I once had a cherished copy of Beneath The Remains on vinyl that I received for Christmas not long after I’d started my very first job. Around that time, I’d started collecting rarities released by my favourite bands, and amassed an impressive collection of LPs, EPs, cassettes of demos and other assorted curios that I’ve sold since then with some amount of regret, simply because back around 2003-2006, rare stuff just wasn’t rare. A week wouldn’t go by with a copy or two of the Cradle Of Filth Coffin edition of Dusk…And Her Embrace popping up on eBay. Prices were still high, but at least you could find the things. Now, it’s a different matter altogether. It’s been a while since I’ve seen any of the metal rarities I once called my own on Ebay. My Beneath The Remains LP was particularly prized because it was autographed and came with an excellent poster of a very young Sepultura which took pride of place on my bedroom wall. What I liked about the idea of it being signed is that it captured a moment that could no longer happen naturally. Now, a copy of Beneath The Remains signed by its original players could only be obtained by selective autograph-hunting. Whenever this copy was defaced, it meant nothing that those four men signed it at the same time. It wasn’t necessary to snatch it away from another person, pen in hand, because they didn’t play on it. Plus that poster was REALLY cool.
I never, though, got all the way into Beneath The Remains. Like Napalm Death’s Fear, Emptiness, Despair, it’s very much a Side A record. After Mass Hypnosis, I just lost interest. That was probably down to the fact that, thanks to live recordings of those songs, I was just more exposed to them. Let me run a little mental tic by you, here. Have you ever felt that songs from an album that aren’t either singles or at least recorded live on one occasion for commercial release are less worthy? It only applies to bands with lots of output, and in the 90s live B-Sides were a huge deal, but still, it always came across to me that if it wasn’t worthy of live play or having a video being made, why was it included on the record? I don’t think that so much now, and it never applied to albums I loved all the way through like Fear Factory’s Demanufacture, but for a band like Speultura, whose Arise, Chaos AD and Roots albums in particular were very extensively covered in live recordings, it became a bit of a thing for me. It wasn’t a choice, as such. I didn’t opt not to listen to the songs because they were beneath me. It just felt like there was less reason to listen to them.
So here we are. I know “Beneath The Remains”, “Inner Self”, “Stronger Than Hate” (which cheats, by being wedged between those other three live staples) and “Mass Hypnosis” like the back of my hand on each relevant air-instrument (and on actual drums, too), but the second half of the album is like a cousin I never see. I know the face, I know the name, but I don’t know what music they like or what their favourite book is. Time to find out, methinks, and with this last paragraph in mind, the only comment I have on Side A of Beneath The Remains is that that one section in the middle of Stronger Than Hate (it starts around 3:58 and lasts for about 20 seconds) is what I’d isolate to show someone like my dad, a priest, or a space alien (or “alien”) who wanted a succinct aural definition of the essence of thrash metal.
First thing I need to mention is the production. This was an early job for Scott as producer, having already mixed a few recordings for the likes of Death and Nasty Savage. He was flown to Brazil at Christmas in 1988 to work nights because no-one else from Roadrunner wanted the job. Obviously it worked out for him, as with this and Obituary’s Slowly We Rot dropping in 1989 it really announced him as a go-to-guy for metal production, particularly for emergent sounds like Seps’ third-world aggression and Obituary’s groove-heavy death and improvised vocals. The production is very clear, a first for Sepultura, and nothing is lost in the mix. The guitars have a clean buzz to them and the riffs and solos are perfectly defined. The drums are another matter, with the toms sounding too, um, I guess “note-y” is the word I’m looking for. Perhaps they’re too highly tuned. There’s also this bizarre sensation that occurs when a crash cymbal and the bass drum are hit at the same time that appears on Death’s Leprosy and Spiritual Healing albums which is very hard to describe but doesn’t sound naturally possible, like the sound opens like a flower in some way your brain can only just comprehend and that had to have been added artificially in post. Hmm. If I find a specific example, I’ll point it out. Let’s start, though, with the oddly titled “Sarcastic Existence” (which is sadly, and I mean that, fucking SADLY, not a audio biography of Chandler Bing)
It kicks off with faded-in lone drums, which I like because I’m always excited to hear instruments in isolation on professionally recorded albums, and most especially the drums. The thrash riffing that’s going on here isn’t making me regret my decision to ignore this track for all those years, but there’s a nice lead section layered over it that speaks volumes about Sepultura’s knack for arrangement that led to them becoming one of the best metal acts in the world over the course of five years and after an endearingly laughable debut. When the vocals kick in after nearly two minutes after a fade-up vocal thing, it really does feel like those very minutes were a complete waste of time. The sensation of “WHAT was the point?” is keenly felt. There’s a breakdown with a double-bass/ guitar pairing that’s pretty cool and I’m reminded how vastly better this is to Schizophrenia. Sepultura’s confidence on this album is infectiously exciting, for sure. They’ve idea’s to match their playing ability and I can see why this became so big. I should also confess I never got into thrash in a big way and it’s because of repetition the genre is built on, but there’s enough variation WITHIN the necessary repetition on BTR that it’s reputation is easily justified. Another awesome bass-and-hats section also proves why Igor is the standout musician of the group (though it was Max’s STILL-unique vocals that won fans over). The ending is particularly cool, with a you want a time signature? HERE’S FOUR IN AS MANY SECONDS tom roll thing and then a cut to silence.
