Sepultura - Roots
Roadrunner Records
Tribal Metal
16 songs (1:12:17)
Release year: 1996
Sepultura, Roadrunner Records
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

So, here goes – the most controversial review I’ll ever write, for one of metal’s most loved bands. Arguably a dividing line between Sepultura’s ‘good’ old days of the underground and the ‘bad’ modern metal movement, Roots defined 90s metal like few other albums can. You can arguably trace nu-metal to this album, the ‘tribal’ sound as featured here being an influence on many a band that we readers rightly regard as intolerable – yet what of the originator? I assume that you and I have similar experience of this album, dear reader, using it as a stepping stone on our path to the ‘real’ metal that we worship here as par for the course, yet do you share the full gamut of emotions that I do when considering it? My first time with Roots was, honestly, revolutionary, opening my ears to the various influences and styles that heavy metal could take and claim as their own. True, once I’d discovered Beneath The Remains and Schizophrenia it lay forgotten, heavier and thrashier realms calling my name as they bid me explore their particular dark avenues. That’s where most metalheads and Roots part ways, leaving it behind and pretending they never liked it.

Yet I’ve put too much into Roots to be able to give up on it so easily, have too many emotions and memories mixed up with it. I’ve loved this album and hated it multiple times, listened to it so many times that I must know it by heart... whether you like it or despise it, you have to admit it, this is one of the most significant releases of the 90s as a whole. Both Sepultura and Soulfly have tried to emulate it, the two entities taking their diverse punk, nu metal and world-music forays with its lessons into their own careers to such an extent that you simply cannot listen to their recent output without catching a glimpse of the Roots overshadowing it all. I doubt there’s a single one of you who doesn’t know the opening song here by heart, Roots Bloody Roots being that perfect example of a tune you want to get out of your head, but can’t. The flawless groove that underpins Max’s screams is an example of a band at its songwriting best, seizing your attention and filling your head with simple catchiness – most nu-metal seems like an inferior copy, probably because Igor Cavalera and Andreas Kisser are pretty good musicians underneath it all.

And the rest? Well, it’s something of a mixed bag, samey moments of groove/nu metal aggressiveness that haven’t aged well broken up with tribal sections that have aged surprisingly well – it’s certainly the best album of its sort. In general, the tribal sections are far more memorable and enjoyable than the metal that surrounds them. For example, the strumming that opens Attitude is a lot more interesting than the following meandering groove and bellowing, and whilst Cutthroat has a bit more speed and oomph to it, it still lacks a certain something. Ratamahatta, in comparison, is astonishing, a percussion-led stomper that focuses on the Brazilian sounds and relegates the alt/nu-metal stomp to the background, creating something quite unique that still sounds great today. You can’t deny the innovation here – what makes this album suffer is that it’s limited to moments like this. Sadly, the very next track undoes a lot of Ratamahatta’s good work by going back to ‘don’t fuck with us’ teenager anger.

To give credit where it’s due, Breed Apart is slightly better than other tracks, and has an interesting tribal breakdown, so it just about gets on the killing songs list. But elsewhere, when broken down, you struggle to find real highlights. I find myself split on Dusted’s sludgy rumbling and Spit’s crusty stomp, and whilst Itsari’s authentic tribal jam acts as a nice interlude, coming after Jasco’s acoustic piece the two form a non-metal section that clashes rather painfully with tracks after. Endangered Species has a slowed-down-Machine Head-gone-atmospheric vibe that sort of works, but closing hidden track Mountain Jam is just boring. Last and most certainly least, Lookaway is the worse track Mike Patton has ever done, sharing musical space with Korn’s Jonathan Davis and mixing ‘wacky’ vocal noises with a ‘spooky’ backing. It’s bloody dreadful.

I must admit, before I wrote this review I intended to score it higher, but I’d forgotten how samey it is. The idea of Roots – a band retreating into the jungle and re-engaging with their musical heritage – is much better than the album itself, clearly. I retain fondness for it, but Sepultura should have been braver in moving away from metal if they really wanted to impress. As it is, the tribal influence is the most interesting thing here, not the nu-metal grooving which drags it down. A 90s highlight, but in no way a classic, Sepultura have done much better.

Killing Songs :
Roots Bloody Roots, Ratamahatta, Breed Apart, Itsari, Endangered Species
Goat quoted 74 / 100
Other albums by Sepultura that we have reviewed:
Sepultura - Quadra reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Sepultura - Machine Messiah reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Sepultura - The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Sepultura - Kairos reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Sepultura - Arise reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
To see all 13 reviews click here
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