On March 12, 1996, Brazilian heavy metal band Sepultura released their sixth studio album in the U.S., and although the LP had actually hit record store shelves in Europe almost a month earlier, perhaps the delay made the fans’ hearts grow fonder: to this day, it remains the band’s most commercially-successful album in America.
Roots was deeply influenced by Brazilian rhythms, which is sonically evident on tracks like “Itsári” and “Ratamahatta.” It’s clear that Sepultura fans in the U.S. weren’t the only ones to have embraced the sound: the LP sold more than two million copies worldwide.
Now, if you don’t know much more about the band than what you’ve read here thus far, you may be wondering why it’s a big deal that a Brazilian heavy metal band was influenced by Brazilian rhythms. In fact, the origins of the album and its overarching concept came from a surprising source: the film At Play in the Fields of the Lord, starring Tom Berenger.
After seeing the film, songwriter Max Cavalera was inspired: he wanted the band to record with an indigenous Brazilian tribe. Though the band’s label, Roadrunner Records, wasn’t 100% sure about this plan, Cavalera talked them into it, and the trip proved to be truly inspirational...and insane, according to Max’s brother and fellow Sepultura member, Igor Cavalera.
"Every second of that trip was insane in a very inspiring way,” Igor told Nashville Scene. “But there's a few things that really stand out. Like when they explained to us that the only way they wrote music was if someone in the tribe dreamed of the music. They couldn't just write a lyric or a melody. It has to be transmitted to them in a dream. From a musician's point of view, it was like, 'Wow, this is a completely different way of approaching music.’”
The result was an album which was far different from anything else in the Sepultura catalog up to that point while also being just as powerful as its predecessors, if not more so.
When Steve Huey wrote on AllMusic, “[Roots] consolidates Sepultura's position as perhaps the most distinctive, original heavy metal band of the 1990s,” he wasn’t indulging in hyperbole: the band was really strutting their stuff on that album, and it still holds up...even in an acoustic setting.