Max Cavalera is a legend. From forming Sepultura in 1984 and leading the group until 1996, to the creation of Soulfly in 1997 and Cavalera Conspiracy (a reunion with his brother and former Sepultura partner Igor) in 2007, he’s been one of the most powerful voices in underground metal, blending thrash, hardcore, death metal and the rhythms of his native Brazil into a unique and unmistakable sound that gets pits bouncing across the planet. And he’s as committed to sending a message with his lyrics as he is to crushing the audience with savage guitar riffs; he sings about spirituality and violence, peace and war, and has recorded numerous covers of songs by bands who inspire him personally, from Motörhead to Brazilian acid-funk rockers Nação Zumbi.
Soulfly’s eighth studio album, Enslaved, comes out today. It’s a concept album about slavery, and features a brand-new lineup: Max and lead guitarist Marc Rizzo are joined by bassist Tony Campos and drummer David Kinkade, who together with producer Zeuss have pushed the group into the most aggressive territory they’ve ever occupied. Songs like “Gladiator” and first single “World Scum” are a return to death metal for Max, without losing the rhythmic intensity that’s a Soulfly trademark. The disc also features some notable guest appearances, including Dez Fafara of DevilDriver and Coal Chamber on “Redemption of Man by God,” Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation on “World Scum,” and Cavalera’s stepson Richie and sons Igor and Zyon on “Revengeance.”
We spoke to Cavalera about the frantic pace at which Enslaved was written and recorded, the new lineup, and a recent South American tour. Enjoy!
You’ve said you only had two weeks’ notice to write this album. Do you think you work better under that kind of pressure?
Seems that way, man. For some reason, I think some of the great stuff that came out on Enslaved was like that. I had to find all these riffs in two weeks, and I went crazy by myself. I’d stay up till like one in the morning writing riffs, trying to come up with the best riffs I could for the record, and it was good. It wasn’t the way I imagined it – I thought I would have more time to prepare, and when [Gloria Cavalera, Max’s wife/manager] said that, I almost had a heart attack. I disagreed with her at first, I told her there was no way I could be ready in two weeks, and she said, “Well, you have to – we’ve got the producer, Zeuss, already booked, and the studio’s already booked and we can’t cancel that.” So there wasn’t much of an argument I could put up [laughs]. I couldn’t change anything, so I had to just roll with it. I said OK, I’ll do my best, and went on, and because of that pressure, I think maybe that’s why the album turned out so good. I picked up some really powerful riffs that gave the album that kind of death metal sound. I was listening to a lot of death metal when I made this record, a lot of old Morbid Angel and Death and Massacre and Dark Angel and Possessed and all this great music, so that was the inspiration, a lot of this killer old death metal I grew up with, and I tried to create a new record with that spirit of death metal from the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Once you had the riffs written, what did the other members of the band, and Zeuss, bring to the making of the album?
I jammed with Dave [Kincaid], ’cause I hired Dave – I knew about him from the Internet. He sent me an email with a couple of clips of him playing with Borknagar, really extreme death metal, and it caught my attention right away. It was exactly what I was looking for, someone who could do a lot of cool double bass stuff and I could write some really kick-ass heavy death metal-style riffs. Not everybody can play that, it’s a very unique type of drumming. So I flew Dave here from Chicago and we jammed for two days, and during those two days I actually wrote half of “World Scum” in the room with him, and I wrote parts of “Treachery,” and I felt I’d found the perfect drummer for the record, this guy was gonna kick ass and make these riffs sound so good. I had complete confidence in Dave, that he could be great in the studio and really bring something to the table for the band. So we went in the studio. I had Tony [Campos] for the first time also, a really professional, killer bass player – he almost plays the bass like a guitar, so it’s like Soulfly has three guitars. I feel that the rhythm section of this new Soulfly lineup is very powerful, because of that – the way Tony plays bass, it really attacks from all sides. We all get along great, man, and Zeuss, from the first day he promised he would give me a new-sounding Soulfly record. He promised it wasn’t going to sound like anything else I’d ever done, and I said to him, "Great, hope you deliver," ’cause I didn’t want this to sound like Omen again or like other stuff I’d done. I wanted a new sound, a new life, some new elements added into the band. And by the end of the recording, he was right – he did give me a new sound. I love the sound of Enslaved, it’s completely different from everything else I’ve done, and I have to be thankful to Zeuss for that, for sticking to his guns and getting that out of me. It was a great vibe in the studio, man.
