Max Cavalera Flies Solo

“People think you’re gonna mellow out and write pop songs when you become a dad,” Max Cavalera said to me back in ’96 upon the release of Sepultura’s now platinum sixth album Roots. In between gigs with Sepultura, Cavalera also managed to form a side project called Nailbomb, with Alex Newport from hard-core band Fudge Tunnel, unveiling the album Point Blank “to release some of the more intense shit that I had in me that was even more intense than Sepultura.”

With “Rattamahatta” blasting in your ears that summer, and now “First Commandment,” from Soulfly, the only “pop” I suspect you’re gonna hear is that of your eardrum. Soulfly is Max Cavalera’s cool new band. “The Song Remains Insane,” and, hey, the man himself ain’t exactly normal either… (Thank God. I almost started to worry when I heard Max had jammed with Gil Scott Heron last year in Holland… )

“Soulfly is actually a tribute name for Dana, my stepson,” Max explains. Dana was the 21 year old son of his wife, Gloria (also his manager, with whom Cavalera has two small sons, Zion and Igor). His death in September 1996, it turns out, wasn’t an accident, but a murder. Authorities have yet to find the suspects responsible, but Cavalera, understandably, is still grief-stricken, and won’t comment any further, except to say, “I just miss him a lot.”

“[Soulfly is also about] my father who passed away, and some other people, like friends of mine, who are gone from the earth. It means their souls are flying around me when I play music. They give me all the inspiration that I need, the strength that I need to get through life. It’s a really spiritual name… Even tribes believe in it… when they make ritual music, a lot of times, they make music for their ancestors that pass away. In a way, that’s also Soulfly,” laments Max.

Soulfly, the band, was born out that infamous split in late 1996 between Max and the band he founded back in 1984 with his brother Igor, Brazil’s speed metal tribe, Sepultura. The rift (which the ultra-heavy opening track “Eye For An Eye” addresses) came about due to what Sepultura members Andreas Kisser, Paulo Jr., and Cavalera’s brother Igor deemed as Gloria’s supposed favoritism toward Max when it came to band activities, such as interviews with the press, during her tenure as the band’s manager for four years. Although the band plans to carry on the name Sepultura without Max’s presence, Max concedes, the music “won’t be the same.”

Personally, I think anyone who loved Sepultura won’t miss a beat, as Soulfly’s music is meatier, with a heavier-sounding rhythm section, accented still more tribal beats.

With two American players (drummer Roy Mayorga and Marcello D. Rapp [and Brazilian guitarist from Chico Science, Jackson Bandeira, who has since been replaced during Soulfly’s tour by Machine Head’s Logan Mader]) in tow, Soulfly has retained most of the Brazilian flavor of Sepultura’s roots.

“I really enjoyed doing this album,” Max beamed. “It’s been much more open-minded that the other [albums]… I [particularly] like ‘Bumba’ a lot. It’s a very spontaneous song. It was cool to record it with all the people doing backing vocals,” he said, noting that he enlisted a ton of artists like Burton, Dino and Christian from Fear Factory, and DJ Lethal (again) from Limp Bizkit to help. “I never did that, have like fifteen people screaming at the same time.”

(Not true! On Roots, Max did have one extra person screaming, besides himself: Ross Robinson, the producer who also produced Roots. Ross fell on his ass whilst moshing during the recording of “Dusted,” and the band managed to record the howl for all of posterior — I mean posterity. Well, as fate would have it, Robinson fell on his butt — again! — during recording sessions with Soulfly, but, this time, he had the good sense to keep his trap shut to avoid further incrimination.)

“Bumba,” means “big noise” in Portuguese, by the way. (And it lives up to its name!) “Bumbklaatt” is the Jamaican term for “blood clot,” for all of you Jeopardy contestant wannabes. “It’s also a big insult to call someone a ‘bumbklaatt’. It means motherfucker or a piece of shit in Jamaica,” adds Max.

Songs like “Quilombo,” about Brazilian refugee slaves who fought against slavery, maintain the social conscience Sepultura was noted for, but “Soulfly,” a slow, instrumental tune, shows Cavalera’s ever-growing spirituality. “First Commandment” represents Cavalera’s brutally honest attempt to quote the first of the Ten Commandments: Cavalera rants “Thou Shalt Not Kill” no less than half a dozen times. But, as it turns out, the First Commandment is not “Thou Shalt Not Kill” but “Honor thy mother and thy father… “

As I point this out to Max, he dismisses it rather coolly: “I don’t read the Bible. Even if it’s wrong, that’s all right. The intention is right.”

He probably knows (better than I) that the album will still sell a few million copies despite my self-righteousness. Further, in light of the fact that it’s cool to rebel against your parents, I’m sure fans won’t mind the old switcheroo. Plus, “Thou shalt not kill” sounds better. Try screaming “Obey your mom!” with a straight face… Doesn’t work.

Max and his Soulfly guys plan to do “the old switcheroo” live, in fact, when they begin their U.S. tour (with Snot and Head Pea in New Mexico) to coincide with April 21st release of their debut album. They will also find themselves in the middle of Ozzfest this summer. In addition to performing Soulfly’s new tunes, Max expects “a big mix” of tunes from each of his bands Nail Bomb and Sepultura (Roots, Attitude, Arise, and Beneath the Remains) in the setlist. Max is also going to be doing a Sprite jingle next year… I can just imagine it: Max in his manic, demonic voice, yelling, “Spriiiiiiiiiiiite… !!!” That ought to be enough to scare us into drinking it. (Good marketing plan!) “We’ll see what happens,” he counters. “I think they’re not gonna accept it because it’s gonna be too hard-core.”

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