Some time after the release of their landmark album Arise, the well of thrash metal riffs that had powered Sepultura’s last few efforts abruptly ran dry, and the Brazilian pioneers briefly adopted a style that was far slower and groove-oriented than the scene was used to at the time. That Chaos A.D. was the band’s first big step into the mainstream probably isn’t a coincidence, but regardless of how Pantera-influenced it may seem at first, Sepultura’s fifth full-length album remains a classic of the metal genre and a huge influence to this day.
As highly regarded as the trio of Schizophrenia, Beneath the Remains, and Arise are among thrash-heads, Chaos A.D. is undoubtedly the album in which Sepultura really found themselves as a band and forged a sound that really set them apart from the crowd; it’s the first indication that they would be around for the long haul, if you will. The tribal and industrial elements that were introduced on Arise are explored in earnest here, from the famous drum intro to “Refuse/Resist” to the full-fledged acoustic instrumental “Kaiowas”. These are blended quite nicely into the slower compositions, giving the music plenty of room to breathe without sounding forced (a problem people might have with the band’s next album, Roots). There are also a couple of punk-ish tracks in “Biotech is Godzilla” and a cover of New Model Army’s “The Hunt,” which actually sound really good (though Sepultura have always been an excellent cover band, so this shouldn’t be a surprise). This doesn’t completely excuse Chaos A.D. from its absence of great riffs, but the melting pot of different genres makes each and every track well-distinguishable from one another. For this reason, it’s also a pretty easy album to listen to from beginning to end.
What ultimately makes Chaos A.D. a winner in my book is its absolutely impeccable atmosphere. Andy Wallace really did a spectacular job producing this one, but that’s just gravy compared to how Sepultura plays their instruments here. Each song is dark, hulking, and aggressive, and you can just feel the anger flowing through the guitars while Max Cavalera rages on about governmental corruption and censorship; once again, the cover art fits the music like a glove. Andreas Kisser is definitely the MVP of the album, projecting evil and hatred with his six strings, and really making the listener feel like they’re a part of that weird mummification process on the album art (the lead in “Propaganda,” for instance). This is something that just isn’t found on modern groove metal releases (or most groove metal releases, for that matter); clean and polished the album is not, but I think that’s ultimately what makes it so appealing.
While I’m no fan of groove metal, Chaos A.D. is just a solid album in every sense of the word. With its unique combination of world elements, suffocating production, and accessible instrumental work, it’s not only an important stepping stone for Sepultura as a band, but for the genre of metal as a whole. As such, it’s definitely deserving of a place in just about any metalhead’s collection, and continues to stand the test of time as a must-listen collection of tunes.