Sepultura—Back on Top

Sepultura’s Andreas Kisser is bursting with excitement. Calling from Los Angeles, the biggest reason for the guitar hero’s mood is the release of Quadra, easily the band’s best album in more than two decades.

Working once again with producer Jens Bogren at Fascination Street studios in Orebro, Sweden, the new album not only revisits the thrash and roots metal sound of the ‘80s and ’90 but also the extreme metal and more progressive sounds of more recent releases such as Machine Messiah [Nuclear Blast, 2017]. Arguably a masterpiece, Quadra is a concept album about the quadrants or zones that constrain or, worse, characterize us: including politics, religion and money.

What inspired Quadra?

I felt the Machine Messiah process was rushed. In just five months, we wrote, produced and recorded everything. With the new album, I wanted more time to explore and experiment; to listen back [to what we were creating]; and to change things. I wanted to make sure we had the absolute best [songs] to put on the album. We spent more than a year going in a specific direction; developing a concept; deciding what we should talk about [lyrically].

What is the album’s concept?

I had gotten into numerology. I was especially interested in the algorithms that are so popular in today’s social media. Then, I came acrossQuadrivium, this book by Miranda Lundy [Wooden Books, 2010] that spoke about the four classical liberal arts: numbers, geometry, music and cosmology. The book detailed numbers and combinations of numbers. That’s where [the title] Quadra comes from. I thought Quadra was a topic we could talk about. The word is Portuguese for “sports court.” It is about a limited area with a set of rules where games take place.

A Quadra can be a football field, baseball diamond or a basketball court?

Yes. [But if you look at it on a larger spectrum,] both Brazil and the United States are Quadras. Each country has separate cultures, religions, family values, etc. This brings about one big question: “Why do we believe in what we believe?” Where did these beliefs come from? Where did the information that led to these beliefs come from? Why do we trust what we learn in school? See on our television?

The majority of information in our heads was implanted during our education. Very little of what we know comes from personal experiences. People tend to believe things without asking why? Why do we attack people who believe differently [from us]? Why do we refuse to accept and respect other beliefs?

Quadra [delves into] that subject.

Listening to Quadra’s lyrics, I interpreted the concept as “breaking the invisible chains that bind us.”

You have to acknowledge those chains before you can break them. You have to acknowledge that you are bound by something. A lot of people are unaware that they are chained. Money, for instance, is something a lot of people are chained to.

Which is why a painting of a damaged coin graces the album’s cover?

Exactly. Money is the first rule of many quadras. Without money you cannot survive. You cannot even die [without enough money for a proper burial]. It is the first rule of enslavement. I was born in Brazil, I attended certain schools; my family had certain beliefs; and I watched these movies and read these books. That is the reason why I see the world the way I do. I am nothing more than a victim of my cultural baggage. We all are. We look at a country like Saudi Arabia, for instance, and believe the way they treat women is wrong, but they don’t see it that way.

Touring the world must have given you a unique perspective.

During the last 35 years, Sepultura have visited 80 different countries. We see that people are generally the same. They love metal, they love food and they love to talk with each other. They want to live in peace. [On Quadra,] we want people to ask themselves why they believe what they believe. Are you so full of yourself because you have concepts in your mind, most of which you have no idea where they came from?

It’s propaganda, which was the concept of Sepultura’s Nation album [Roadrunner, 2001]. It is also the result of enculturation. You start out as a blank slate before becoming a product of your environment.

It breeds stereotypes. It creates borders. It creates people arguing that their God is better than your God. But all concepts are illusions. Nothing is real. Even money is an illusion. It takes two people involved in a transaction to agree that a certain piece of paper or a piece of metal has a certain value. We create these concepts and beliefs and then we kill and die for them.

Why was Quadra so difficult to record?

The songs are very demanding. During the creation of the album [Drummer] Eloy [Casagrande] and I pushed each other to play better…. [I don’t] mean that Quadra was a painful or miserable process [to create]. We had an amazing time doing it. We had a great time working with [producer] Jens [Bogren] again. The results sound great because we went through all of the difficult processes. In the end we felt like we had won. We achieved everything we wanted to achieve.

In addition to the choirs sprinkled throughout the new record, there is a guest vocalist on the closing track, “Fear; Fear; Chaos; Suffering.”

Singer Emmily Barreto is a Brazilian singer from the band Far From Alaska. They’re not metal, but they are very interesting and they have an international following. I met Emmily during pre-production for Quadra. We were working on a couple of songs that were lost. We didn’t have any ideas for vocals, so I called her. Sepultura long dreamed of working with a female singer and, finally, the opportunity [presented itself]. Once she put her voice to the music, we “found” the direction for song and we re-arranged everything. I love Emmily’s voice. It’s powerful, majestic and her performance is amazing.

Why did the band choose to make it the album’s closing track?

The song is a weird, kind of “out-of-left-field” thing. We looked at the album as having four sides: A, B, C and D. Side A has the old school thrash feel. Side B contains the percussive-heavy, groove side of Sepultura. Side C features our instrumental side. Side D is slower paced in the same vein as the song “Machine Messiah” or our Massive Attack cover “Angel.” We enjoy the melodic, moodier vibe. It leaves possibilities open for Sepultura in the future.

During the latter part of Sepultura’s career, the band have moved away from obvious covers such as Motorhead’s “Orgasmatron” and Black Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe” to surprising covers such as Massive Attack’s “Angel” and U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky.”

I don’t look at it that way. We recorded New Model Army’s “The Hunt” for our Chaos A.D. album [Epic/Roadrunner, 1993]. We also covered Bob Marley and The Wailer’s “War” during the Rootssessions [It appears on the 1997 Blood Rooted compilation (Roadrunner)]. In the past, we did Motorhead, Black Sabbath, and hardcore punk songs, which were obvious for a metal band like Sepultura. In recent years, we challenged ourselves by covering songs that were far outside of the metal world. We “Sepulturized” them [laughs]. Massive Attack, Devo, and Jane’s Addiction were the bands we chose. U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky” was a huge success for us. We performed the song [often] on tour and the video for our version won some prizes.

The video for Sepultura’s “Orgasmatron” cover won The 1991 MTV International Viewer’s Choice Award. Time flies. It has also been nearly 25 years since vocalist Derrick Green joined the band. Does it frustrate you that some people still can’t let go of the past?

I don’t care. It is those people’s problem. The only thing that bothers me is that some people are still angry over [the band’s mid-‘90s split with original frontman Max Cavalera]. Some people refuse to accept changes in the band.

During the first few years with Derrick Green, Sepultura seemed like it was starting over. Does the imminent success of Quadra seem like a vindication? That the band have reached the pinnacle once more?

It feels like we’ve been on the right track since Derrick joined. Instead of trying to please a, b, c and z, we’ve always done things our way. We are so privileged to have such a great following. It has kept this band motivated and alive. We are also blessed that we are so well organized. We have great management and a great record label [Nuclear Blast], whom we have been with for nearly 10 years now. We are experiencing the best momentum of our career. There is no doubt about it.