Jay Rollins talks with Max Cavalera about Tribal Thrash, Pantera, and his Return to Roots.
Sepultura’s Bestial Devastation dropped in 1985 initiating a wave of brutal creativity that has yet to cease. Max Cavalera, alongside his brother Iggor, created rhythmic centric thrash with a fresh perspective stemming from their proud Brazilian heritage. Since separating from Sepultura in the late 90s Max has been a pinnacle force in Soulfly, Killer be Killed, Cavalera Conspiracy, and Nailbomb. After decades of personal and professional setbacks, all detailed in his autobiography, My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond, Max is back playing with Iggor to write invigorating music and Max’s son Zyon beats the skins in Soulfly.
On thing that is apparent from the following interview is how much Max loves metal!
Tribal influence in your music really started subtlety on Sepultura’s Arise, progressed on Choas A.D., and matured on Roots. Then Soulfly’s early work and, by the sounds of things your new album Ritual, takes those influences into new dominions. You’ve coined this rhythmic predecessor of nu-metal as “tribal metal.” Was the development of this distinct style a conscience effort?
No, you know we were not really looking to create a new sound it just kinda happened almost by accident. We kinda fell in love with some of the sounds when we were doing those earlier ones, you know Arise a little bit, Chaos a little more, and then finally Roots with everything. Soulfly was full of the grooves, the tribal grooves. I’ve always been really influenced by tribal ideas though, like I’ve always been involved with tribes. I loved recording with the Xavantes when we did Roots and now recording with the Navajos for Ritual is another amazing experience. I think it is just kind of coming full circle with Ritual. 20 years of Soulfly, something that’s really mine. [Soulfly] is actually where I belong in this world of groove. Tribal groove elements together with all the death metal, thrash metal that I love, which there’s plenty of that on Ritual. To me Ritual feels like the most complete Soulfly album we’ve ever done, because it has all of the elements that I love. It has: extreme metal, hardcore, thrash metal, death metal, black metal, groove and tribal stuff. So, Ritual feels like a real essential Soulfly record, it really feels like a classic album even though it hasn’t come out yet, it has the feeling of a classic album.
Nice, I agree especially with the songs that have been released so far.
Those albums entered new terrain and changed the soundscape of metal thereafter by bringing in those experimental rhythmic patterns alongside those extreme metal forms. Are there any newer bands that you are currently listening to that you feel are still pushing boundaries?
Yeah man, I listen to metal all the time. I’m kinda like a nerd when it comes to metal, I feel like I’m still a teenager in my bedroom discovering new bands and trying to get a hold of them to switch shirts. Of course the little bit I heard from the new Pig Destroyer is amazing, I’m excited also for the new Behemoth, you know a lot of good metal coming out, Deicide should be really good. You know like I just love metal in general I love a lot of the new bands like Nails, Power Trip, Homewrecker. And a lot of the more extreme stuff like Nunslaughter and Forest of Impaled. I listen to metal a lot, you could say metal is my life.
I saw an interview where you were wearing a Scour shirt, I’ve been listening to them, they got some good stuff coming out.
Yeah, I got that from the guys in Pig Destroyer and Misery Index because I met them on tour. We played together in Baltimore and they gave me that as a present. I’ve always been a good friend of Phil. We toured together in the Pantera days, both Sepultura and Soulfly both toured with Pantera, he was always a good guy to me. Out of everything he has done that’s my favourite thing he’s done since Pantera is Scour. As much as I think Down was cool, Superjoint, Phil Anselmo and The Illegals is cool but Scour is just brutal man. It’s got that killer black metal vibe that I love and I really like that whole vibe, so when I got that shirt I was really happy.
Oh it’s savage dude.
Cavalera Conspiracy’s Psychosis was recorded midway through the Return to Roots tour but Ritual seems to have more of an tribal element. How much an effect did the Return to Roots tour have on both Psychosis and Ritual?
It feels like we recorded Ritual right after the Return to Roots tour but that wasn’t exactly how it happened. I mean I think Psychosis was just me and Iggor getting down to two brothers playing the metal that we love. Especially the gold era of Sepultura, which I think to me is: Schizophrenia, Beneath the Remains, Arise, that thrash death element. Of course I love Chaos A.D. and Roots but I think that was a different phase of Sepultura. Psychosis is more of an imaginary return to the golden era of thrash and death metal with a little bit of help from the producer Arthur and some metallic sounds on Hellfire with Justin from Godflesh. I love Psychosis, I think it came out great, it’s definitely one of my most strange records I’ve done in a long time. There’s not really a big song in it, there’s not one big song. On Ritual, “Ritual” is going to be a big song, “Death Behind the Eyes” is gonna be a big song, maybe “Under Rapture” will be a big song. Psychosis was a different kind of record, it was a bit similar to Schizophrenia in that it doesn’t have one big song but everything is cool like the whole record sounds good all together. I was happy that I did a record like that it was fun and I enjoy very much both, Psychosis and Ritual. I’m pretty much drained because I just did those two back to back, my tank’s on empty right now you know ha ha. I need a little break until I’m going to start writing again. I kinda overdid the writing this time, there’s so many ideas and riffs and lyrics, to come up with those two records. Both of them came out pretty cool man, so I’m pretty exhausted right now but it feels good to have released two killer albums in a short time.
Dead Behind The Eyes feat. Randy Blythe: https://youtu.be/v3uSTOQlDXc
And they sound different, you know what I mean they have different feels.
