I have been meaning to review this album for weeks now. However, I feel rather unqualified to write about it. Sometimes I feel kind of unqualified to listen to it. My good friend said of it, that it was intimidatingly good. I completely agree.
Now, Sepultura are such a weird band in Metal’s history, and mine. Their earliest material was influential to the development of Death Metal, what followed that was some very beloved Thrash Metal that you’ll find in any good list of best Thrash albums. Personally; I initially didn’t know about any of that (‘Old School Seps’) stuff though, for a few years at least, as although I knew about the Brazilian band and occasionally heard music from Sepultura in the background from before I even became a metal fan*, I always associate the band with Groove Metal albums with Max Cavelera… specifically Chaos AD and Roots. About 2-3 years into being a metal fan, it was a surprise when I found out about their faster, heavier, rawer past.
(*My cousin was a huge fan in the early ‘90s and my older brother rented a cassette tape of Roots in the mid-‘90s and kept it so long we eventually had to pay huge late fees as it was kept for nearly a year, when I was just a preteen. I knew the name Sepultura before I knew the name Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, just due to family coincidence).
Then of course, the band lost their frontman, in a horrible bitter situation best read about in the ex-singer’s My Bloody Roots biography (I got it for Christmas this year, well worth a read!), and hired replacement singer Derick Green. Ever since, legions of fans have been turning up their noses at new Sepultura albums with a verve normally saved for Bailey-era Maiden or Ripper-era Priest, but with a duration equivalent only to Derris-era Helloween.
Every so often, I’d see someone who really liked a Green-era Sepultura album, or an album like Dante XXI get a positive review in a magazine, but on the whole, the vast majority of the public seem to have decided that the band was over when Max left. Me included until about 3-4 years ago, when I bought their Live In Sao Paulo DVD on a friend’s recommendation and slowly started collecting the studio albums with Derick (I’m only missing two now, which I would have got recently if not for the coronavirus situation at time of writing).
When I started collecting Green-era albums, I felt almost like a bit of a weirdo collecting them though, as despite my one good friend’s fandom, I almost fear I am wasting my money on albums so ignored and dismissed by the public. 90% of the time if I read something about Sepultura it was about how great the olden days were, or about how unloved the latter days are.
Then something interesting happened. In 2017, Sepultura released Machine Messiah, and it seemed like every review, blog, facebook comment and stray discussion was positive. Not just ‘good for a modern Sepultura album’ but full on, unqualified praise. Good, period. Sepultura, the band who could do no right in the public’s eye, had released an album everyone if not liked, then at least agreed was good. Maybe it was the Dream Theater influenced ‘Iceberg Dances’ that swung the pendulum of public credibility? Who knows. The bottom line was Sepultura were praised again (rightly so, that album is a banger, come back for a review of it too in the future).
I don’t know if aforementioned praise has revitalised their confidence, or they just landed upon the perfect line-up and got better with each album featuring that line-up, or indeed if its just inexplicable lightning in a bottle no one could predict… but 2020’s Quadra is a masterpiece. Its not ‘good for a modern Sepultura album’ its more like ‘possibly the best Sepultura album.’ This is undeniable album-of-the-year material, but more than that. You know when you hear an album, and you just know its special. Crack The Skye? The Blackening? Endgame? Sometimes you just get that ‘I’m hearing something special’ feeling, you know it’s a classic even before time has passed.
Its damn tempting to say the secret to this album’s success is drummer Eloy Casagrande. The man is quite possibly the best drummer in the genre right now. He throws in latin and world music beats sure, it is Sepultura after all; but he can also Thrash like Dave Lombardo, prog out like Thomas Pridgen and bounce like John Otto. Just listen to drum-centric ‘Raging Void’ and then all out Thrasher ‘Isolation’ one after the other to see what I mean. The man is amazing.
Another thing that its tempting to attribute the albums startling quality to, is the bells and whistles. Its almost like a Fleshgod Apocalypse album at times with the God-Of-War style hell-choirs and apocalyptic sounds, guest female vocals and dynamic production job. The album sounds gigantic. It sounds like an actual giant. Just listen to album closer ‘Fear, Pain, Chaos Suffering’ to see what I mean. It sounds like a videogame boss-fight where the player faces off against a giant/titan/colossus/take your pick of huge thing.
For a while, I also thought the secret to this album was the lead guitar. OK, I like Andreas Kisser, and for the past few years I particularly liked his rhythm work on tracks like ‘Choke’ and ‘Sepulnation’ …but I’d never consider him an amazing guitarist. Over the years however, he has clearly been listening to a lot of prog metal and become a crazily good lead player. Some of the guitar solos and leads on this record are fantastic. So unique, so interesting, so invigorating. Just check out the instrumental ‘The Pentagram’ or the track which follows it ‘Auetem’ for solid guitar gold.
All those factors certainly contribute to what elevate this album to that ‘special’ place, but I guess the main factor is simply the song-writing and the flow. Every song is needed. Every song contributes something new, but works well against the previous material. There’s no filler, but there’s no repetition either. It strikes a hell of a balance.
Furthermore; Where some other Sepultura albums like Nation or Kairos are jumbled and too varied for their own good, and others like Roots and Against are bloated and in need of an editor, this album just feels like one perfect, consistent, cohesive, singular journey. Wikipedia states it is structured in four parts, to represent the four classical arts, but it really flows like one story from beginning to end. It starts out fast and mean as hell, turns groovy, gets varied then turns prog. Sort of a summary of their career over the course of one record.
Overall; this is one hell of an album. A monster against which all their future efforts will be judged. An amazing sequel to the lauded Machine Messiah and a new standard for quality for aging bands in general. If you had told me in 2005 that Sepultura would release an album this brilliant this late in the game, then I’d have been very sceptical, but I’ll be damned it seems they’ve only gone and released arguably one of the best albums in their whole career
(Ps. For context; as above, this is coming from someone who spent the better part of the last 20 years thinking this band essentially began and ended with Chaos AD and the first half of Roots, so you can trust this is not just blind fanboy devotion).