For more justice
Can you hear them?
To save another day
So join us
And we’ll make them leave this land
To kill how we feel
(but) if we stop them it’ll be worth dying for.”
– Lyrics of “Ambush”
Sepultura’s politically driven Roots turns 21 this year, having been released on February 20, 1996. Roots is considered by many to be one of the greatest albums in heavy metal history, alongside the previously released Chaos A.D. Although differing from Sepultura’s previous album installment, Roots is far more than a heavy metal album; it’s a political statement. Drawing influences from the punk music scene and the Cavalera brothers‘ home of Brazil, Roots proves that heavy music can be both politically conscious and celebrate the cultural roots of a country at the same time.
The legendary album was the final Sepultura album to feature Max Cavalera on vocals before departing the band. After many disagreements, the brothers decided to reunite outside of Sepultura’s name and form Cavalera Conspiracy, with Max also creating Soulfly. Since then, Max and Igor have been touring the world and keeping on the memory and legacy of what many call, “the real Sepultura.”
Indeed, it can be argued that all three albums, Arise (1991), Chaos A.D. (1993), and Roots (1996) all cemented the true sound and distinctive style that became Sepultura’s signature. The Brazilian tribal drumming made its first appearance in the album Arise (songs like “Altered State”), was made more prominent in Chaos A.D., but was taken even a step further with Roots.
Songs like “Itsari” feature the indigenous Xavante tribe who reside within the territory of Eastern Mato Grosso, Brazil. The Xavante tribe was enslaved during the 18th century and through Brazil’s general history of colonization, we can begin to see the concept the album is trying to get across to their listeners. In essence, the album is a big middle finger to colonization and a celebration of the indigenous people (roots) of Brazil.
The album also features contributions from Brazilian musician Carlinhos Brown and carries over much of the punk attitude that influenced the Cavalera brothers, further displaying their anti-colonialism sentiment.
The Cavalera brothers embarked on a 20 year anniversary tour to celebrate the album in early fall of 2016 and later added a second leg of the tour due to overwhelming positive response. The “Return to Roots Tour” would feature the band playing the entire Roots album from start to finish. The tour stopped by NYC, playing The Gramercy Theatre on February 21st. As a celebration of the heavy metal genre, Max and Igor Cavalera also brought along a nice mixture of sub-genre’s along for the tour; Full of Hate, grindcore from Ocean City, Maryland and Immolation, death metal from Yonkers, New York.
Full of Hate opened up the show with a short set of quick, but heavy grindcore tracks. They started the mosh pit going but only for a few minutes before Immolation took the stage. Out of Yonkers, NY, Immolation too has a longer history in the metal genre like the headliners. Having been active since the mid 80s, Immolation has developed a large following within the death metal sub-genre, something that was apparent through the crowd’s response.
Gramercy Theatre slowly filled up leading up to the main headliners’ set, even host of That Metal Show and comedian Don Jamieson was spotted standing side stage in the venue. By the time the Cavalera Brothers approached the stage the entire theater was packed and it resounded with a large explosion of cheers and energy. The brothers kicked off with the very first track off the album, their popular “Roots Bloody Roots” with a burst of ecstatic crowd reception; the entire venue was jumping along to the beat, crowd surfing up to the stage and joining the “circle pit” in the middle of the general standing floor. Many fans chose to sit in the seating section toward the back of the venue, a beautiful view watching the interaction between the Cavalera brothers on stage and their fans.
Very few artists can get the crowd going the way Max can, actively incorporating the crowd in chants and demanding energy from them during every song. Songs like “Itsari” gave Igor the entire stage to demonstrate his drumming talent with the chants of the Xavante tribe in the background. At the very end of the track “Ambush”, Max brought out drummers to the stage stating, “we bringing the tribal shit back for you New York”; they played an entire solo of tribal drumming which included both drummers Dave Bland of Full of Hell and Steve Shalaty of Immolation, with Igor leading the pack.
There was not a single moment where the crowd was not in a 100% full energy mode, everyone in the crowd fed off of each others energy and kept the show going. With their Brazilian flag on stage and all of the cultural celebrations of their country, the crowd slowly began to realize that the importance of the album transcends the heavy metal genre, being far more relevant now in our current times and touching upon many historical moments in the past.
When The Cavalera brothers finished their set, they treated the audience to an encore that included both a cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” and another final performance of “Roots Bloody Roots.” I don’t think there was a more perfect moment to celebrate such an important and politically conscious heavy metal classic than now. Songs like “Born Stubborn” clearly state where the Cavalera brothers’ values lie, showing how they bridge the fields of politics/history to music. As Max stated, the song comes from their heart as musicians and choosing to go down the path of music. When they scream lyrics like, “these roots will always remain” they truly mean it ethnically but also musically, upholding their words for the last 30 years and continuing to do to so today.
MAX AND IGOR CAVALERA: