Under A Pale Grey Sky: Arise Turns 30

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Sepultura – Arise

Released March 25th, 1991 on Roadrunner Records

Produced by Sepultura and Scott Burns

Peaked at #119 US, #40 UK

Singles:

“Arise”

“Dead Embryonic Cells”

“Under Siege (Regnum Irae)”

Once upon a time I was sitting in the living room of my parent’s house watching MuchMusic late at night. The video for Sepultura’s “Arise” was on and about halfway through there was a knock on the door. A very pretty girl was on the other side; she invited me across the street to where a campfire party was coincidentally going on and later we made out. That’s the kind of magic Arise has and it had the same kind of magical effect on the band’s career. They’re known today as one of the top metal bands on the planet but their beginnings were decidedly less auspicious. Max and Igor Cavalera were born Belo Horizonte, Brazil to a commercial model and a staff member of the Italian embassy. Their father died young and the resulting poverty, along with the dim prospects of growing up poor under the military dictatorship that ruled the country, gave rise to a need to channel their anger and frustration into playing music. When Sepultura formed in 1984 it was on a shoestring budget; Igor reminisces in the liner notes for the re-release of the band’s first two recordings, Bestial Devastation and Morbid Visions, about how “fucked up and totally primitive” his drum set was at the time. Their earliest work is derivative of contemporary underground heroes like Celtic Frost and Slayer, but they would grow in leaps and bounds; within five years they were a metal buzz band, with Beneath The Remains still considered a classic of the thrash genre. Arise, their fourth album, would break them onto the mainstream radar.\

Gen X had decidedly less pop-oriented tastes than what had been popular throughout the Eighties. The joke has always been “how many hair metal bands did Nirvana kill off? All of them” but the demise of Warrant and Ratt wasn’t 100% due to grunge. Thrash metal, long the smoking pit’s alternative to jockstrap Sunset Strip bands, had come of age by 1991. Megadeth had released their peak album the year before; Metallica would later release the best-selling metal album of all time in same year as Arise. Metal has always been an international phenomenon, though; Sepultura’s rise from the Brazilian ghetto to metal superstardom might have been 1991’s crowning glory in heavy music. It’s a relentless record, launching out of the gate with the band’s all-time best song (again, with some admitted bias) and maintaining the chokehold from the remainder. The lyrical matter helps give it even more heft. The title track delivers that old thrash metal standby, nuclear war, with a killer refrain (“Obliteration of mankind / Under a pale grey sky we shall arise”) lifted in part from U2’s Under A Blood Red Sky. The rest of it rages against the contemporary world, the threat of global terrorism, the failures of religion, and the empty promises of politics – again, all standard topics for thrash metal songs, but given additional weight and anger from the Cavalera twins and the way they had, uh, arisen.

Arise broke them into the charts; their next two albums would make serious sales across the globe, with Roots going to #4 in the UK and cracking the Top 40 in the US in 1996. After that things would get dicey; first one Cavalera brother left, and then the other, leaving lead guitarist Andreas Kisser to keep the band going with new members. That Sepultura has done well for itself after a period of transition, but Arise remains the highwater mark for the old Sepultura, the grimey Sepultura.

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