"If I'm feeling down, I'll play stuff to get charged up," Max Cavalera enthuses, "even better to hear heavier stuff." The vocalist-guitarist — known for his groundbreaking work in Sepultura, Nailbomb, Cavalera Conspiracy and Soulfly (which just dropped its 11th album, Ritual) — is always plugged into metal and constantly on the road. For him, many of his darkest moments come when he's stuck in the green room backstage at a venue, waiting all day to play his music while the minutes seem to move like mud. For our continuing "Songs for Black Days" series, presented in partnership with Hope for the Day, we asked Cavalera to share some of the songs that put him back on the right track.
It's a heavy-ass doom song that I love. We were always big fans of Hellhammer, but when Celtic Frost came on with Morbid Tales, to me it was a game-changer in the metal world. [It] had a little bit of a hardcore feeling to the record, and Tom Warrior's voice has always been a huge influence on me and my vocals, and this song is just the epitome of heaviness. Just doom, real heavy, real dark. Pure stuff. Especially when it's a dark, rainy day out, you put on "Procreation of the Wicked" and it's fucking perfect. We actually covered that when we did the Roots album, we covered it tuned to B, real low. And we had a chance to actually play it live with Tom Warrior in Switzerland once which was great. But that was before the internet so nobody really recorded, unfortunately. There's no video of it, but it was awesome.
[Tom G. Warrior] liked the cover. It was actually kind of funny, we asked him to play with us, so I gave him my guitar, [and] we tuned to B so we played a different way of how the original song is, and he didn't know how to play the song like we did it, and we had to teach him on his own song. It was sacrilegious: "I shouldn't be telling you how to play your own song — you wrote the goddamn song!" [Laughs] But he was a sport. He learned the way we did it and went for it.
Goddamn! I don't know what language, whether it's Icelandic or Viking, but the delivery of the vocals, he's really a beast, sounds like a wolf in the mountains, man. It was like coming from the alps of Switzerland, the craziest beast coming to devour us all. I love his vocals, I love his riffs, man. I never got to meet [Bölzer singer-guitarist] Okoi, but I wrote him and he sent me a bunch of shirts. I'm a huge Bölzer fan. I like the old stuff a lot, the EPs they put out, but definitely wrote one of my favorite albums of the last 10 years. This song is just so heavy and so brutal. The intro is instrumental, and then when the vocals kick in, it's not in English, which is even more cool, more fucked up. Like, what the fuck is going on here?! It's dark as shit. I love it.
The album fucked me up when I heard it, in crazy Russian orthodox language, the imagery is cool. We got to meet them at a festival in Portugal. They gave me a bunch of really cool wooden-box limited CDs that they made for the record. I'd go for the first song, "Yekteniya 1," from the Liturgia album. Poland has been getting a lot of really good black metal with Mgla and Behemoth, but Batushka is a whole different level. Saw them play in France and the show was very, very mystical. They had no shoes on and had priest robes. Super fucking heavy, man, a lot of atmosphere, very very heavy, and I love the cover of the album and this first song specifically. Just hits you.
When I first heard that riff, I lost my shit. I was like, "Goddamn, I wish I would have written that." I actually tried to write a song that was kind of like that, but I got too close to it. It would've been a blatant rip-off and I cannot do that, even if the quote is "artists are inspired, but geniuses steal." [Laughs] I love this song, this record. Best thing they've done since the Entombed days, this record is especially great. The first riff of it is one of my favorite riffs I've heard in the last 10 years — perfect for dark days.
I was listening to the album at night time, like I do at home. A lot of times I like to listen to albums between midnight and three in the morning — it's my favorite listening hours. I get to sit at my bed, put my headphones on and just let the music consume me. So I was listening to this record, song by song, it's brutal, a bit of a mix of everything. And then, "To Walk Forth ..." came in. Holy shit, man. I actually had to get up and go drink a glass of water. If I had some whiskey I should've done a shot of whiskey, it fucked me up at two in the morning. I just got hit by a Mack truck. It's one of the best riffs ever, man, one of the heaviest songs ever. I told that to George [Kollias, Nile drummer] when we toured with them. This one I actually got to rip off, when we did Cavalera Conspiracy, Psychosis. [Laughs] It was one of the tracks that we actually rip off, I felt very inspired and had to use a similar kind of riff for "Spectral Void." It became a lot of people's favorite song on the record, so thank you Nile for the inspiration! When it's dark, and you're feeling down or whatever, just put that song on and it will make you come back to life for sure.
