Max Cavalera: Fulfilling the Prophecy


October 31, 2009

If there was ever a prophecy written that one man would arise from Brazil to lead two bands into the metal promised land, then Max Cavalera has fulfilled it.

Not to take anything away from Soulfly, but I'll always remember Max Cavalera as the guitarist/frontman for the Brazilian metal band Sepultura. Beneath the Remains was one of the first death metal records I ever heard, and I became a huge fan of the band. During their long run, thanks to albums like Arise and Chaos A.D., Sepultura became one of the most popular and well-known metal acts of the '90s. Of course, all good things must end, so after the groundbreaking Roots album, Max had a controversial split from Sepultura and then formed his new primitive, tribal-metal-machine, Soulfly. In 1997, Soulfly picked up where Roots left off and Max has since traveled the world for music and inspiration, taking the aggression and tribal world fusion to all new territories over the course of six Soulfly releases. The last two Soulfly albums have seen even more of a return to Max's thrash metal roots, and as Soulfly VII is in its early stages of development, fans expect heavier still.

During a fall 2009 tour with Cattle Decapitation and Prong,'s Jeff Maki boarded Soulfly's tour bus at the Recher Theatre in Towson, Md., for an interview with Cavalera. Max talks about his metal legacy, the history of Sepultura and Soulfly, and his other projects, Nailbomb and Cavalera Conspiracy. First, I wanted to ask you about Nailbomb. Was that just a one-off project? Would you ever consider having another Nailbomb album maybe with a different collaboration or anything like that?

Max Cavalera: No, Nailbomb is actually done. It was just two records that we did, Point Blank and Proud to Commit Commercial Suicide. I still play some of the tracks live—I play some Nailbomb live from time to time. A lot of fans like it, a lot of people are asking about it, but not gonna do anything else with it. We'd kill it, you know? We got done with it.

Yeah, I thought that was something totally unique at the time, something completely unexpected. It just blew me away. It's almost like it's a cult following of the band and album.

Yeah, I hear that a lot about Nailbomb.

Let's say 20 years from now someone's got the history book of metal. Where do you think your legacy lies? Is it with Sepultura or Soulfly and why?

I think it'd be with both. Because Sepultura was a big part of it, too, because we introduced a band from Brazil. It was unheard of in that part of the world with a heavy metal band. So it was the first of many things—first South American band, first Brazilian band. The albums I made with them, up to Roots, are legendary albums. People consider them really, really cool albums that changed a lot of people's lives.

There's also Soulfly, which is another chapter which is unfolding right now as we speak. So, both.

You said “up until Roots.” I was actually listening to Roots on the way here and I think it's an amazing album. Is it in your opinion that Roots is lesser of an album or is that just what you hear from fans' perspective?

You have Sepultura fans that like different records. Some of them like Arise, some of them like Chaos A.D., some of them like Beneath the Remains. Some of them like Roots—different albums for different people. I'm glad that they like it—they like the album, so I think that's what matters.


Again, like Nailbomb, Roots was kind of unexpected—it was full of surprises for me.

We took a different approach to it. The whole trip to the Indians [the Xavant tribe in Mato Grosso, Brazil] and the whole thing was really unique—the look of the album cover with the Indian, that was unheard of in metal. I think even Dave Grohl said that that was the album for him that changed metal. He said that on an interview, so I thought that was cool, coming from someone as high as him. So I'm glad that the album did all that and I still play “Roots [Bloody Roots]” every night—the song “Roots” is a classic, it's something that I gotta play—a “mandatory Max” song. I have a kick doing it, really.

The first Soulfly album .... Not that it's “nu-metal,” but at the time there seemed to be a shifting in the musical climate, pretty much with Korn and Deftones and all these bands coming in. And Soulfly—especially the first album—kind of had that feel to it. But now with the more recent albums, you've now shifted back to the even heavier side of the spectrum. Why the changes? Was it just natural progression? And do you have any regrets from the earlier material, like the first album for instance?

No, I mean the only album we really changed was Soulfly 3. It could have been a better record, I think. I didn't think I spent as much time on Soulfly 3 as I did on the other albums. That's the weakest Soulfly album, I think. But every band has to have one, so that's the one for me.

Soulfly is regarded by many people, a lot of them, as their favorite Soulfly album because of songs like “Eye for an Eye,” “Tribe,” “No Hope=No Fear.”

Bleed”that's one I like.

Yeah. Even having Fred Durst, which was a person that turned out to be a jackass later on in his career—at that time he wasn't. He was normal, like regular—he wasn't the rock star that he is today. So, no, I don't have any regrets.

