Friday, May 8, 2009

Sepultura - Schizophrenia (1987)

In early 1987, Sepultura lost their lead guitarist, Jairo T. He was replaced by Andreas Kisser, who brought with him a style much more based in Thrash Metal. Around this time, the members of Sepultura were getting into bands such as Metallica, Exciter, Slayer and Kreator. All of this led to a shift in the band's sound, one that gained them much more attention and resulted in a record contract with Roadrunner. Their last album to be recorded in Brazil, Schizophrenia was released in October 1987.

Whereas Morbid Visions was a Black Metal album that contained some Thrash as well, consumed by an evil atmosphere, Schizophrenia is something entirely different; however, it still retains a dark feeling. The style on their second L.P. is best described as Death/Thrash, and they do it very well.

An ominous intro begins the album, sounding like something from an old horror film. It ends with a possessed, backmasked, scream.

"From the Past Comes the Storms" opens with a riff that owes a lot to Slayer's "Chemical Warfare". Right away, one notices that the sound is a bit thicker than on the previous record. The feeling is somewhat claustrophobic and oppressive, as opposed to the eerie fog that surrounded Morbid Visions. The songwriting is a lot more complex, featuring plenty of riff changes and so on. This is the doing of Andreas, more than likely. The lead solo is brilliant, showing great skill in execution as well as a good ear. In a strange sense, the aura created on here seems much older than it is.

The next song is "To the Wall", maintaining the intensity from the first track, as well as the dark and suffocating feeling. The overall pace is fast, though there are several tempo changes. This is certainly not the straight-forward Black Metal approach from the previous release. Another difference between this album and the last is that the vocals are pushed back a bit and utilized in a different manner. Max doesn't sound as demonic here, he is simply a vocalist. Around the 2:00 mark, there is an interesting series of drum rolls that sound very similar to something found on Kreator's Pleasure To Kill. Beyond this, the sense of melody that Andreas brought into the band, and the way in which they managed to merge this into the Sepultura sound, is excellent.

"Escape to the Void" opens with a lead solo that melts the flesh from your bones. The initial moments seem more subdued, yet the level of intensity, quickly, increases as things progress. Another thing to note, here, is the completely different lyrical approach. Gone are the evil and Satanic lyrics from the past. This is much different.

"I look at my face on the other side of the mirror
My face falls down in pieces full of worms
I burst my rotten heart with my own hands
I am dying and I can't help myself"

The solos and guitar harmonies on this song are genius. This possesses all the speed and violence of Kreator, while keeping an even darker feeling present, throughout.

It is followed by the bleak and abysmal instrumental, "Inquisition Symphony". This composition further demonstrates the new level of musical maturity that Sepultura had arrived at. If anything rivals Metallica's "The Call of Ktulu", this is it. It begins with synth and an acoustic guitar. The synth is simplistic, being very similar to something out of a horror movie. It doesn't take long for the guitars and drums to take over. What follows in an epic musical journey that can hardly be described. There are moments of serene peace, utterly thrashed by dark and dismal guitar riffs. This song is filled with an old school sensibility, regarding riffs and even drum patterns. Later on, the acoustic guitar returns, though briefly, just before another brilliant lead solo is unleashed. This instrumental consists of many peaks and valleys, speeding you listener to grand heights, only to drag back down into the murky depths. The last moments convey a hellish feeling of soul-death.

"Screams Behind the Shadows" prolongs this somber, funereal spirit. It slowly builds up, as a threatening tension fills the air. The pace isn't quite as fast as earlier songs, which works perfectly in the context of the album, as a whole. There are tempo changes, even including a very nice tremolo riff, but this velocity is not static. Again, the guitar riffs, as well as the solos, are incredibly well done. Despite being a little shorter than the track that preceded it, this one bears much the same imposing ambience.

The record continues on with "Septic Schizo", which takes some time to build up to full speed. The thrash riffs alternate with power chords, in the opening moments. This utilizes the sort of intensity reminiscent of Haunting the Chapel, at times. The pace varies and the vocals have a decent amount of reverb, giving a wicked touch.

As Schizophrenia nears its end, another instrumental track sets a gloomy tone. "The Abyss" is fairly brief, consisting of simple, yet evocative, acoustic guitars. The melody is like the emaciated hand reaching up from the darkness within, gripping your heart in its cold hand as a cryptic reminder that the end is near. For something so ephemeral and minimalist, the sentiment of dread is conveyed adequately enough.

"R.I.P. (Rest In Pain)" erupts from the silence, like a black tank rolling over a lone white flower, growing in total solitude, erasing it from existence. There is a stark contrast between the serenity of the previous piece and the sheer violence of the album closer. The manner in which it begins is fast-paced, brutal and uncompromising. There are some tempo changes, yet it returns to this furious approach. As the song ends, things seem to fall apart. A brief bit of circus music intrudes, soon sounding as if it has been consumed in flames, as the record grinds to a halt.

While Schizophrenia lacks the evil atmosphere present on Morbid Visions, it still succeeds in creating something dark and intense. Few other Death/Thrash albums managed to create such an obscure, yet violent, aura. This is the last essential album from this band, so be sure to pick it up.