In 1985, thrash metal was in its prime. With bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax from the U.S., and Venom, Sodom, and more out of Europe, the metal world had no idea what was about to take off out of South America. Sepultura, led by brothers Max and Igor Cavalera, blazed a new path in the metal world, incorporating elements of their tribal roots with brutal riffs.
Fast forward to 2014. The Cavalera brothers have long departed their former band, and are making waves with their latest project, Cavalera Conspiracy. Max, seemingly allergic to resting on his laurels, has been working nonstop, releasing Savages in 2013 with Soulfly, and the critically acclaimed self-titled album from Killer Be Killed, a meeting of the minds between Max, Greg Pusciato (Dillinger Escape Plan), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), and Dave Elitch (The Mars Volta).
Cavalera Conspiracy is gearing up to release their third album, Pandemonium, on November 4th. We had an opportunity to talk to Max about the new album, family, Brazil, vinyl, and more.
Tell us a bit about the new Cavalera Conspiracy album, Pandemonium. What were some of your inspirations during the writing of this album?
We tried to go for a real brutal vibe. Get the brothers playing metal again, but in at a raw level, faster than ever. We tried to make a real fast record—most of the songs are fast. Very influenced by lots of grindcore.
Really? That’s a slightly different direction for you.
Yeah, that’s what we went for. That’s the idea for the album, and Igor liked it, but I told him that the songs were not gonna be like grindcore songs, because some of those are only like forty seconds. You don’t want to do that, and we wanted to keep the format of the Cavalera songs around three minutes, but we kept the fast aggression, the spirit of grindcore. It was based on that, and I think it was really cool, man. We had a lot of fun, and the three of us, me, Igor and Marc [Rizzo] recorded, and we had Nate [Newton] from Converge playing bass on top of it. That was the perfect setup for this record, having Nate on the bass. He was so killer.
This is your third Cavalera Conspiracy album. Have you and your brother found that old groove again, or is it the old groove with a new feeling?
Yeah, we play better now than we ever did. We know each other so good now, for all these years, that it’s even easier to write songs together. When I write a riff for Igor to play fast, I know I can count on him to deliver a fast performance, and he’s going to be excited. We just went for that, so I wrote a bunch of really cool, fast riffs, and we went into the studio and turned those riffs into songs.
I listened to the album and at for at least half, the vocals don’t sound like you, they sound almost monstrous. Is that you with an effect, or someone else singing?
No, that’s an overdub of voices, mixing four voices into one. Two of them going really, really low, as low I could humanly get. My voice is really weird. Sometimes, when you mix a high-pitched voice with low voices, it creates a really cool effect. So when we mixed those voices, it became even deeper. The songs are so heavy, like “Babylonian Pandemonium,” or “Scum,” I felt like we should sing really fucking low on this shit, make it just entirely brutal all the way, so I just went for it. I told the engineer to record four vocals. Two channels of regular Max, and two channels of low Max, and you get this effect. We tried it, and it was dead on. It was spot-on, and it was pretty killer.
It was crazy sounding, I heard it, and I’m thinking, “That’s not Max! I think.” I didn’t even know where it came from, but with the music it works.
It’s my devil side. [Laughs]
Are there plans to tour to support the new album?
Yeah, we are doing a U.S. run in January. It got moved to January because we’ve got to wait for Nate, because Nate’s going to tour with us.
Good. So once he’s done touring with Converge, he’ll join up with you?
Yeah. In January he’s available, so he can come and tour with us, which is going to be great, having him with us on tour. We’re gonna try to make some kind of package. There was even a mention that Converge might even be on the tour, so hopefully they can come out and Nate can do double duty, do both bands, that would be really cool.
That’s a lot of brutal work for one night.
Yeah. We’re gonna hit it pretty hard in January and go most of the year touring for that.
Will there be a vinyl release?
Yeah, there is. I love vinyl and I know a lot of fans love it, too. There’s a limited edition that’s gonna come out with colored vinyl. I think the green vinyl and blue vinyl looks really cool.
Sounds like it will be pretty cool. So you being a fan of vinyl, do you have a big collection at home? Do you listen a lot?
Yeah, my turntable is actually broken at the moment, I’ve got to fix it. I have a nice thrash collection, a lot of thrash records from the ‘80s and ‘90s. All the Celtic Frost, Kreator, Slayer, Destruction, all the goodies. The good, classic thrash stuff. I have all that shit on vinyl.
Has that love of vinyl passed down to any of your kids?
Not much. They’re into computers, man. They’re a part of the new generation that just loves the computer. It’s all the fuckin’ cell phones, get the music in the computer and all that shit, you know?
We need to open them up to the old ways!
Yeah! My son, Igor likes the heavy stuff. Zyon likes more of the classic stuff like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin.