Back to what I was saying with the nu-metal thing ... Kind of when Korn and those bands came along, it's almost like Sepultura, Machine Head and Fear Factory—all of them kind of changed. They updated their sound a little bit. Was it pressure from the label? Was it natural? What do you think?

I think it was natural—kind of an exchange of influence. You go through different phases. Soulfly decided to go heavier with Dark Ages and Prophecy and Conquer—heavier and heavier. It's something that happens natural. At that time, what I think bands like Machine Head, Fear Factory and Sepultura did was a little bit of an influence from Korn and Deftones in some areas. And the funny thing is that we influenced those bands from when they started out. I talked to the Korn guys and they said they listened to Chaos A.D. religiously when they started—it was like one of their favorite records. So it's kind of a 360 degrees kind of influence—back and forth.


From earlier on, how much harder is it now to get the Soulfly name out there. For instance, you got people my age that grew up with Sepultura, but for these newer kids coming along that haven't even heard of Sepultura, it's not like they've been following your career. So how do you get it out for them?

Live is pretty important. Touring is one of the best ways to promote music. The Internet is very important, too. So having good Internet sites—we have a couple that are really good. They take care of us. Having a label—Roadrunner is a good label for me. They understand, they never pressure me to do an album that I don't want to do. I do whatever I want to. That's killer for an artist.

What has been your highest and lowest point of your career with Sepultura or Soulfly?

Lowest was the death of [stepson] Dana [Wells] and the breakup of Sepultura, which happened both at the same time. That was the lowest point. At that time, I even thought about giving up music for a while—just really depressive times.

Highest ... I think with Sepultura it was the tour with the Ramones in Brazil. That was awesome. That was only five shows—it was the Chaos A.D. tour and the promoter decided to bring the Ramones to do five shows, co-headline, Sepultura and the Ramones. And it sold out, spread out like wildfire. And for me it was a legendary tour, touring with a legendary band like the Ramones, sharing the stage with them. They were real nice guys, really cool guys. That tour was great. It was in my country. And I played my hometown. I think the hometown show was probably the highest point. Five thousand people show up in my hometown, all Sepultura fans, so that was great.

What about for Soulfly?

Yeah, the lowest point, like I said, was number 3. It had some good songs on it—“Downstroy,” “Seek 'n' Strike,” “L.O.T.M.” But it lacked a little bit of something. Maybe the name was just a lazy name to call it “3.” It was just kind of like something on the side. I don't think I paid too much attention to the record for some reason.

The highest point ... I think it's actually right now—I think we're living at the highest point. The band has survived the times and has made it. We are working on a seventh album which is killer. I never thought we'd do seven albums in Soulfly when I started. Wow, you know. So right now, it's pretty cool.

Talking about the new Soulfly album, I've seen a few things recently but any song titles or album names you wanna throw out there?


No, it's kind of early. I don't have anything yet. I'm working on the riffs right now. I'm separating the riffs that are gonna become songs. So I made a CD for everybody that everybody has listened to on the bus. And then in November we're going to go in the studio and those riffs are gonna become songs. And then I'm gonna name them and everything, so it's too early right now.

Cavalera Conspiracy, is that another thing like Nailbomb? A one-off thing?

No, actually, Cavalera Conspiracy is actually gonna to continue. It's something that I'm gonna carry on for a long time—I think for as long as I can. It's great to play with Igor [Cavalera]—it's my brother and it's a huge connection to the past. And it's great to make records with him. I loved doing the Inflikted album. It was so much fun to record with him again. No pressure, it was just fun. It's fun to be in a studio with him and bang those songs out and just watch the album come alive. And a lot of people are asking me for the second one. It's in the works. Sometime next year or whenever.

Obviously, you're really busy, but you've had a lot of collaborations in the past, so is there anything you can see in the future? Any particular bands or artists that you'd like to work with?

At the moment, I'm just still getting ready to think of a new Soulfly album. But there's some people I'd like to have on the album, but I haven't talked to them yet. Like [Mike] Muir from Suicidal Tendencies. This was one of the ideas I thought would be really cool. I love Suicidal Tendencies. I think that bridge between metal and punk could be even cooler. Because I did that with Sepultura with [ex-Dead Kennedys vocalist] Jello Biafra on “Biotech Is Godzilla.” So I still believe in that bridge between punk and metal, and that's still alive today. So to do something with [Muir] might be cool, but I haven't had the time to ask him yet.

Related links:

Cavalera Conspiracy: