For the past year or two, Max Cavalera has been revisiting his history as a musician while continuing to pave new paths. In addition to touring behind the 2014 Cavalera Conspiracy album Pandemonium and Soulfly's 2015 record Archangel, Cavalera and his brother/Cavalera Conspiracy drummer Iggor Cavalera celebrated the 20th anniversary of Sepultura's groundbreaking sixth album, Roots, by playing the record in its entirety on the Return to Roots tour. And in October, Soulfly will pay tribute to Nailbomb, the Nineties side project Max did with Fudge Tunnel's Alex Newport by playing the group's sole studio recording, Point Blank, front to back.
As cool as that should be for old-school thrash fans, it's a little surprising since Cavalera generally isn't the kind of guy to reflect over past achievements or plan too far into the future. He prefers to focus on the present, maintaining a voluble presence as one of metal's most aggressive, tenacious pioneers. Right now, he's putting the final touches on the next yet-untitled Cavalera Conspiracy album, which the band recently finished recording at Platinum Underground Studio in Mesa, Arizona.
Still, Cavalera's recent trips down memory lane have served him well. The new Cavalera Conspiracy album will feature aspects of styles he's explored throughout his career — barreling death metal, blunt thrash, jagged mid-paced groove metal, industrial noise and tribal rhythms.
"It's got everything, man," Cavalera says. "We have songs that sound like [the first Sepultura full-length, 1986's] Morbid Visions and [1989's] Beneath the Remains. There's the thrash element of [1991's] Arise. And then there's new stuff on there that sounds like the stuff we enjoy right now, like Full of Hell, Nails and Godflesh."
One track, "Hellfire" is driven by syncopated electronic beats and features Godflesh frontman Justin Broadrick. "That's one of my favorite new tracks right now," Cavalera says. "And Godflesh have been one of my favorite bands forever, from 1989's Streetcleaner on. When [Broadrick] said he would be a guest on the record, I was like, 'Oh my God! My mind is going to explode!'"
As inspired as Cavalera was by Broadrick and his scorching, primal industrial metal, the greatest creative catalyst for new Cavalera Record was producer Arthur Rizk (Code Orange, Power Trip, Inquisition), who despite being considerably younger than the Cavaleras, was a guiding beacon for the new album. Not only did he encourage the Cavalera brothers to explore new more contemporary sounds, he also inspired them to revisit their early roots.
"I think getting Arthur to produce this record was the coolest, greatest idea we've had in years," Cavalera explains. "He brought the life out of me and Iggor and got us to do stuff that normally wouldn't have come out. I felt like he woke up something that was sleeping inside of me for a long time. He went in and summoned beast and it came out raging."
REVOLVER How did Arthur encourage you to revisit your Eighties style of performing? Did he say something specific to you?
MAX CAVALERA He's really knowledgeable about the metal underground, and he also knows everything about our past, from Bestial Devastation on. And he knew when was a good time to draw from that stuff. I'd be doing vocals and he'd played me a little bit of a line from Schizophrenia. And then he'd say, "I want that Max. Can you bring me that Max?" And I'd be like, "Yeah, I think I can do that." It wasn't exactly the same because I was, like, 15, when I recorded that and my voice sounds different now. But it was close. He wanted a real classic Sepultura death-metal voice for some of the songs. He called it "the chicken nuggets Max." You know it's so perfect, classic. [Laughs]
How did you meet Arthur and what made you decide to work with him?
We wanted someone more from the underground to work on this record because I've been listening to a lot of that stuff. We just happened to meet him when we were on the Return to Roots tour. We talked for a little bit and he showed me some stuff that he's done — Power Trip and Code Orange. I was really intrigued. He's, like, the new blood. So me and Iggor talked about it and I said, "Well, maybe we should take a chance and work with him. We could really do something different." I give him a lot of credit for the album coming out like it did. I think it's gonna surprise a lot of people.
What kinds of experimental touches did you bring to the songs?
