For 30 years, Max Cavalera has given us metal in all shapes and forms. From the thrash and death metal of early Sepultura records Morbid Visions (1986), Beneath the Remains (1989) and Arise (1991), to the groove metal of Chaos A.D. (1993), to even nu-metal on Roots (1996). Then with Soulfly, he gave listeners a tribal metal soundscape with albums like Primitive (2000) and Prophecy (2004), all the way to extreme metal on Enslaved (2012), while Savages (2013) was a potpourri of all things rock and metal. And now with Soulfly’s new album, Archangel (Aug. 14, 2015, Nuclear Blast Entertainment), he’s gone to Biblical proportions—literally.
Inspired by The Old Testament, which Max describes as “bloody and brutal and perfect for metal,” Archangel is yet another different direction for Soulfly, though still a metal one. And that’s the common denominator with the body of Max’s work: metal. Max lives for metal. Not only does he play metal, but he’s a huge fan of it, both old and new. As I’ve written before, it’s like he is a prophet sent here by the metal gods. He wants to play metal forever, he shows no signs of slowing down and his spirit for metal will never die. His legacy now stands at an astonishing 21 studio albums between Sepultura (six), Nailbomb (one), Soulfly (10), Cavalera Conspiracy (three) and Killer Be Killed (one).
Days before Soulfly was about to hit the road with Soilwork, Decapitated and Shattered Sun for a U.S. tour (view tour dates), we talked with Max at length about Archangel and its Biblical inspiration, his albums standing the test of time and … “Maxfest?”
LIVE METAL: How’s it going, Max? You good? We’ve talked several times before, going back to 2009 on your tour bus (read here), all the way to when we talked about Killer Be Killed in 2013 (read here).
MAX CAVALERA: What’s up, man?
Well, I couldn’t help but notice that our scheduled interview time was 4:20, which if you look it up online is “the socially accepted hour of the day to consume cannabis.”
Oh yeah? (laughs)
I know you’ve been no stranger to cannabis and partying. In fact, I think I caught a contact buzz when I was on your tour bus. We had also talked before about how when Sepultura toured with Clutch back in ’94 (read here), you guys were responsible for turning them into the stoner rock band they are today.
I’ve never smoked myself, but I don’t see nothing wrong with it. I think it’s actually good. I think smoking is much better than alcohol, for example. With drinking, you get into fights and become violent, but when people smoke weed, they just get mellow and hang out. I just don’t like to smoke much, maybe because with my lungs and I have to sing. So I have to keep my lungs away from the smoke. But whenever I have a chance, I always eat “edibles.” (laughs) Truffles, lollipops with weed, ice cream with weed—that stuff is good. I just do that and then just blast death metal until like 3 in the morning, under the influence. (laughs) That’s always good.
Yeah, years ago I quit everything. (I quit) the drinking and drugs, and became kind of a straight-edge, but sometimes I eat edibles with weed on it. But apart from that, that’s the only thing I do. It gave me more energy to be like that, and I became more creative. I think the last few years have been greater than ever before, releasing all kinds of stuff—books, different projects, Killer Be Killed, Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy. And it’s good. I had my share of partying. I did it all, and it was time to take a break to focus more on my career, which I like more than partying. Partying is good, but it’s not everything. I like metal, and I’ll continue playing metal and making music. It was a question if I didn’t stop, or I’d end up dead. So it was an easy decision to make to stop everything.
And I’m kind of an extreme guy. If I’m gonna do something, I do it all the way. So when I decided to quit, I quit everything—drugs, alcohol, the whole package. That’s just the way I am. I’m just extreme like that. I never really liked beer; I always liked vodka. When I lived in Brazil, I didn’t really like to smoke weed, but I liked cocaine. I was always an extreme guy and always went to the extreme. So when I stopped, I stopped everything in an extreme way and became almost like a straight-edge. I’m living pretty healthy these days and just loving the music and staying busy with my metal and my projects. That’s what I’m here for. I listen to new bands. I love the new scene, man. Bands like Homewrecker, Genocide Pact, Noisem, Nails—man, the scene is hot right now. Metal is in a good place.
It is, man. There’s just so much good stuff out there that’s impossible to even listen to it all.
