I kind of skirt round the edges of Metal and dip my toe in every now and then. I love Metallica (who doesn’t?), like a bit of Sabbath, Slip Knot and dabble in Nu Metal (Avenged Sevenfold, Tremonti, Sevendust. That kind of stuff). So when asked to review Sepultura, it was going to be a wee bit outside of my comfort zone. I had to borrow a suitable T-shirt from my other half to “blend in”. “That’s going to be a sausage fest” he says. Come to Mama, I say.
So sausages are not the only reason I am here at 170 Russell on a Tuesday night. I love a rock crowd but a metal crowd is better. The passion, the absolute commitment to the music, the good natured violence of the mosh pit. It is (usually) the friendliest place to smack someone you will find and my second favourite place to enjoy the sound of male flesh bashing together (after a seat on the boundary at the MCG. If you were thinking anything else, shame on you). You know you are at a metal gig when they guy in front of you in the queue has his glasses tied onto his head. The age of a lot lining up is a reflection of Sepultura’s long career. Now, inside Billboards (sorry, 170 Russell), it’s so dark I can’t make out features, only dark shapes waiting expectantly and a very long line at the Merch table. Another reason why I love metal fans; they support their bands with their wallets.
Opening tonight are Harlott, a foursome of local Melbourne boys who have been playing the Melbourne metal scene since 2006. They take the stage unceremoniously and with a thumbs up all round, they gather around the drummer and off we go. The music and lyrics come fast and furious and I can feel the bass in the air. Bass player, Tom Richards is a giant. His fingers are an absolute blur on the strings and up and down the fret board and as the set goes on, he is often seen shaking out his hands and I’m not surprised. That’s gotta hurt.
On stage right, the more diminutive Jake Weber has some very impressive lead skills and the fast and furious shredding is interposed with some awesome solos and at times, some Maidenesque duelling guitars between himself, and guitarist and lead singer, Andy Hudson. Hudson’s vocals are reminiscent of Bon Scott (if a 70’s AC/DC played Thrash, that is). They indulge in some dramatic, slower head banging intervals before returning to Carpal Tunnel inducing Speed Metal with Tim Joyce on drums handling the tempo changes with ease. For me, a very solid introduction to live Thrash.
Up next is Death Angel. This band has a really interesting history. After forming in the San Francisco Bay area in the early 80’s and being stalwarts of that iconic Thrash scene, they stopped playing in 1991 after the then drummer was injured in a tour bus accident. They reformed in 2001 with some line up changes and have been playing ever since. With 2 members from the original line up still on board, Rob Cavestany on lead and Mark Osegueda on vocals, I am amazed how good these guys look. 35 years on the road has got to take its’ toll but they are wearing very well and more than that, still playing with admirable passion and enthusiasm. Mark Osegueda has an awesome stage presence (perhaps fueled by the bottle of Jaeger he kept swigging on) and along with Damien Sisson on bass who engaged the crowd better than any guitarist I have seen for a long time (and the most beautiful hair that I would pay money to run my fingers through), they were hugely entertaining. “Are you ready to celebrate music? Are you ready to celebrate metal?” Osegueda taunted the crowd into getting going. “Show me you’re at a metal show. Don’t give the security guys the night off.” And the pit obliged.
As a warm up act, Death Angel could not be beaten and by the end of their set, the crowd were well
and truly warm and I was wondering if they might have just blown Sepultura off the stage with their class act and music which was the perfect blend between Thrash, and more classic metal. I would definitely go and see them again and hopefully, on a headlining show. They certainly deserve that, as do their Aussie fans (hint hint, guys).
I am very curious to see what these giants of Thrash who are known for fusing Brazilian rhythms into their songs have to offer. Musically, Sepultura has got it all happening. The fastest double kick drum I’ve heard laid down by drummer Eloy Casagrande, the new boy in the outfit, joining the long standing line up in 2011. Blistering lead guitar courtesy of Andreas Kisser, a veteran of the band of some 31 years. The kind of bass playing that young metal players aspire to from Paulo Jr; fast, loud and heavy. And then there is Derrick Green’s vocals. A demonic growl that must come from somewhere between his right testicle and small intestine. This is where my comfort zone ends. I am a big fan of the male voice, but I struggle with vocals like this. But I am desperate to be converted so bring it on boys.
As Sepultura take the stage, I am struck by what an imposing figure Derrick Green cuts. Very tall with muscular, tattooed arms in a black cut off T-shirt. The physique seems to match the voice and at times during the show, a wide eyed stare made him look (as well as sound) demonic. There is no doubt that if Lucifer ever needs a voice coach, he would call on Derrick before anyone else. He struts the front of the stage, the mike cord wrapped around his hand, with the confidence of a man who knows he’s good at what he does and as this tour celebrates his 20 year anniversary with the band, he has every right to feel a big part of the history of Sepultura.
They open with I am the Enemy from their new release Machine Messiah. This song takes no prisoners and is fast and furious. It sets the pit off nicely and the horns are in the air all over the venue. With incredibly fast drums and bass before a hypnotic head banging interlude and killer shred opportunity for Andreas Kisser to take center stage. It might not be familiar to the older school fans, but it is received well and sets the tone for the set.
Playing in album order for now, the next track Phantom Self includes some of the Brazilian rhythms that Sepultura skillfully weave into their music. The album version of this song contains some amazing instrumental parts mixed in for a very unique sound.
I am absolutely blown away by Andreas Kisser’s playing. As a big fan of Mark Tremonti, I love a shredder and this guy is amazing (and he does it without the faces). He steps to the front for his solo and absolutely owns that stage for a minute or so. With hair that probably hasn’t been cut since the 70’s and a huge smile on his face, he looks like a man who enjoys his craft and clearly the fans do too as they are lapping it all up.
Paulo Jr on the other hand seems happy to stay more in the background and concentrate on providing what is the core of metal music, the Thunder! As an original member of the band, he’s been around a time or two and in him, I can see what Robert Trujillo might look like in 20 years.
I am mesmerised by the playing of Eloy Casagrande on drums. I am convinced that his drum kit must be screwed to the riser to stop it flying off mid song. He hits harder than I have ever seen. And Thrash has complicated rhythms with unusual and changing time signatures all over the place; a challenge for any drummer. I’m sure that at the end of every show he must feel like he has sprinted a marathon distance. I can see his legs going hell for leather with the double kick bass. My new favourite drummer, me thinks.
They are clearly pushing the new album hard on this tour with 5 tracks in the set. The highlight for me was the appearance of an acoustic guitar on a stand for the instrumental Iceberg Dances. This song showcases the amazing musicianship of these 3 guys. Especially with a middle piece with flamenco guitar played brilliantly by Kisser before reverting back to old school Thrash. Love It.
“Are there any old school Sepultura fans in tonight?” asks Green. Before Andreas teases the fans playing intros to several older songs that get a huge reaction from the crowd, before playing the full version of Arise from their 1991 album of the same name.
Clearly not a band to milk the “one more song” encore thing, they leave the stage very briefly before a 3 song encore. Resistant Parasites, Ratamanata which gives Green a chance to add to the drum sound on a large drum at centre stage and Roots, Bloody Roots to finish the set. The pit seems happy and I’m sure the bouncers in front of the stage are relieved. They are sent off with another full room horns salute.
So, am I a Sepultura convert? I still don’t think I will be buying an album anytime soon, but I am full of admiration for their professionalism and musicianship. It was a great show and the long standing fans like the guy standing next to me who said he last saw them 25 years ago, seemed happy that they had got their money’s worth.
Review Contributed by Wendy Smith