Very Celtic Frost inspired, but they've got a little bit more black-metal vibe with it. Again, you want a song to pick you up, this is it. Especially when the riff comes in, it's a sliding kind of riff, it's so killer, so energetic, so powerful. I just want to break some shit when this comes in. Literally, just grab something and smash it. It's always great if a band can give you that feeling.
First time I heard it, it's a bit like Morbid Angel from the Altars of Madness, almost like the same riff, but they put a twist on it and make it a little more Slayerish with the drumming. And the vocals are fucking great. First time I heard it, it fucked me up. I love the cover with the nun, fucking heavy and amazing, creepy. I got to tour with them — we did the Return to Roots tour with Immolation, Full of Hell. We got to do Venom's "Black Metal" every night and it was so fun because Dylan [Walker, Full of Hell frontman] didn't know much about Venom at all, I don't think he even knew who Venom was [Laughs]. It was really bizarre, me and Ross were like, "What?!" So we played him "Black Metal" and "Welcome to Hell," we got all the lyrics and we did it every night. To hear "Black Metal" with Dylan's vocals was sick, he put that really harsh vocals over it. But this song is sick, at the end with the voices and when the music drops, and it's just saying "Crawling Back to God" — beautiful. Beautiful piece of music.
I came really close to covering this when we did [Soulfly's 2015 album] Archangel, but because we didn't have much time in the studio, we were pressed for time, we ended up opting for Napalm Death. I really love "Killchain" — it's got this groove, it's the groove I always talk about in death metal and black metal, people try to discredit it but you cannot deny it. And when it comes in on a song like this, it's so fucking well done, it's so perfect, catchy and heavy. Doesn't lose any heaviness because it's a groove, and it actually gains heaviness. The mastery of the riff is perfection, Bolt Thrower reaching perfection and I think that's why it's their last record. I don't think you can surpass that. What are you going to do after that? There's nothing you can do to surpass that. Fucking amazing — first time I listened to it, I rewound it 20 times and kept listening back and back.
It has a totally genuine, pure Nineties death-metal vibe, especially from Massacre and Death and Morbid Angel and Deicide, but done right. It's not a cheap copy of that, they improve on it. That to me is the future of death metal, going in this direction. I got so excited, we contacted them, and they sent me cassettes, man! I was so fucking happy man, got the Necrot album on cassette. I went out and bought a walkman just to hear Necrot on cassette.
First time I heard Nails was through Greg [Puciato] in Dillinger Escape Plan, and he told me about this band, "Hey, Max have you heard Nails," "Nails? No, don't know what you're talking about." Well, he played it for me, and I was like, seriously, what the fuck just happened here? Holy shit, and then I went back to Unsilent Death, became a huge Nails fan right from the beginning. I sent Todd [Jones, Nails singer-guitarist] a message, please send me some stuff, man, I need some Nails gear, then Todd sent me a package with a bunch of shirts, and a letter in it — I still have the letter, it's so funny. He said, "By the way Max, thanks for letting me borrow the riff of 'The End of Territory' for 'Unsilent Death.'" [Laughs] I went back to "Unsilent Death," and there it is! There's the fucking "Territory" riff, right there. Killer. [Laughs] So I'm not the only one who does that — now I feel better about stealing from other people.
It's almost like a Napalm Death song, but done better, with a better sound with Kurt Ballou's production to kill everything on it. It's contagious, the brutality of it. It's ultraviolence music. I call it Clockwork Orange music. Complete ultraviolence music. Fucking love it, some of the best shit I've heard in a long time.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of resources.