You are no stranger to bringing in guests on an album. The last Cavalera Conspiracy album featured Roger Miret from Agnostic Front, and you have been joined by people like Neil Fallon of Clutch, Chino Moreno of the Deftones, Tom Araya from Slayer, even your children Zyon and Richie, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Are there any guests on Pandemonium?
Just Nate, because Nate sings for Doomriders. He’s a great singer, his voice kind of sounds like Sick of it All a little bit. It’s really cool.
Really? He’s got that hardcore vibe?
Yeah. He sings for Doomriders, and I have the Doomriders CD, and it sounds great. I invited him to do a song called “The Crucible” which is about the witches of Salem. What freaked me out is that Nate is actually from Salem.
Seriously? Very appropriate.
Yeah I was freaked out, man. I give the song to you, and you’re from Salem? That was almost too crazy to believe. He liked the idea, and he’s from Salem and it was right in his backyard, he can sing about it because he knows what’s up with it. I wrote the dog after watching the movie The Crucible, and I thought it was a really cool movie and I wrote all the lyrics for it. I sent it all to Nate, and he did his part. We decided to have no other guests on the album. The last Soulfly album, we had three guests on the album. We had Mitch from Napalm Death, Jamie from I Declare War, and Neil from Clutch, apart from my son Igor singing on “Bloodshed.”
And Ritchie played on drums, correct?
No, Zyon played drums.
Oh, Zyon, my mistake.
I really had a lot of people involved with Savages. We were going to call Al Jourgensen, we wanted to do a song with Al Jourgensen.
Yeah, but I think we’re going to save that for the next Cavalera album. He’s one of my favorite guys out there. I think Al is a legend. Ministry took Sepultura out when nobody was taking us out. Everybody was scared to touch us. He didn’t care, he took us out, and he was fun to have around. He’s a great guy. I always liked what he’s about, his whole vibe. He does what he does, and doesn’t give a fuck what people think. I admire guys like that.
I think doing a song with him would be really cool.
That would be very interesting, for sure. So how did Killer Be Killed come into existence?
Killer Be Killed was Greg’s [Pusciato] idea to do the project. It was after we did the “Rise of the Fallen” song with Soulfly that Greg sings with me, we kept in touch. Greg came up with the idea to do a project, and he loved Nailbomb. He told me, “Let’s do it like Nailbomb, just me and you.” It started like that, the beginning was really like Nailbomb. It was actually noisier. The demo was real noisy, it didn’t even sound good. It sounded like shit, actually. [Laughs] It was a crappy recording, and noisy and stuff, but once we got Dave [Elitch] and Troy [Sanders], it turned into something bigger, better, and more consistent. We went to L.A. and recorded a whole record, and it was great. It was a lot of fun playing with those guys.
There are four very different, very distinct personalities in that band. Did it take a while to mesh well together or did you gel pretty quickly?
Well that’s the beauty of it. It shouldn’t have worked, in theory. The mixing of those bands should not have resulted in anything good. In theory. Because of the music, and music has a way of being magic, being almost like crazy, weird and sacred in a way, something good came out of it. I think it’s cool because of the fact that it shouldn’t have worked. It’s almost like we shouldn’t do that—but let’s do it and see what happens. By doing that, it created a reaction, and it worked. I think the record is awesome, I really love the Killer Be Killed record.
It’s a fantastic album.
I love the melodics of it. It came at a time for me when all my albums were getting heavier and heavier, so the Killer Be Killed album was a breath of fresh air because I didn’t have to go heavier. I could actually slow down, and pay attention to the melodies and write riffs with melodies that those guys could sing on top of. I just kept my Max voice, kept everything normal about me, but when you hear Troy singing and Greg singing, they put more melodic stuff on top of it. It’s great. That was really a fun project, we had a lot of fun making it. Hopefully we get to do some touring with that crew next year.
That would be great. It’s almost like getting planets to align, to get four guys from four different bands able to come together for a tour.
That would be really hard to do, but I think if we do it, it’s gonna be great. I think a lot of people would want to see that. It would be highly anticipated, and be worth it. I think it would be worth it, because the album is so cool, that you’ve got to play it live, at least once.
You mentioned music that is sacred to you. When you hear or even play old Sepultura songs off of Arise, or Chaos A.D., what goes through your mind? Do you still feel pride and accomplishment for those songs, or does it sometimes scratch open an old wound?
No, I feel proud, especially when we do it with Cavalera Conspiracy, because it’s got me and Igor. Two people who were involved in the original version of the songs. This last South American tour, we did a lot of cool stuff. We did a medley of Beneath the Remains, we did “Desperate Cry.” In Belo, we played “Necromancer” with Zyon playing guitar, which was really cool. It’s fun, and what I love about the Cavalera stuff, it it’s just as powerful as the Sepultura stuff. When we play “Inflikted,” and “Sanctuary,” and “Killing Inside,” it was as brutal and as loud, the singing was as loud as the Sepultura songs. For me, that was a victory right there. It shows what we are doing is relevant to what we did, and we should keep going. We’re on the right track.
