The Story Behind The Song: Sepultura’s Roots Bloody Roots

Max Cavalera of Sepultura
(Image credit: Nigel Crane/Redferns)

Sepultura were on of the most groundbreaking metal bands of the early 90s, and a key influence on the emerging nu metal scene. By the time of 1996’s watershed Roots album, they were on the verge of superstardom, thanks in a large part to the rhythmic blast of the title track. Former Seps frontman Max Cavalera looks back on the making of this 90s metal landmark…

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We knew it would be different

Max Cavalera: “Before we had even started writing the Roots album, we knew that we wanted to do something different from before. We started looking at Brazilian comics and imagery for inspiration; we really wanted to move away from what we did on Chaos A.D. because it would have been too easy to just do the same thing again. So even as we went to write and record we had that idea that we wanted to have a very strong image that represented where we came from, and that was super-important to that record.”

It was originally going to be twice as fast

Max: “There’s two versions of the song that we worked on, and originally it was double time from the version that you hear now. I liked it like that – I thought that it was really brutal – but when we tuned down you could hear that it would sound cooler a bit slower and with more of a groove. But I still like playing the thrash version of it – we play it like that live sometimes and I think it sounds killer.”

I think Ross Robinson was scared of us

Max:Ross Robinson was a really big part of getting that raw sound right; he wanted it to be as dirty and live as it could possibly be and he loved the idea of us going out into the wastelands and working with the tribes. He’s more like a cheerleader than a producer, and we had heard all of this stuff about him throwing things at Korn to get them angry when they were recording. We went in there on the first day and were like, ‘Don’t you try pulling any shit like that with us! We’re from Brazil – we’ll fucking kill you!’ Ha ha ha! He never did either… I think he thought we were serious.”

Andy Wallace is the song’s unsung hero

Max: “We loved Ross; we loved the way he was fearless, like we were, about doing something new, but when we got the song back it sounded like shit. Ross hardly touches anything at all, so it just sounded like it was recorded live. We sent it to Andy Wallace and he beefed it up and padded it out and made it sound heavy as fuck, and I think that’s the thing that makes it really killer, the mix of Ross’s live punk rock recording and Andy Wallace’s ear for making things sound huge.”

Roadrunner thought we were crazy

Max: “We told Roadrunner that we were going to try and reclaim the word ‘roots’ for metal. It was considered a reggae thing at that time and I really believed we could change it and turn it into something that people thought of with metal. The label thought we were nuts when we told them. ‘You’re going to do what?’ Ha ha ha! But once they heard the song they got behind it. They were really cool with designing the packaging and the look of the record, and it was super-influential to people when they saw us in the facepaint and the tribal gear. You only have to look at Norwegian black metal with them going back to their roots. It worked.”

I will never get bored of playing it

Max: “I’m all about the riff, and that song has such a cool riff, it’s really simple… much more simple than anything we had done before, but it just feels good. When you see a whole field going crazy to it you can’t not want to play it. It’s kind of like our Ace Of Spades. I’ll have to play it forever!”

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.