We did one song that we knew was going to be instrumental. We were talking about "Kaiowas," which we did on Chaos A.D. And the long desert jam on Roots. So we started messing around with this atmospheric stuff. Arthur had just come from Africa. He was in Uganda for a while and he made all these great recordings of tribal drumming and even sounds of nature, like frogs that were making all this fucking noise. So we put it in the song as an instrumental. And then we put the guitars on top of it and let it build. Those kinds of songs are cool because they break away from all the other heavy thrash stuff on the album. It's kind of like prog metal — well, it's as close as we get to it, anyway. It has a real voodoo vibe so I'm inclined to have the word "Voodoo" somewhere in the title.
You've been touring so much with Cavalera Conspiracy and Soulfly. When did you have time to work on a new studio album?
I started working on it last year between the Roots tours. I'd come home and write like a madman. I actually became obsessed. I had a routine. I'd wake up, start writing and then I'd go until 10 at night every day, just writing and collecting riffs. Then I'd put everything away. But I wanted to get a good start on it so by the time the other two guys came on board we had some really solid riffs to work with.
Did you have an abundance of material to work with?
The guys come in and they're like, "Stop already! We have enough for five records!" I'm like, "Good — let's select the best out of those five to make one killer fucking album." That was my theory. We had a lot to choose from and it was a real productive time. I was inspired by all this new shit I was listening to. Gatecreeper and Nails and the other bands I mentioned. And honestly, it was one of the easiest records I've done because I wrote so much for it and I was so prepared going into it.
Did you do any improvisational jamming or invent any music on the spot in the studio?
The was only one time Arthur asked me to just come up with a riff, and it was for the song "Crom." Crom is the god of Conan the Barbarian. I went off to watch the whole movie before we tracked vocals. There was a big TV in the living room and we just sat back and watched the movie.
Did seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger inspire you?
Oh, that's such a cool movie. I decided it would be cool to have the voice of a little kid saying, "Conquering barbarian tribes," because that sounds so vicious. So we got my grandson Rocky to do it. Having a little kid saying that kind of reminds me of Ozzy Osbourne's Diary of a Madman, where he's got all those little kids laughing in the end, and it was his own kids. I lifted Rocky and put him up to the mic and he said, "Conquering barbarian tribes!" It sounds fucking awesome! To me, it sounds like a little Conan reacting to seeing his mom decapitated by these conquering barbarian tribes. It's really sick. And I told Arthur the chorus for the song reminds me a little bit of Nailbomb. It's got a little bit of an industrial vibe to it.
You have a track called "Impalement Execution." That's a very death-metal title.
It's a super-heavy song. The first part sounds like a classic Slayer riff, and then we have a piece in the middle that we called "Thrasher's Delight." We put eight riffs together and it's all different kinds of chugging and mosh parts. There are four vocal parts and four guitar solos between the riffs. On the chorus, we did this cool thing with my voice, so it sounds like a windstorm. Me and Arthur did six takes of it and then we doubled it so it sounds like this storm is going on while I'm singing.
Were you motivated by anything going on in your life or in the world when you worked on these songs?
I was feeling really angry about different stuff. Even stuff like shit-talking on the Internet and all this bullshit that I had nothing to do with. I did a song called "Judas Pariah" and it's pretty much about all those people. I just don't understand it. It's like the Palestinians and the Israelis. No one can get along and it's like our war we don't want to be in. It's fucked up, man. I always said music is a weapon, so I just thought, "Fuck it, man. I'm just gonna let it all out." Especially in front of all the shit-talking trolls. So I wrote something really brutal. And I'm not just saying, "Fuck you." I'm talking about soul-stealing shit. The ending has a riff that sounds a little bit like Celtic Frost's "Procreation of the Wicked." And Arthur put some keyboards on it so it has this classical sound that's fucking huge, like To Mega Thereon on a Cavalera album. It's pretty much a black-metal song.
Is there anything political on there?