Yeah, it’s good stuff,too. The last Cattle Decapitation fuckin’ rules (The Anthropocene Extinction). The new Nile rocks (What Should Not Be Unearthed). Even Iron Maiden—I thought Iron Maiden’s new album (Book of Souls) was really good. It sounds like old Iron Maiden. So I really like a lot of stuff, and I’m curious about the new Slayer (Repentless), coming out (Sept. 11). So I think metal is in a good place. And we’re going on tour with killer bands: Soilwork, Decapitated, and Crowbar right after that. A lot of those U.S. tours we’re doin’ I think are going to be insane, and I can’t wait to see the fans and playing every night. That’s what I live for every night. The venues are my church—that’s where I go to church. And I can’t wait for church to start.
Yeah, I noticed you’re playing some smaller venues, like the Ottobar in Baltimore, which could be even more crazier. So what’s your relationship with Soilwork, Decapitated and Shattered Sun? Did you know these guys already or was this a thing the label put together?
Well, I met the guys in Decapitated in Europe early this year. I met the singer of Soilwork a couple of years ago, and he was a really cool dude. And I like the music a lot. Especially Decapitated—they’re like one of my favorite bands. Soilwork is more melodic, but I still like them. And Shattered Sun is kind of a new band, but it seems like they’re doing pretty good, too. And with Crowbar, you don’t have to say nothing. I love the fact that we’re playing with them. I’m excited.
Before the interview, I was thinking about your time in Sepultura and then in Soulfly, too. For myself, and for the fans obviously, too, albums like Beneath the Remains, Arise, Chaos A.D., even Roots and then with the first few Soulfly albums, these albums have really stood the test of time. There’s other bands from my youth that I will listen to, and some of the stuff sounds kind of dated. Yeah, it’s OK, but then again, I’ll ask myself, “Why did I even like this before?” But that’s not the case with your stuff. So is there a secret to making an album that stands the test of time? Was it something on your conscious when you were writing or recording these albums?
No, not really. I think the thing you have to do is to not be thinking about that. So when I was making Arise or Beneath the Remains, I was not thinking I was making an album that was going to stand the test of time. That was not in my mind. I just want to write good songs and have fun jamming and get better with my riffs and performance. I never really go into the record with the mentality that I’m going to make a classic—not really. It’s more of “I hope I can do a better record than the last one.” That’s kind of like my mentality when I go into a record.
I went in to do Archangel and I was hoping to do a better record than Savages, which is the album before. I don’t really look at the past that much. I know there’s so much, a lot of kick-ass records with Chaos A.D., Roots, Dark Ages, Prophecy. But I can’t live from the past. It’s not for me. I live for the moment and for the future. So I think there’s more to come, there’s better stuff to come. I do gotta keep working on it. I just gotta keep using my head and try to think up new ideas, new things for the bands and for the music and lyrics, and the rest will come.
But I really like Archangel. I think it’s a really good, different and special kind of record. I don’t know what it is about it, but there’s something about that record that really, really excited me, and I was really motivated. I was really bummed out about how it debuted in the U.S. Around the world, it did great in the charts. The U.S. was the most disappointing. But we’ve never been that kind of band anyway, so it kind of just bummed me out for one minute and then I just said, “You know what? Fuck it!” We don’t give a shit about that anyway. I was never about being number one in the charts. That was never my mission. So I just shook that off. Fuck all that. So I’m just gonna continue to do what I love. Soulfly’s going to go more extreme even. I just love the underground, and I love metal. I just want to play this kind of music forever.[Editor’s note: Soulfly’s Archangel debuted at 130 on the Billboard 200, the band’s second-lowest charting album to date behind 2005’s Dark Ages, which peaked at number 155.]
I listened to Archangel again before this interview, and yeah, I think it’s a very different album for Soulfly, for sure. To me, it sort of sounds like it could’ve been a Sepultura album. It sounds like it could have fit after Chaos A.D. and before Roots. I don’t know if you think that’s accurate or not. But (Archangel) also has this religious tone or theme through the album. Did this come from your own knowledge?
It’s always been my fascination. You can go back to Sepultura on Morbid Visions, and there’s songs like “Crucifixion” and “Morbid Visions.” And with Bestial Devastation (EP, 1985), there’s “Antichrist” and “Necromancer.” I always kind of loved the mystic, and the Bible is full of mysticism and exotic things. And I was reading a lot of the Old Testament, like the Sodom story, which I wrote “Sodomites” about. (The story) is incredible. It’s so heavy and just bloody and brutal and perfect for metal. And I was looking for something different anyway, with naming the album “Archangel” and having the Michael figure on cover. I was just really trying to do something different in metal. And I think it did come out different. And then there’s some of the other stuff, more Babylonian things like “Ishtar Rising” and “Shamash.” They’re about old Babylon, which is now Iraq. I’m really into the history of that stuff.
