Heavy Metal Music in Postdictatorial Brazil

Sepultura and the Coding of Nationality in Sound

Heavy Metal Music in Postdictatorial Brazil: Sepultura and the Coding of Nationality in Sound

Preamble: ‘you censor what we breathe/prejudice with no belief’ (Sepultura, 1993)

Heavy metal is a postdictatorial genre in Brazil, one whose musical and cultural significance is best grasped by mapping the various meanings acquired by metal music amongst urban youth during the decline of the military regime in the mid-1980s.

As in most countries, speed, thrash and death metal evolved in Brazil primarily as working-class urban youth genres. Unlike their Anglo-American and continental sisters, however, Brazil's pioneer metal bands began to craft their art under a heritage of intense censorship and repression, courtesy of a two-decade-long dictatorship (1964-85).

Brazilian metal not only had to face the usual aesthetic and moral reprimands flung against it in the North, but also a political accusation that as a form of protest it was not socially aware enough.

Never mind, of course, that bands or fans themselves rarely phrased their own agenda in such crude terms as ‘protest’ or ‘resistance.’ Once a certain orthodoxy defined that such a function was the only one to be attributed to popular music—and the only meaning a phenomenon like heavy metal could have in Brazil—the debate was already framed in a no-win situation for the genre.

In order to establish itself heavy metal had to implode the terms of that debate and show how inadequate they were to account for the genre's sound, writing and iconography.

The band I will follow here, Sepultura, has been for 33 years (1985-2003) largely responsible for the genre's victory in that national cultural battle, one that they could only win by rephrasing it as an international debate.

Source :: Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies

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