December 16, 1996: A day that will live in infamy eternally for Sepultura fans. That night, following a sold-out performance at London's hallowed Brixton Academy, singer/guitarist Max Cavalera left the band he co-founded more than a decade earlier. While Sepultura would continue on without Cavalera, who soon re-emerged with Soulfly, his departure marked the end of an era for a legendary, trailblazing group All Music Guide praises as "perhaps the most important heavy metal band of the 90s." In certain respects, 1996 was the most successful year in Sepultura's storied history. Its sixth album, Roots, earned the group its highest critical praise to date. The band also participated in the inaugural Ozzfest tour, where it performed before the largest American audiences of its career.
But tensions within the group had been running high ever since the August 1996 death of the teenage son of the band's manager, who was also Cavalera's wife. When the rest of the band -bassist Paulo Jr., lead guitarist Andreas Kisser and drummer Igor Cavalera -approached Max about finding new management just months after the tragedy, he viewed the suggestion as a form of betrayal and severed ties with Sepultura shortly thereafter. Luckily for fans, the final concert with Sepultura's most celebrated lineup was recorded, and the resulting double-CD Live at Brixton documents one of the most powerful metal bands of all time. Although it features three covers - Motorhead's "Orgasmatron," Titas' "Policia" and the Cro-Mags' "We Gotta Know" (featuring guest-stars Strife, a hardcore band that served as the tour's opening act) - the album also provides a thorough retrospective of Sepultura's first decade of destruction. Included are well-known favorites such as "Necromancer," the first song the group ever recorded "Biotech Is Godzilla," featuring lyrics written by the Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra "Ratamahatta," sung in the band's native Portuguese "Inner Self," the track for which Sepultura shot its first music video and "Attitude," which Cavalera dedicates to his late stepson, Dana. Because it was recorded during the Roots tour, Live at Brixton - mixed by veteran producer Colin Richardson (Machine Head, Fear Factory) - naturally showcases renditions of many songs from that album. The album also features several tracks from each of the three Sepultura records - Beneath the Remains, Arise and the gold-certified Chaos A.D. - which many metal observers consider to be landmark releases and cornerstones of the genre.
Although Sepultura's first two albums, Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia, garnered the group much attention in its native Brazil, it wasn't until the 1989 release of Beneath the Remains that the band earned mass worldwide acclaim. Called "one of the most essential death/thrash metal albums of all time" by AMG, it led to Sepultura's first international tour. No other Brazilian metal band had ever achieved such success abroad. The group re-teamed with Beneath the Remains producer Scott Burns - also well known for his work with extreme acts such as Cannibal Corpse, Deicide and Obituary - on 1991's Arise. Due to its apocalyptic religious imagery, the controversial music video for the title track was banned by MTV, but the album - praised by CMJ as "one of the heaviest albums you're likely to find" - still sold more than a million copies worldwide. To support the record, Sepultura toured even more extensively internationally, performing two sold-out stadium concerts in Indonesia and also appearing at Holland's giant Dynamo Open Air festival. The success of Arise led Roadrunner to strike a co-distribution deal with Epic Records for the 1993 release of Chaos A.D., a recording that prompted Rolling Stone to laud the group as "the undisputed leader of the neo-metal pack." Featuring the singles "Territory" and "Refuse/Resist" - both of which are included on Live at Brixton - the album went GOLD furthering Sepultura's reputation as metal pioneers, and saw the band begin to incorporate both political commentary and native Brazilian rhythms into their music for the first time.
Those rhythms figure even more prominently into Roots, hailed by CDNOW as "a career high point (that) took metal in a direction few headbangers would dare go." The record's extended percussion passages - as portrayed in the live rendition of "Endangered Species" - added exciting new elements to the group's still-fierce sound. Ten of the album's 16 tracks were included in Sepultura's Brixton Academy set. Nearly six years have passed since Cavalera left Sepultura, but the band's impact on hard music continues to reverberate. The group's influence extends to current heavyweights such as Godsmack, System of a Down and Slipknot, while young fans discover Sepultura for the first time with each new release by both Cavalera's Soulfly and Sepultura itself. In other words, Sepultura's legacy is ensured. It's now time to go back to the Academy for a history lesson you'll never forget.