Andy Sandoval [@AndySnapsLA]

On Call with Max Cavalera

One of the most impressive band of brothers out there are the Cavaleras, two rockers whose masterful thrash metal talents have lead the way for a multitude of tours, albums, memories, and life lessons over the last 38 years.

Max and Iggor Cavalera, the brothers that spearheaded colossal thrashers Sepultura prior to their departures, are rightfully bringing the band’s early work to a rabid fan-base on the second leg of the Return Beneath Arise tour. The road trip includes a stop at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair on Tuesday, October 11.

The Cavaleras, backed by a stellar cast, will be performing nearly every song from the band’s pivotal two albums – Beneath the Remains (1989), which broke Sepultura in America, and Arise (1991), which established the band as a worldwide, brute force phenomenon. While Sepultura already had an EP and two albums under their collective bullet belts, they had never toured America – let alone outside of Brazil – until supporting Beneath the Remains. 

Between heavy college radio rotation, the “Inner Self” video on Headbangers Ball, and non-stop touring, Sepultura introduced South American metal to an unsuspecting North American public through an intense, blazing thrash album full of Max’s riffs for miles and Iggor’s creative and hard-hitting drums. The album, recorded in Brazil, was further buoyed by a deal with Roadrunner Records and having legendary death metal producer Scott Burns (Cannibal Corpse, Cynic, Death) at the helm.

The album’s opening title track attacked listeners with a frenzied burst of mayhem that continued from the reflective “Inner Self” to the menacing “Mass Hypnosis” to the breakneck speed of “Lobotomy.” On top of it all Max Cavalera’s imposing vocals decried the state of mankind.

Two years later came “Arise,” which propelled the band to become a presence whose pounding riffs and rhythms were felt in clubs, theaters, and even stadiums around the world. The album, the band’s first recorded in America, boasted improved songwriting, refined vocals, and more intricate, fine-tuned tracks. Critically, at the same time, Sepultura lost none of the anger and aggression that had come to define its musical output. “Arise” exploded with a trifecta of the immense opening title track, fan-favorite  “Dead Embryonic Cells” and the urgent “Desperate Cry.” 

Additional highlights include the inexorable death march of “Under Siege” and the introduction of tribal rhythms on “Altered State” that would foretell the band recording with Brazilian tribes and indigenous instrumentation on albums like “Chaos A.D.” and “Roots,” the final Sepultura record to feature both Max and Iggor. Burns once again manned the producer’s chair, this time at famed Morrisound Studios in Florida. The album went platinum and the band played before 70,000 fans at the Rock in Rio 2 festival. 

These days Max Cavalera is also keeping busy with Soulfly, his longtime post-Sepultura band. In August, the band released Totem. The new record has garnered rave reviews hailing the record as Soulfly’s best and thrashiest effort in years. We recently phoned Max Cavalera to talk about this and more. 

Were you expecting to do a second leg of Return Beneath Arise when you started the venture?

It worked out great like this. The first was a bit of a short tour and there were a lot of places that we didn’t go. A lot of people were pretty mad. We decided at some point that eventually we should do it again and sooner than later. We got together with our booking agent and decided to go now and close the end of the year pretty good. It was such a good run on the first leg and this is going to be even better. Now the buzz is out. If you missed it before you don’t want to miss it again. This thing is amazing and it’s super cool. It’s like the closest you’re going to get to a Sepultura reunion tour. We play the songs top notch and it’s a good band and I love it. I love the fans’ reaction and I love playing those old songs.

How did the idea come about to tour together with Iggor to play these albums? 

It started with playing “Roots” – we were just going to try it out and see what happens and it really was greatly, greatly accepted. A lot of people loved the idea. It made us realize it was something we could do more of. We’ve got all records and a lot of people want to hear them. Little by little we’re going to try to do all of them. The ones that I was part of – those are all great records. 

