rapacious journalists, notching an impressive 21 years with the resilient outfit. With the notable exception of drummer Igor Cavalera (currently taking a deserved break), he is the only founding member still currently flexing his musical creativity within the band. Dante XXI gave a viable window for intimate discussion.

You have just released Dante XXI, an album influenced by the famous Florentine poet. How did it come to fruition and why you were specifically inspired by that particular poem? “Well, basically I was looking to have a theme. It really helped us to find a nice direction to recreate music and lyrical wise, otherwise it was going to be too spread out – know what I mean? The idea, I think, was Derrick’s (Green, vocals). I think he had already read the book while he was a kid a long time ago. He came in with the idea, because in the beginning we started to jam but it was a little bit lost. But when he came up with the idea to do a soundtrack, a new day soundtrack, for the book, it really helped a lot to find a direction. It actually made it easy, because they have three steps on the book – ‘Hell’, the ‘Purgatory’ and the ‘Paradise’ – so you can really have a Brazilian’s ideas on those three topics itself.”

Paulo Jr.

How do you feel Dante’s philosophical viewpoints translate to the 21st century, in respect of the fact that it’s called Dante XXI? “Right, well basically it’s a lot of ideas, like I said. You can read the book in so many different aspects. It comes in poetry and it’s very complicated; I read it like, about two times, and I’m reading it again, because every time that you read it something new comes out. The way I put it is like a bunch of ideas we have that we can see, but if you read it you’re probably going to find different things. It’s the way you feel at the time – if you read it again you’re probably going to bring new ideas and a new musical sense for it actually. It’s very complex, but sitting down it’s very open. It’s like when you’re reading a book before you see the movie for example – the book is always better than the movie because you have your own idea of the book. You can go farther and farther you know, and you can go in so many directions with that.”

The actual poem seems to be an account of man’s journey towards spiritual wisdom. During the recording were there moments when you felt like you learnt something new philosophically? “Yeah, definitely. It always helps to open the mind to really express. This book is so open for so many things. You know, it’s like the music to it. Sometimes when you’re a writer you start to jam until you really build some things.”

Was it anything particular? “I don’t know, it’s very hard to say. It’s like when you’re writing something – a lot of times you don’t even know how to really start a song. You just start to play something, and then the others will follow. You show it to the others and from there it’s very open. It’s very hard to explain how it all works, because sometimes it can be very frustrating. You go and stay hours in the studio and nothing comes out, but then the next day you come in for five or ten minutes and you create shitloads of music. It’s something that I really cannot explain.”

How do you think this latest album compares to earlier releases from the 80s like Bestial Devastation, Morbid Visions and other earlier stuff? “It’s very hard to compare, but there’s a big contrast because each album is expressing what you are feeling at that moment? Every single record that I’ve done there’s a difference on it because of that. When we began writing this record we were 21 years as a band and when we wrote Bestial Devastation we were only two years as a band, so there’s a big difference. You’ve passed through a lot of different experiences – so many records, so much studio experience, working with different people, seeing a lot of different cultures, so that all means you get more experience through the years. It’s very hard to not copy yourself in every record that you try and still keep the sense of the band. Musically it’s still there, but I always try to bring something different and new.”

Which specific track affects you on the album personally? “I don’t know man? Right now I think I like ‘False’, because that’s a song we’ve been playing live and for me is the most powerful so far. It’s very hard to pick one song, because I like them all. For me it’s like if you’re a father and you’re asked to pick a favourite son – it’s very hard! I think the whole conception fits together; each song is a piece of the whole thing. But ‘False’ is the one I feel most comfortable with. It’ll probably change in a couple of shows. Right now it’s not our headline tour, so when we come to do the full set it’ll probably change because we’re going to have the chance to play more songs.”

Has this album, dealing with Dante, changed the way you view your relationship with God or not? Has it given you a fresh perspective? “Probably. It’ll give you some different views and some perspective, definitely. I think everyone has a way to see God differently. It really did help to open up the mind in different ways because you read something and then you have a different view. It makes you think more about different stuff… so that is good.”

Igor Cavalera

Have any songs taken shape for the next album? Is there any plans at the moment? “No, this album has only just come out and we’ve just started touring.”

Do you write while on tour? “Very rarely. Most of the stuff is done at home.”

So there are no ideas for the next album then? “Nah, this record is so fresh, so there’s nothing.”

Is there any direction you’d like the next album to go in at the moment? “Nah, haven’t even thought about that. But we all have portable studios at home, so every time there’s an idea I’m sure everyone sits down and records some stuff. You never know when you’re going to use them? There’s stuff that’s been sitting there for years. Someday it may come out, but some we will never use.”