And yeah, I totally agree. I think it could have been a Sepultura record, easily. It would have been a great, great Sepultura album. I think it’s really extreme. There’s a lot of fast parts, and I was very proud of my son, Zyon, who’s on drums. And there’s more fast stuff on the new album than there was on Savages, stuff like “Bethlehem’s Blood,” “We Sold Our Souls to Metal,” “Mother of Dragons” and “Deceiver.” You know, full-on death metal, almost black metal in some parts. I listen to a lot of that stuff, too. I love 1349 and Watain and Behemoth, so it’s bleeding into my songwriting. There’s something about this record that really excites me, and it’s really opened up a road for the future. I think I could either make another record similar to it, and that would be really cool and continue the story. So it’s kind of like opening a gate, and there’s more changes for the future now for more stuff like this to come.
You mentioned most of the songs there, so with the tour starting (Sept. 30 in Los Angeles), what songs (from Archangel) do you think will be included in the live set?
We’re going to try to play everything except “Live Life Hard” because it has Matt (Young) from King Parrot, and I don’t know how to do his voice. But I think we can play “Sodomites” and I can actually do Todd Jones’ parts (Nails), so we’re going to play that. So I think we’re gonna try to play almost the whole record, and then, of course, some other Soulfly stuff. All the classics that people like, and we’ll try to pick up some stuff that we haven’t played a lot, like some Dark Ages stuff with “Frontlines” and “Babylon.” People like Dark Ages. That’s an album that a lot of people really like. And we’ll probably play some stuff out of Prophecy, too, and maybe something from Enslaved, like “World Scum,” maybe “American Steel” and stuff like that. So I think it’ll be a really cool set. I’m excited for it, and I’m gonna start working on it (the week before the tour) with my son, Zyon. We got a new bass player. Mike (Leon) from Havok is joining Soulfly, and that’s killer. I love that, and he’s gonna bring the thrash vibe to Soulfly.
OK, so you mentioned some of the guests on Archangel and you’ve worked with so many musicians before, most recently with Killer Be Killed. Last time we talked, you mentioned that you wanted to work with Mike Muir from Suicidal (Tendencies) at some point. Right now, who tops your list of musicians—be it metal or not—who you’d like to work with in the future?
There’s a lot of them. Tom Warrior from Triptykon, definitely Mike Muir. I was supposed to do a song with Al Jourgensen (Ministry) that didn’t work out, so hopefully in the future it can happen. I’m really a big fan of Al. And then all the new bands I listen to like Genocide Pact, Homewrecker. And there’s a lot of this European stuff ,too, like Hour of Penance, Aborted. There’s a lot of good death metal and black metal done in Europe right now, too.
I’m not going to ask you the reunion question because it’s been absolutely beaten into the ground. But the reason people ask that question all the time is because that’s what the fans want to see. That’s what Sepultura means to them. I don’t think you’re an arrogant person or anything like that, but you have to be flattered on a day-to-day basis, constantly getting asked that question. And it’s got to make you feel good about your time in Sepultura. Right?
Yeah, we did something right. We created really cool records, and I’m very proud of it. I think we were a very important band coming out of Brazil, and we were the first from South America to put a mark on the world like that. And I think a lot of the fans really like that, so I see the value in why fans want that so much. But at the same time, I don’t know if we’re ever gonna reform. And sometimes that’s for the best. Some reunions don’t really work, and some of them are not so good. And I would hate to have a Sepultura reunion be a disappointment. For me, it would be heartbreaking.
I could make some kind of small festival, maybe a little “MaxFest,” and have all of these bands that I like come in play in a kind of underground festival in the U.S. Kind of like having 10 bands in one night. It would just be fun and something that I’ve never done before, and I kind of look forward to something like that. We could have (bands mentioned in this interview), underground bands and maybe Soulfly in the end. It would be fucking awesome, and I would love to do something like that. It’s something that could happen, and I hope maybe next year.
Well that’s what I got Max. I hope I can make it to see the Soulfly show at the Ottobar in Baltimore (Oct. 21). Anything else?
Yeah, man. Thanks for the interview and nice talking to you, brother.