They represent a lot to a lot of people and have a lot of meaning to peoples’ lives. When we do Chaos it will be a big one. It was a big record for us. I personally love the older stuff. Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia, I think those are going to be a lot of fun to play.  It never gets old. It’s always great to play. I enjoy all of that, especially that I get to play with my brother. 

I do all kinds of things as you know. I’m the James Brown of metal. I have Soulfly, Killer Be Killed, Go Ahead and Die. I love being so busy like that and doing all these projects. Soulfly is just getting started right now. We already played Japan at a big festival and we’re going to Australia in December. Next year we’re going to do a big U.S. tour. With the new album, it’s really hit the ground running. I really love the record. I was very excited with the reviews and the reactions. 

Does performing these albums bring to mind the days of working with Iggor? You two had a rough patch for a little while.

I think it’s like kind of being the best thing that happened to us was that break that we had. It made us really reevaluate our brotherhood. We are of Brazilian-Italian descendant families and those families are highly connected. I think because of that I knew it was just a matter of time before I could talk to him again. We just had to give it a break. It was such a traumatic break. Then he left Sepultura and then we got back together around 2007, doing some Cavalera stuff. It’s better than ever now. We really enjoy each other’s company and we are aware of other brothers that are no longer with us, Van Halen and Dimebag. It’s very sad and I’m glad we’re still here, we’re still alive, and we still get to do stuff together… so we never take it for granted. It’s always just a blast.

There is a huge leap in songwriting and musicianship from Schizophrenia to Beneath the Remains.  What had been going on at the time, what were your goals, and what do you recall about the recording session?

Yeah, I love that arch. I think we did a great job. Every record I go into make, no matter which one it is, from the first one, Bestial Devastation, to Totem, I’ll die for that record. That kind of mentality: if I die today I know I made a good record and I’m at peace with it because I just give it all I have. You put all the cards on the table. The progress is just life’s maturity. The more you practice, the more you play, the better you’re going to get. 

I tell my kids all the time (they’re musicians themselves), that you want to get better. Go at it and don’t sit around and wait.  I’m still intrigued by how other people play riffs. Sometimes I just watch  YouTube videos to see how other guitar players play. I love all the different ways, different tunings, to make a riff. There’s s so much to learn.

I’m glad that I’m one of those guys with a “I don’t know anything” kind of mentality. I’m always learning. I think, definitely, you can see a jump from Bestial Devastation to Morbid Visions and then Schizophrenia is more thrash oriented. Beneath the Remains is more into the thrash divide. Chaos is when we reinvented the wheel – that one was crazy to make. We slowed everything down but are still as aggressive as always. 

Then you have Roots, the divider for a lot of people – kind of controversial for a lot of people. But I wouldn’t change anything that led me to where I am now. All these years, the experience and wisdom you acquire, you put them to use and then you get to write albums like Totem. I love it all and that I’m still excited at my age to play this music. That’s a miracle on its own and I celebrate that.

How difficult was the process of recording Beneath the Remains?

Oh yeah, that was one of the hardest records I’ve done. In my career I’d say there’s three records that were equally hard: Beneath is first and then the first Soulfly and Totem. All three are full of drama, full of self-insecurities that become actually powerful things. It’s crazy, you don’t think of insecurity being something that is good for you but it is. I was very vulnerable when I made Beneath the Remains because on one hand we’re very excited because we signed with an international label and everything, but on the other hand, we better be good. “If this album sucks, we’re done and all our dreams and hopes go up in smoke.” I felt enormous pressure but I embraced the pressure. Soulfly1 was the same because I was without Sepultura for the first time. It was a hard record to make but I think it was a beautiful record to make. Then Totem because it was during the pandemic… very weird times in the world. Hopefully we’re done with that.  

Tell us about your first tours outside of Brazil.

The tours were amazing. We didn’t know that people knew us. At that time we had only done Brazilian tours. We played our first show in Vienna and I look outside the tour bus and I saw all these Sepultura shirts. It was like, “I must be dreaming. How do these people all know who we are?” We were a hungry young band and gave it all. Our first U.S. tour was very cool, very underground, touring in a van. It was very exciting times. I talked to Dino (guitarist Dino Cazares). He’s playing in Soulfly now and he remembered meeting us on our first tour. He saw us at the Country Club in L.A.

