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Sepultura Buries Death-Metal Image

December 22, 1993|KATHERINE TURMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

S epultura is the Portuguese word for grave, but the Brazilian thrash band that goes by that name is moving away from its early death-metal roots.

"I don't think we're a death band, because we've changed topics--though I'm still an anti-religion person," says the group's singer Max Cavalera, speaking slowly and in heavily accented English.

"Most death-metal bands are just acting anyway," he continues. "You put an inverted cross around your neck, do some lyrics about Satan, get the most disgusting of all, then you're happening. It's kind of like grunge--put a flannel shirt on, do lyrics like them and a lot of people start liking you. . . . We try to get away from that."

In its fifth album, "Chaos A.D.," Sepultura (which headlines the Hollywood Palladium on Thursday) finds a still-intense but more cohesive marriage of politically leaning lyrics and crushing metallic riffs and melodies. "Manifest" is the true story of a massacre in a Brazilian jail, and on "Biotech Is Godzilla" the group collaborates with former Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra.

Sepultura, rounded out by Cavalera's younger brother, drummer Igor Cavalera, bassist Paulo Jr. and guitarist Andreas Kisser, formed in the large city of Belo Horizonte in eastern Brazil in 1984. The goal: to entertain themselves. "We were bored with the stuff that was going on in our city," recalls Cavalera. "We didn't like any of the bands. There was not a metal scene or nothing like that."

Sepultura now resides mainly in Arizona, though tours with Ozzy Osbourne and Ministry and an appearance at the 1991 "Rock in Rio" festival with Guns N' Roses and Megadeth have kept the foursome on the road.

Thanks to the endless touring and word of mouth, Sepultura's 1991 album "Arise" sold more than a million copies worldwide. The new one, "Chaos A.D.," was recorded this year in Wales with producer Andy Wallace, of Slayer and Nirvana fame.

Though the bulk of the album is grindingly heavy and fast--the band vehemently eschews ballads--the song "Kaiowas," an instrumental that incorporates a traditional Brazilian feel, represents a radical departure.

The title refers to a tribe of Brazilian Indians who committed suicide rather than be moved from the rain forest by the government. For the proper vibe, Sepultura recorded the song in a castle.

Says Cavalera, "It's kinda crazy for us because we're such a heavy band live--total energy, sweating, and the castle is more of a Led Zeppelin thing."

But it seemed a natural progression, and the vocalist is learning not to fight fate. "I think you just grow up and realize the good and bad points. Like myself: I realized I can't sing, so I just screamed through the whole album."

He's also realistic about Sepultura's commercial possibilities--still limited, despite the fact that "Chaos A.D." is their first album to benefit from a new affiliation between the band's longtime record company, Roadrunner, and giant Epic Records.

"What I think will happen (with Sepultura) is different from what I hope," explains the singer. "Of course we want to get big, but it should be in a way that shows how the band really is.

"Sometimes (the industry) grabs a band, treats it as a product, and doesn't show the real face of that band. It would be cool if Sepultura got as big as possible, but with all the integrity that belongs to the band. If we don't get big, at least the integrity will still be around."

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