Concert Review: Sepultura (Saratoga Winners, Cohoes, New York, March 19, 2001)

Want to send a message around the world? Then forget English and Esperanto. And forget C++ and Visual Basic. Because there’s only one universal language on this planet, and that language is metal. If you speak it fluently, you’ll be able to commune swimmingly with all sorts of interesting folks, from all sorts of interesting places: Norwegian church-burners (Emperor or Burzum), Hungarian shaman-punks (Vagtazo Hallotkemek), French Canadian cyberslashers (Cryptopsy), Japanese death commandos (Defiled, Sabbat, Metalucifer) and even American cheese-peddlers (Primus).

While all of those artists speak the world’s heaviest lingua franca, few of them ever bother trying to say anything with it — unlike Brazil’s Sepultura, who blew straight out of Belo Horizonte by merging thrash with their country’s indigenous rhythms, then delivering smart, real-world polemics about oppressed, real-world people atop their brutal auditory fabrications. Sepultura mastered their pioneering approach to metal on 1996’s Roots, just as the band’s own internal politics reached their nadir, leading to founding singer-guitarist Max Cavalera’s departure to form Soulfly, a like-minded world-metal outfit.

But Sepultura soldiered on, with Cleveland-bred singer Derrick Green joining Igor Cavalera (drums, and Max’s brother), Andreas Kisser (guitar) and Paolo Pinto Jr. (bass) for 1998’s Against and the brand-new Nation. The Green-fortified quartet rolled into Saratoga Winners Sunday night, five months to the day after Soulfly delivered a headlining set at the very same venue. How’d the shows compare? They were both surprisingly good, and they were both surprisingly different: Soulfly seem to have inherited the “world” portion of Sepultura’s defining mid-period sound, while the motherband itself has opted for a more straight-forward, thrash-and-burn approach.

Which they deliver quite well, thundering along atop Igor Cavalera’s monster drumming, orbiting around Green’s stentorian vocals, which were less banshee-like than Max Cavalera’s and occasionally evoked Black Flag-era Henry Rollins, if Black Flag-era Henry Rollins had been capable of demonstrating some emotion other than rage when he sang. Sepultura’s recent material harked back to their high-speed work on 1993’s Chaos A.D., allowing that record’s standout track, the Jello Biafra co-penned “Biotech is Godzilla,” to fit right cozy among the new compositions.

As did “Roots Bloody Roots” and “Attitude,” two monster Max-era tracks that worked as well with Green at the helm as could possibly be imagined. Impressive, as was an all-to-brief percussion workout at the start of the encore, when all four members of Sepultura picked up mallets and went to town on various pieces of percussion strewn about the stage. Fortunately, Puerto Rico’s Puya played an entire set that way, with three drummers backing up their bass-guitar-vocal frontline. Puya have picked up where Sepultura’s Roots left off, creating a radical hybrid music that’s equal parts Rage Against the Machine, Bad Brains, Public Enemy and Tito Puente. No mean feat. One great band.

I’m fast becoming a believer that Hatebreed (who played the number three slot Sunday) are the hardest working band in show business, having seen them at least two dozen times over the past few years, always as openers, never as headliners. Give ’em their due: they deliver the goods, and they deliver them well, and they pump a crowd the way a crowd needs to be pumped before the top of the lineup takes the stage. No wonder so many people want ’em on the undercard. British Columbia’s Flybanger opened with an interesting set of tech-metal, right smack on the nose at 8 PM, which was a bit early for the average metalhead to be feeling enthusiastic about anything, leading a fairly wan reaction from the still-thin crowd. Better luck next time.

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