There’s so much in Ritual that could be in Psychosis like “[Dead] Behind the Eyes” and “Under Rapture” and “Evil Empowered”. Then there’s other stuff that would not fit in because it’s too tribal, like “Bite the Bullet” or “Ritual” itself, or even “Feedback!” which is kinda like a tribute to Motörhead. I’m happy I got to do two different albums. That says a lot, I got to really stretch out my influences and my songwriting to make two different records, and I don’t really have a favourite one. Right now I’m really into Ritual I listen to it nonstop, when I finished Psychosis I was listening to Psychosis a lot, but right now I’m more into Ritual. I think, the record really hits home with me man, it’s twenty years of Soulfly and it explains why I think Soulfly is a special band.
Eliran Kantor, who’s responsible for Testament’s recent album artwork, collaborated until you had something you could stand behind, and Marcelo Vasco, who has worked on Slayer projects, as well as previous Soulfly did some work on the inside. Do you feel that with all three of you working on the design you managed comprise a cohesive package?
Yeah I mean the whole team of Ritual is great from Josh Wilbur producing, to Nick doing the industrial sounds, and then Eliran Kantor did this beautiful cover which we had to come back three times from the original idea. We scratched the original idea that he tried with a vulture and a dove that didn’t really catch my attention. Then I went back to the tribal element with the tribal Indian and that was kinda like when I hit the right element. Of course Marcelo Vasco, he’s amazing, I’ve worked with him on Enslaved. I was so happy when he got the Slayer cover that was really really cool. He did some great stuff, the inside of Ritual looks crazy, it’s like a Shiva with all different arms with a gas mask and then all this kind of voodoo, satanic looking symbols all over the CD artwork. It’s a killer team to work with and they’re all great guys, they all love the music and were heavily involved in the project to make the best that we could for the project.
Iggor is joining you for Cavalera Era 89/91 special setlist events celebrating Beneath the Remains and Arise. With everything that happened with Sepultura what is like revisiting those songs?
Well we haven’t tried yet but I think it’s gonna be great because that era, between 89 and 91, wasn’t the most successful era of Sepultura but in terms of music maybe was one of the most powerful times of Sepultura. That death thrash metal refined, you know, really well done. I mean some people consider Beneath the Remains and Arise some of the best thrash albums of all time. And what we’re doing with the tour, me and Iggor had to cut all the fat out, so some of the songs that we think were kind of just fillers we’re not even playing them. So, we’re just playing the best songs of Arise, the best songs of Beneath the Remains, and then I think we’re gonna play “Orgasmatron,” and maybe two or three Psychosis songs at the end of the set. It should be a really cool show for the fans. To me it’s great, I love this nostalgic kinda retro going back in time shows, we did the Return to Roots, we did the Nailbomb Point Blank, we’re getting ready to do Arise and Beneath the Remains. I’d like to do more, I think it’s cool that in our career we have the luxury to be able to do them. We have such an expansive career, it goes all the way extending out 35 years, that we get to look back at some of those records and have a nostalgic feeling in playing them. And it’s gonna be well done, I’m learning note by note, we’re taking it seriously man. We’re gonna make this thing killer. The fans are gonna really love it. [The tour] is gonna sound great and look great, so we’re really excited. We even have the original backdrop of Beneath the Remains.
And I love that you’re big enough fans and still in touch with metal enough to be like we don’t just want to do the biggest hits, and where’s my charts of what albums sold. You’re like, we know this music was great and people still love it so we’re gonna do it and put real effort behind it.
We’ve got to, I mean some of those records were real big in people’s lives, you know? I met so many people, especially in bands, that love and grew up with that stuff, like the guys in Misery Index and the guys in Behemoth. Full of Hell, all those guys worshipped that era and those records, and we get to go back and play those records. I get to do it with my brother with the original drums and the original vocals and the original riffs, we got a great band doing it, it feels great man. I think that for me the definition of success is to be able to play what you like for the people that love it. That’s success to me.
Absolutely and I mean as a fan it is what we want, we want to see the Cavalera brothers rock those tunes that you wrote, that’s exactly what we want to see and I hope it expands further than the shows that you have planned already.
Well we’re gonna see, next year we’re trying a Ritual world tour and we’re gonna try to make a stage. I wanna create a really cool stage with statues and all kinds of ritualistic shit that looks cool. We’re gonna try and do a world tour that goes America, Canada, Europe, South America, Australia, and then after that we’ll see man. We had a great time doing the Nailbomb tour in Canada, 23 shows all in little places. That was an amazing tour, I had a great time.
I’d be able to talk to you all night, I’d love to hang out, but management asked me to keep it tight because I know you’re very busy with other interviews, so is there anything else you’d like to let us know before I let you go?
We’re working a little bit also on Killer be Killed hopefully for next year, we already demoed ten songs that came out great, they were powerful. Everybody’s more involved, especially Troy because he wasn’t really involved on the first one, mostly it was me and Greg. Now we got the involvement of everybody, Ben playing drums and Troy playing bass and singing, and we wrote some killer shit. We did a demo for 10 songs and we hope next year we get to release a new powerful Killer be Killed album and that should be it for a while. I can take a break after that I feel I’ll deserve a little break, ha ha.
Spend some time with the family.
I mean, my break will be touring so I’ll go on tour and keep touring for a whil. I’m excited for all those future projects that we got going. I think there’s a possibility of a Soulfly January tour right now, I hope that happens and hopefully there’ll be some Canadian shows a part of that.
Well cheers brother hope you have a great evening and the interviews go well.
Thank you man, nice talking to you.
MHF Magazine/Jay Rollins