Going from Beneath the Remains to Arise, Sepultura just kept getting better and better. How did you continue to grow as songwriters at that time and how were you looking to expand your horizons?

That’s kind of like the Beneath the Remains tour as it was a great motivator. We saw a little bit of the world and had our first experiences in America and Europe. We were more motivated than ever. I felt like, “Now, let’s just make a solid record.” That was my intention. We don’t need to do anything crazy. Maybe a bit better songwriting – and I think the songs are a bit better on Arise, they’re all killer tunes. The videos are cool, too. We got to do some cool desert videos in California and Arizona. They got played a lot on Headbangers Ball. In fact, one time James Hetfield said he saw the “Dead Embryonic Cells” video and really liked it. That blew me away. I didn’t know that he knew that we existed. That’s crazy.

Those two together, Beneath the Remains and Arise, are very similar. They could almost be one big double record. They’re very similar in many ways; the songwriting, the topics, the lyrics. The riffs are all very similar, although maybe a little refined on Arise. The seeds for Chaos AD were planted on Arise, on stuff like “Altered State.” You can hear a little bit of the tribal influence coming. It was the beginning of a natural progression. We did that electronically. The programmer did it all on keyboards. Then we just went to the source going forward.  Let’s take it out of computers and go with the real players, the Brazilian percussion. That made it more real.

Arise was your first album recorded in America, and again with Scott Burns as producer.

Morrisound Studios was like the temple of death metal so that was great because it’s a place where they understand this kind of music and they know what to do. All we had to worry about was making sure the songs are good. It’s all up to Scott and the engineers to capture that. It was cool. We were in Tampa for a month, it was a great experience, and I loved it. You learn every time you’re in the studio. I’m like a sponge – I’m always asking questions to producers and engineers and musicians. I want to learn as much as I can so I can use it in the future. I think I learned a lot from Scott. I used to do something that drove him crazy… I used to change the lyrics. I’d give him the lyrics on a piece of paper and when I get into the vocal booth I automatically changed it. He was like, “Max you’re changing the lyrics!” I was like, “Yeah, but it sounds cool!” Some of them we kept the changed lyrics, some of it we went back to the original. 

What  was the atmosphere like for you recording in America and then selling a million copies and playing Rock in Rio 2. You’re a very young guy and all this is going on. How do you handle that?

I think this is where a lot of people deserve credit that don’t get it. That’s like people like (Max’s wife) Gloria, who started working with us. She worked one year for free. She negotiated our contract with Roadrunner and made the Arise tour, and it was our longest tour ever. We went into Indonesia, Russia, Australia, South America, Europe, America. That was an amazing tour. The crew? They’d take a bullet for us. They’re the unsung heroes of that era. Yes, we were young, but I just never liked the ego big rock star thing. I never felt I needed that. It’s kind of ridiculous and absurd to even act like that. I’m more of humble, feet on the ground personality, and I always like to be that. 

Which songs were the hardest to relearn for the tour?

Mostly the crazy ones, “Primitive Future” and “Infected Voice.” They are so fast and it’s hard to hear the riffs. But a lot of them I remembered by muscle memory, which is crazy after all these years – I even remember riffs that I wrote before we made Bestial Devastation! I was remembering some of those the other day and I was playing those for my brother and he’s like laughing, “I can’t believe you remember that.” 

Do you play the albums in order?

We play them in the order. We only leave off two or three. I might talk to my brother about doing those. “Meaningless Movements,” we can try to put that in the set, and “Hungry,” and then there’s other things that we play. It’s a great tour. Those records, they age very well and they get better with time. When you play a packed house – and I think New Jersey will be the same – everyone’s connected. You feel a little bit like somebody put you in a time machine. It’s very nostalgic, and a great show and a great escape from all the BS of life. For those two hours you immerse into a nostalgic time machine.