I think the big curveball there is Marc Rizzo. He is such a dynamic player, it adds a different element to some of those songs.
Yeah, Marc’s almost like a machine, man. He’s a little scary. My brother even told me that you can’t count on Marc to be loose on stage because he’s such a machine.
He’s an incredible guitar player.
He’s a machine guitar player, and once you put him in motion, he just goes for it. To try to do jams with Marc is a little bit tricky. I gotta loosen him up a little bit. There’s a reggae jam that we do on a Soulfly song, “Tribe,” and I told Mark he has to blank it out.
Very outside of his comfort zone, I’d imagine.
He was too wide for it.
I’m pretty convinced that guy could play anything, though.
Yeah, he’s a maniac. It was really cool having him on this Cavalera album. Some songs we just open up with him soloing right from the beginning. We just gave him the first notes of the song to solo, just go for it. He went crazy, he loved it.
He played on both Inflikted and Blunt Force Trauma, correct?
A couple of years ago, you suffered a bout of Bell’s Palsy, resulting in facial paralysis for a short time. Did you have a moment where your career flashed before you or were you able to remain grounded about it and ride it out?
I actually went on tour, man.
I went to the doctor, and he’s like, “You’re gonna be messed up for three months.” He asked what I do, and I said I’m a signer and play guitar. I asked if I could still perform like that, and he said, “If you can do it, yeah. I think it would be good for your recovery if you go out and continue to be active.” I went to Brazil, I had a Brazilian Soulfly tour booked at that time. There’s videos, I did some interviews, and I look like Sylvester Stallone. I’m talking out of the side of my mouth…
Was that a little scary at first, though? Your face starts to sag down, and it’s like, “What the fuck is going on?”
At first I thought I was having a stroke or a heart attack. My dad died of a heart attack when he was forty-one. I’m forty-five. So the first thing we thought is that I’m having a heart attack, and holy shit I better go to the hospital. We got to the hospital, and they told me about Bell’s Plasy. I didn’t even know what Bell’s Palsy was. It sounded like hell’s bells or something. I asked him, and he said it was a virus you catch in the air. It went away in three months, but it did kind of scare me at first. Your first reaction is, “What if this doesn’t go away?” I’m fucked, you know? It went away, and the fact that I didn’t cancel the tour, I went back to the doctor and he said that it helped the recovery.
Keeping the muscles active helped?
Yeah. Keeping active sped up the recovery.
Good to hear, glad it wasn’t more serious.
Yeah, it was just a shock, and nothing really bad came out of it.
Go all the way back to the beginning, before Sepultura released Bestial Devastation or Morbid Visions. Did you have any idea at all that Sepultura would just break out, and that you would be known around the world, or was it a tough scene to even break out of in Brazil at the time?
Yeah, it was tough. In fact, when we first started, nobody even really liked us. There were really only a few people who cared for what we were doing. For a long time, it was like that. It was us against the world. Little by little, we got better with time. We could never imagine that we could tour the world, do books, and have fans all over the world. That’s really quite amazing, coming from where I came from. It’s really impressive as hell, and it’s really, really cool. I thank the fans every day for that. It made my dream come true. When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was live for music and not have to have another job. Just do music, live for the music. I do that now, and it’s great. I just want to give back to the fans through the music. Don’t let them down in whatever I’m doing. I keep trying to make good records all the time.
I think the one thing that struck me and my friends the most, when we got into Arise and Beneath the Remains, is that here was a band that wasn’t trying to imitate what was coming out of San Francisco, or New York, it had a very Brazilian flavor, and you’ve brought that same vibe all the way through Soulfly, Cavalera, and anything you did. It’s always had that underlying feeling, like you carried your roots with you your whole career, and that kind of set you apart.
Yeah, it’s something that we have that is really ours. We were a little different from the San Francisco thrash bands, and we listened to different stuff. We had a big collection, I listened to a lot of punk stuff combined with a lot of metal stuff. Iggor actually listened to a lot of hip-hop, and Beastie Boys. Andreas was listening to Randy Rhoads and Dio and stuff like that. It was a little bit of a combination, and our tastes came to in the music, but the Brazilian side was always there, for sure.
Jumping back to the present, what is ahead for you? Any other projects in the works that we don’t know about?
Mostly touring. I’m touring with Soulfly right now, I’m on a U.S. tour with Soulfly, only playing Soulfly songs. We’re not playing any Sepultura on this tour, which is the first time we are doing that. I’m very excited, and it should be a lot of fun. Then we have a Cavalera tour in January, then hopefully a Killer be Killed tour later. then we’ll work our the next Soulfly record, which is our tenth record, next year. That should be a big one, I’m going to try to get some really cool people involved, and try to make a cool record.