I know Igor is staying home right now because he had a new-born son in January, but I’m wondering if he is hoping to reunite with the band on tour soon? “That’s going to be up to him. He just got divorced and got a son with a different girlfriend, so he’s putting his life back together at the moment. It was the best for the band for him not to come this time so that he can sort out his stuff. It wouldn’t be good if just his body was here and not the whole spiritual part really committed to be on tour.”

Certain parts of the press were saying that Igor had actually left the band. “Yeah.”

I read that the band were really annoyed about that. Do you feel that the press have pursued a negative campaign against the Sepultura in recent years? “The press always need this kind of gossip to attract readers. They have to start to come up with things to really sell, so sometimes things become like a soap opera. The things I’ve read, it’s like, ‘What? Well, I’ve not heard that and I’m the bass player of the band! Great, that’s good to know… now I know what’s going on!’.”

Everyone still goes on about Max (Cavalera; Soulfly and former Sepultura frontman) all the time. Since the first album with Derrick in 1998 (Against), do you think the newer records are unfairly dismissed before people even actually listen to them in the first place? “Well, maybe sometimes. I knew that it would be a long journey until we get here. With a new singer, like I said, the press and everybody is gossiping around. They don’t even know. A lot of people still, up to this day, before they’re even picking up a record, they’re already talking shit about it. They haven’t listened to it, so they can’t give a real opinion – they let the other people put the opinions in their head. But that doesn’t really bother us, that’s why we’re still here after 21 years as a band.”

Andreas Kisser

What do you view as your favourite Sepultura album? “I always like the last album, you know, because it’s the most fresh one. It’s the one that is bringing us back on tour. Live we have the chance to play all the material, so I always like the last one.”

Which one is the one you least like? “I don’t know? I think I like them all equally. It’s very hard… I’d never pick one.”

On Sepultura tracks there’s a lot of inspiration and sounds from Brazil. What do you think these certain sounds add to a song? “Well, it definitely adds a different flavour. The way that we play, that helps us really get into a strong style. Just the fact to be Brazilian – it is really different from any European, British or American band. Brazil is a very big mix, like cultured country, and we grew up listening to a lot of Brazilian music, besides the rock that’s already been there for years and is a worldwide thing. We still got the swing, the rhythms – I think really that helped to make us different than the others.”

In 2002 you did a covers album (Revolusongs). You did bands as diverse as U2 and Exodus; was it a conscious decision to go in that direction? “Yeah, it was very conscious. You know, we just left the old label (Roadrunner Records). We wanted to do an exploratory record to start to work with new people. It was a good experience to work with Steve Evetts as well to prepare for the upcoming stuff. We sat down and did a list of a 100 songs that we liked, or even more. We even asked help from a couple of close friends, people that knew that we wanted to do something different. It would be very obvious to re-do another Black Sabbath song, but we didn’t want to do that. All the bands that are on Revolusongs have influenced Sepultura in some way. You didn’t see the list, but there was so much weird stuff! It was crazy; we had The Police, we had King Crimson, we had Kraftwerk, there were Brazilian bands… a whole bunch of stuff.”

How do you feel the fans took that? “I don’t know… I think most of them liked it. But it’s very hard to please everybody.”

Some metal fans are really picky, aren’t they? “Oh aye. But too bad. We’re not going to change because of them. First, we have to be pleased with what we’re doing at that moment, and then the rest is a consequence. I’m not doing anything because a fan wants it. Of course it’s good to hear the feedback and the opinions but at the end of the day it’s our call – we have to be pleased before anybody else.”

Derrick Green

How does a typical Sepultura song develop from a rough cut to the finished material? “The way that we do it is we just start playing at rehearsals and if anybody has an idea we do it all together. Most of the time we have the idea for the melody. We don’t even usually have the lyrics so we just put nicknames on the songs and then we start through the process. For Dante, for example, we didn’t have a bunch of the titles while we were recording in the studio. We just had nicknames like Hell 1, Hell 2, Hell 3, and Paradise, and Purgatory 1, ta da da. We never know the final result until everything is laid 100% in recording.”

How is the live chemistry with your touring drummer Roy Mayorga (boasting Soulfly, Crisis and Thorn)? Is it different to Igor in any way? “Yeah it’s different, but it’s a good vibe.”

In which way would you say it’s different? “Roy is a different drummer, a different person and has a different way of playing, but at the same time he really embraced the music. He really likes it. You’re going to see it tonight (March 30th, 2006) and it sounds really good. We wouldn’t have come out with a drummer where it wouldn’t work out for us.”

What’s your most memorable time on tour… if you had to single one out? “Jesus! 1994 when Brazil won the World Cup in LA. Everybody was drunk on stage. I remember walking as Lemmy (Motörhead frontman) on Stockholm – Lemmy, Phil and Mikkey Dee, I did them all!”

What’s the band’s plans for the future? “Right now we’re going to go and tour for this record as much as we can and then start thinking about the next album when this is done.”

Interview originally conducted in March 2006. All photographs by Jörg Kyas.

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