Dorsal Atlântica

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One of Brazil's first heavy metal bands, Rio de Janeiro's Dorsal Atlântica predated not only the mid-'80s "golden" era of Brazilian metal (spearheaded by Sepultura), but the end of the rock & roll-stifling…
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One of Brazil's first heavy metal bands, Rio de Janeiro's Dorsal Atlântica predated not only the mid-'80s "golden" era of Brazilian metal (spearheaded by Sepultura), but the end of the rock & roll-stifling military dictatorship that helped make that movement possible.

After forming the band as Ness in 1981 with an unknown drummer pal, brothers Carlos (aka Carlos Vãndalo, vocals/guitar) and Claudio Lopes (bass) picked their group's new name (which refers to the sub-aquatic mountain range splitting the Atlantic Ocean) at random out of an encyclopedia. With no local rock, never mind heavy metal scene to speak of, the trio managed all of nine shows and a 1982 demo in the next few years, finally cutting their first official release -- a split LP with Metalmorphose entitled Ultimatum -- for strategic release on the first day of the legendary Rock in Rio Festival, in January 1985. As one would expect, the music was fast, raw, and energetic (somewhere between Judas Priest and proto-thrash), but came with the caveat that all lyrics were written and sung in Portuguese -- which wasn't a problem just then, but would become a major hurdle when it came time to expand the band's career overseas. But, for the time being, Dorsal Atlântica was making slow and steady progress, and, after finding their first "metal-minded" drummer in Carlos Animal (later replaced by one Hardcore), they would undertake ever more extended touring engagements throughout Southern Brazil. Among these was a small 1986 gig in Belo Horizonte instrumental to inciting the city's burgeoning heavy metal scene (including an already formed, but barely teenaged Sepultura and Sarcófago) into action, and immediately followed by sessions in São Paulo for Dorsal's first album, Antes do Fim ("before the End"). Something of a surprise for Dorsal's hardcore following, the LP revealed signs of their punk and hardcore roots, but still sold in respectable enough quantities (3 to 10,000, depending on who you ask) to score them the opening slot on Venom's watershed tour of Brazil (also featuring Exciter) that December.

Sadly, this tour in many ways arguably qualified as the high point of Dorsal Atlântica's career, commercially, if not creatively. As is often the case with musical pioneers, it seems Dorsal's destiny was to merely start the ball rolling so that younger bands like Sepultura, Viper, and Angra could reap the rewards and rule the Brazilian metal kingdom overseas. Not that the band vanished from sight; rather they returned with a second, improved, and overtly political album in 1988's Dividir e Conquistar and then proceeded to officially (though not exclusively) adopt the almost requisite English language for the following year's Searching for the Light -- the first installment of an ambitious metallic opera trilogy. International touring stints with Testament and Kreator followed, and then, with new drummer Guga in tow, Dorsal cut possibly their most internationally well-known release in 1992's Musical Guide from Stellium. Yet another leap forward in creative, if not necessarily commercial terms, the album contained additional elements of progressive rock paving the way to the trilogy-closing Alea Jacta Est, in 1994. The next couple of years were marked by both ups and downs, the release of a Dorsal Atlântica tribute album offsetting the retirement of bassist, founder, and brother Claudio Lopes, and, subject to more questionable merit, 1996's hardcore-dominated Straight LP (recorded in England by Napalm Death producer Paul Johnston). Since then, Dorsal has settled into a state of semi-retirement, marked by occasional touring (with bassist Alexandre Farias to record 1999's Terrorism Alive), and reissues of unreleased material (2001's impressive, career-spanning Pelagodiscus Atlanticus) and outtakes (2002's Ultimatum Outtakes) to help keep their limited, but important legend alive.