Tell me a little bit about Marc Rizzo as a creative partner. What does he bring in when you’re writing material? How do his ideas and yours kind of fit together?
We work great together, man. He was a great find – when I found him, I was really happy, and I even told Gloria I’d found the guitar player I was looking for all these years. He’s a fucking amazing guitar player – solid, I can count on him. I also really like Marc’s personality. He’s very cool and very loyal, loves to be in Soulfly, loves to play with me, and we create really well together, me and him. When we start working on a riff, we understand what it is. Marc has a great understanding of guitar sounds, and helps me to get my guitar sound really crunchy and really heavy, and he does great leads, which is what he’s famous for. On this album, he does more than leads – he has all these little parts that he puts on tracks, which were inspired by Chaos A.D., ’cause I think Zeuss was showing him Chaos A.D. and all the weird things Andreas [Kisser] was doing on the record. That was really cool, and gave Marc some ideas on what to do with Enslaved. So he put his guitar in all these little spots, all throughout the record – you can hear Marc’s little guitar parts coming in and out of the record. My favorite guitar solo on the record is on “Treachery” – we break down to this middle section that sounds almost like “Diary of a Madman,” and Marc comes with a solo that’s almost like Pink Floyd, with the slide guitar. It gives me chills, man. It was a great moment in the studio, watching him come up with that. He’s a great guitar player, I think he deserves more attention as a guitarist cause he’s so underrated. A lot of people have not noticed Marc yet, and I think he’s amazing. Really solid, really great leads and just a great player all around. I love having him in the band, love having him as a partner, we get along great together, and it’s a great combination, Max and Marc together. In a way, I think we are the backbone of Soulfly. We carry this band together on our backs.
You’re going on tour with Five Finger Death Punch, which is probably going to expose the band to a lot of new people. If you were going to play one song from this album for someone who’d never heard Soulfly before, which would it be and why?
I think probably the best song is “World Scum.” I think it’s kind of the perfect song. It’s really catchy but it’s really heavy at the same time. It’s almost a death metal song, but it’s got this really catchy chorus. It’s really groovy and you can kind of sing along. I think it’s gonna be the perfect song for that tour. I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun playing that song live for those fans, and hopefully we can win some of them over.
How does Dave’s drumming style change up the older songs you guys will be playing live?
Well, we already did two shows with David in Phoenix and L.A., and it was great. It doesn’t change that much; he plays the old stuff really similarly to how the old stuff should be played. The death metal stuff comes out more on the new stuff, so it’s kinda cool, ’cause he’s a drummer that can change his playing to go from a death metal style to a more groove, tribal style on the older Soulfly stuff. Stuff like “Eye for an Eye,” “Back to the Tribe,” “Primitive,” and “Prophecy” had more of a tribal groove on it, and Dave understands that and plays it pretty close to the original. So I think we’re gonna leave it like that – we’re gonna play the old songs how they sound, and leave the death metal stuff for the new songs. I think that’s probably the best way to go about it. Make sure Soulfly still sounds like Soulfly, you know?
You recently played Brazil for the first time in many years. How has the country changed since you were growing up there? Do you see the situation as better than it was in the '80s?
Yeah, Brazil is definitely better. There’s definitely more money in the country – all the shows were sold out and the crowds were really fanatical. I think it was great for Soulfly to finally conquer Brazil the way we did. One newspaper said the Soulfly show was better than Sepultura’s 1996 Roots tour show, which was a highlight show for a long time. So that was amazing for me, to hear that comparison. The crowd was awesome, man – they were so loud and they knew everything, so I think Soulfly’s time finally came to Brazil. It took 10 years for them to accept this band, but I finally got the stamp of approval from the fans, and it was great to hear them singing everything from “Prophecy” to “Primitive” to “Eye for an Eye.” Yeah, it was a great South American tour. And we also had the kids with us, so we got to do “Revengeance” for the first time, and all of them stage dived and lost their shoes in the crowd, came back shoeless. But it was fun, it was a great time.
Enslaved is out today; click here to get it on iTunes! All other Soulfly albums, and Max's albums with Sepultura, are on sale at iTunes this week only!