Sepulnation is a collection of the five studio albums released by Sepultura after they replaced original vocalist Max Cavalera with Derrick Green. Sepulnation spans 1998’s Against and Nation, Roorback, Dante XXI and finishes with 2009’s A-LEX. With some bonus material thrown in, it boasts a mammoth 83 tracks in an 8 LP / 5 CD box set.

These albums did not enjoy the commercial success of the band’s previous album, 1996’s Roots, which was arguably one of the most influential albums in metal, basically paving the way for nu-metal both musically and in terms of reach and sold over two million copies worldwide.

Sepultura subsequently got lost in the noise of nu-metal and rap-metal, which boasted new, younger bands with more accessible crossover appeal as well as established names in the scene that also transitioned toward these more palatable genres – including Machine Head and Max Cavalera with his new project Soulfly. 

At the same time, Sepultura, once so cutting-edge, went backward toward the heavy, thrashy vein of their breakthrough album Chaos AD whilst bands like Deftones, System of a Down, Opeth and Tool took metal in innovative new directions. 

With the effective break-up of Pantera and the (documented-on-film) train wreck that was Metallica in 2001, three of the heavyweights in the world of heavy metal had moved aside and the scene had undergone a seismic transition.

So it was that Sepultura found themselves in the kitchen at the suddenly-crowded metal party, with more in common with musically hardcore newcomers like Killswitch Engage – on the fringe of a scene they had so recently dominated and being overshadowed by the cool kids like Korn and Slipknot who owed so much of their musical outlook to Sepultura’s influence.

The anthology of Sepultura’s ten years in the wilderness begins with the title track of Against, sounding like Motorhead possessed by Satan (or at least given a gritty Christopher Nolan remake). The album continues in a similar vein: often intense but balanced enough for the numerous driving, solid riffs to jump out rather than becoming irrelevant among relentless thrash. The unrestrained hardcore death metal / groove metal mash-up of Reza hits the listener as a real gear-shift. Against is the most powerful and consistently captivating album of the five on this compilation.

Nation is more musically subtle at points, starting with what sounds like an out-take from Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and incorporating more of the Brazilian-style drum patterns and syncopated rhythms that made Roots sound so unique when it was first released. It is lyrically more ambitious (or self-important, depending where you stand on Derrick Green – and Jelo Biafra, who guests on Politricks). It even features some straight singing on One Man Army, which sounds like a slowed down Faith no More.

Roorback takes Nation’s use of a wider breadth of musical styles and devices further still (not always to good effect, such as the utterly anaemic Bottomed Out); it is quite nuanced in places. 

The bonus material on Sepulnation includes the Revulsongs EP and several covers and runs to about half an hour in total. Sadly, this includes a U2 song that manages not to be a great deal edgier than the original and an underwhelming cover of Massive Attack’s Angel. That these are still two of the more characterful tracks on Sepulnation says a lot – but none of it good. 

Dante XXI is frantic, thrashy and hardcore yet has a strangely thin sound despite a few interesting musical ideas and some bold instrumentation, exemplified by Ostia

A-LEX is musically diverse, on the whole cold, synthetic-sounding and polished, for the most part but with the odd track that sounds, to be brutal, like a ropey rehearsal-room jam. The less said about the twee, bombastic, indulgent “Ludwig Van” the better. No… I can’t resist – it sounds like a slow-motion car crash featuring a mariachi band, string quartet and Yingwie Malmsteen and confirms all of my prejudice against the musical vacuity of Beethoven’s 9th.

Overall, the vocals on much of Sepulnation feel indistinct, lacking in distinctive phrasing and delivered with a lack of intent. There are few lines that stick in the mind and few that accentuate the groove, instead tying strongly to the music rather than contrasting or standing out from it. 

I think that while Derrick Green is great at what he does, it’s very easy to point the finger at his arrival for a shift towards a less recognizable and accessible Sepultura than what had gone before and this is still the case a decade or two later where this album is way outside mainstream listening comfort zones (probably even more so than in the early 2000s). 

Unfortunately, while there’s a lot of interesting material on this box set, it’s definitely one for the hardcore fans, because most of the material hasn’t retained a uniqueness of sound that would define any of these albums as metal classics or hook in someone unfamiliar with the band or the genre.

While I enjoyed the experience of catching up on ten years of Sepultura that I had hitherto been unaware of, I would have preferred to review a re-issue of Roots, to examine in detail the influence that album had on the nascent nu-metal scene. Sepulnation, while including a lot of perfectly solid metal is simply not inspiring or special by today’s standards.


Chris Oliver

I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.