Interview with Sepultura guitarist Andreas Kisser | By Nicholas Senior
Sepultura have had such a long, storied career and released at least two thrash classics—1991’s Arise and 1993’s Chaos A.D.—so it seems doubtful they’d have anything left to prove. However, that’s not the prevailing notion when listening to their upcoming 14th record, Machine Messiah, released via Nuclear Blast on Jan. 13. The album finds the band crafting their most technical and soulful arrangements yet. This isn’t the same band who wrote a Roots revival a few years ago; instead, a new energized monster has come out of the Brazilian woodwork. This is the sound of a band who want to be remembered for their current output instead of their past, and thankfully, Machine Messiah stands up to Sepultura’s classics, even if it’s a different beast.
What’s most noticeable is the breadth of the album’s musical content. Guitarist Andreas Kisser says this is intentional. “We just tried to give a strong identity to each track; every track has its own characteristic,” he says. “It opens in a different way from every Sepultura album that we did before: a melodic and slow-paced song. Working with [producer] Jens Bogren brought a lot of possibilities, like the violins from Tunisia that he suggested we could use in some specific parts. It opened so many different opportunities. We wanted to do something more musical, really thinking about the arrangements. It was all an old wish I’ve had, to really use the elements of the music I’m learning, like classical and blues and other styles.”
“When you get to that more musical approach, you open up ideas with harmonies and really work every little piece of the guitar parts,” he continues. “In the past, I left more to the improvisation in the studio. This time, we had time to really work on it. We went to Sweden in the summer, and it was very beautiful. I could really sit down and work my guitar parts and experiment a lot. By the time of recording, I was really sure what I wanted to do. It was great, but it was a challenge for all of us.”
This sort of sounds like Sepultura filtered through more of a prog mindset, which is natural when working in Sweden with Bogren. Kisser laughs, agreeing, “We already wanted to explore our musicianship, but going to Sweden, that’s what we wanted to look for. Because we worked with [producer] Ross Robinson on [2013’s The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart], a great friend of ours, and Mediator… is what it is. It was positive for our career, but since Chaos A.D., we haven’t recorded in Europe. So, the environment and atmosphere really helps a lot. We never had a prog intention, but we felt the moment was right to really expand our possibilities.”
On both The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart and Machine Messiah, there are discussions of emotions and what makes us human. Kisser expands that the new record is about “that concern of losing the ability of being human. Everything is so robotized today in every aspect, and sometimes, we lose that ability to think for ourselves and build an argument or to question. Machine Messiah touches on that subject. It’s not a futuristic sci-fi, but rather, what we live today: GPS, smartphones, computers, Google glass. You see concerts today, and people [are] filming and losing that moment of being there and enjoying the music. Instead, they’re filming something they won’t even watch later. In so many aspects, we’re losing that face to face contact; even families in restaurants are just looking at their phones and not talking to each other. It’s a wake-up call to not lose ourselves in this robot world before it’s too late.”
This begs the question, do Sepultura watch “Westworld” and “Black Mirror”? Kisser admits, “Yes, they touch on this subject of the possibilities of a future where we lose our own freedom and [are] being monitored all the time. We have to learn how to deal with that and fight for the right to be a citizen with freedom and privacy, which is more difficult than ever.”
Interestingly, the band aren’t all in agreement on Kisser’s opinions on modern technology. He explains, “I am a little against robotics, and [vocalist] Derrick [Green] is pro-robotics. It was cool to have a different opinion in the same band and in the same song. It made the lyrics and album even more alive. We have room to express how we feel, but we are building a case here. The goal here is to find a balance, not to lose our abilities as human beings, and at the same time, using machines to help our development without giving everything over to them.”
The themes and music are in tandem with the difference between Mediator… and Machine Messiah: the former was very raw, emotive, and the latter is more clinical, composed, more designed than performed. What’s more, Sepultura have also put in their best performance in at least a decade.