“Slaves Of Pain” has another one of those 50-second-nonsense-intros, but when it gets to the chorus it’s like you’ve been waiting the whole album for it. It really does have that ‘it’s here’ sense about it. Like when the chorus to “Don’t Stop Believing” comes in after three odd minutes of music. There’s a really short lead/solo bridge and then that awesome chorus again, before going back to the verse, and it occurs to me that this song has been nearly symmetrical so far, which is totally self-imposed but awesome nonetheless. Then, some soloing. Andreas has a good combination of shredding and note-noodling that I always liked. There’s a really heavy breakdown with a close-to-industrial riff, and then another of my favourite tricks in music, which is keeping the riff the same but doubling the tempo (RATM’s debut has several good examples of this). The next section is an album highlight, with an incredible riff and great drumming by Igor which has more ideas in twenty seconds than the rest of the song. Then the chorus again, a few bars of drum fills, two cymbal catches and CUT. In, out, down. Very efficient.
The timing on “Lobotomy” is very ambitious, but not showoffy, and works very well at adding another dimension to the thrash. I don’t care at all for the main verse riff, but I’m an asshole, so I let them away with it. There’s a cool section in the middle which sounds like a Disney villain deflating at a film’s climax, but I’m largely not involved in this song, so let’s talk about Michael Whelan’s amazing cover image of a man surrounded by great big stones and bigger-still flowers with a giant bat face, and all on a smoking skull YEARS before Stone Cold Steve Austin was WWF champion. Man, that was WORTH having on wax. I might get another copy just for that art (as this site’s owner, the esteemed Mr. K.C.Prog, would do ). Fun fact – the cover for Obituary’s Cause Of Death, another Whelan painting, was originally intended to serve as this album’s cover. Book nerds (like….YOU, right there!) also might recognize Whelan’s work from his Dark Tower illustrations for Steven King. He’s badass. I must see about getting a book of his work.
Shit, another song started, Jesus, a minute ago! More thrashing with personality, but my interest is definitely waning here. I’ll tell you one thing, I wish the hi-hats were a little more open. I hate the one-note feel they have here. It sounds too much like keeping time. Man, maaaan, that’s what the RIDE’S for, man. Hats is for groove yo. Let that shit breathe, Cavalera baby.
Seriously friends, I love Igor Cavalera so frigging much. This man is my drum idol. I’d say the vast majority of what I’ve stolen from other players comes from him, as does a great deal of my drumming body language. He’s my messy little dyed-blonde Brazilian batteria. Heart emoticon.
By the time “Primitive Future” (another awful title!) comes in, ’89 Seps have neatly settled into that category of bands I’d love to see live, at the time, preferably buzzing off energy drinks and good company, but wouldn’t listen to on record. Like post-Harmony Corruption Napalm Death. A night’s wreck-necking, no strings attached. Insert fellatio joke here, and mail to “Your mom, My Bed, Lawl’z Avenue, Tooting, America”
The chorus from “Slaves Of Pain”, no wait, that’s stupid, that whole song would have been a much better ending. All said and done, I’m keeping only two tracks – “Stronger Than Hate” and “Slaves Of Pain”. I’d have figured more, but so doth the cookie crumbleth. So long.
Next time – All FOUR of Burns’ collaborations with Deicide. Note – if you’re a Deicide fan, you might want to skip it… In the meantime, check out THIS article I wrote over at my own blog about how Beneath The Remains’ sleeve was edited for no damn reason at all when the album was re-released on CD in 1997, and happy tidings, Internet chums…