We have a punk song that's about the whole Donald Trump thing. There's lines like, "Not my president, not my god, not my king." It's called "Negative Fucks." It's a name that Greg Puciato from Dillinger Escape Plan came up with as a possible name for our side band Killer Be Killed. I love that name. It's so punk rock. We had this great riff, which sounded like Discharge meets Nails meets Napalm Death, right to the bone. I'm singing about this propaganda hate machine. The chorus goes, "Negative fucks! Negative fucks!" And in the background I'm doing this voice that sounds like a demented psycho laughing. And then there's "Terrorist Tactics," which is all about the shit going on with ISIS. The whole extremist propaganda, where if you don't convert to their kind of Islam they will kill you.
How many songs did you write for the album?
Just 10. We only used what we needed. Eight are full-on thrash songs, from the beginning to end. They're like Morbid Visions/Beneath the Remains/Arise/Nailbomb-type shit. And then there's the tribal, African voodoo song and the Godflesh song "Hellfire," which is about the drones that they bomb people with. I did a lot of reading about drones for that and there's a movie called "Eye in the Sky," so I use the name in the lyrics. I can't wait to hear what Justin does with it. We purposely wrote it with drum machines so it sounds like a Godflesh song.
Did Iggor fly over to Phoenix for tracking?
Iggor came over from London and he was sick for the whole time. He had a really bad flu and felt horrible. I felt really bad for him. I even thought maybe we should reschedule, but time was a factor. We had to do it. So he went to the hospital and got some antibiotics and a shot of something and he did the whole record. He sounded so great. I was joking, "Man, imagine if you were healthy when you recorded? It would be fucking insane because it sounds great already when you're sick." But maybe he was pissed off that he was sick, so he was playing extra hard. He was on fire the whole week he recorded.
You tracked the album at Platinum Underground Studio, which is the underground facility Body Count used for their new album.
That's how I found out about it. I was invited to do a song for Body Count album so I drove there and the place was awesome. It's like a bunker and it's owned by John [Aquilino, who was the guitarist in Eighties band ICON]. We were there for three weeks and it was really cool. You step out of that place and you're in the fucking desert, but inside is just all high technology with a thousand amps and a huge drum room. It was perfect because I got to stay home [in Phoenix] and then just go to the studio to do the record.
You don't have a full-time bassist right now since previous Cavalera Conspiracy bassists Johny Chow and Tony Campos are playing with Stone Sour and Fear Factory, respectively. Was that a problem?
No, not really. Maybe we'll hire a fixed bass player down the line. For this record, I just figured Arthur was a great musician. He's a great guitar player and he can play bass so I said, "You go ahead and play the bass parts." And he did some really cool shit that reminded me of the parts on Ozzy's Diary of a Madman album. You have the riff going through and the bass does the rhythm with the drums.
Is Arthur a perfectionist?
He knows what sounds good, but sometimes he leaves things the way they are even if the guitars aren't completely in tune or if I sang a line and my Brazilian accent came through so it wasn't perfectly American sounding. Once I said, "If you want to go back, I could fix it." Any other producer would have me do it correctly but Arthur just laughed. "It's cool. Leave it. It sounds like live punk shit." It was more important for him to get the vibe right and capture the spirit of the moment of live performance than to make everything perfect. And I love that.
In October you're planning to play the Nailbomb album Point Blank with Soulfly. It's a great album, but it's from 1994 so there's no 25- or 30-year anniversary to tag the tour to. Why play this record now?
The idea came out of the Roots tour, which was so great. We're going to do it from October to mid-November. I talked with the guys in Soulfly about it because we have a great band that can do great riffing. Then we just have to recreate the sound effects on the album. I called Alex [Newport, Nailbomb's cofounder] and asked for his blessings. He didn't want to be involved, but he was into it. And he's cool to have my son Iggor sing his parts. Not only did he give us his blessings, he told me where to get all the effects for the sounds we need.
Why didn't Alex want to be involved?
He just wants to do studio stuff now, and I totally respect that. That's his life. Maybe next year we can convince him to do one show somewhere. But right now it's just us and we're going to recreate the album entirely. It's going to be the same as if you're listening to the record. We have three weeks of rehearsals set up for Nailbomb and we're going to make sure everything's perfect. We have the original backdrop, the KKK guy with the target. It should be perfect for the political climate right now.
Who else will be on the tour?
We're going to have Lody Kong, my sons' band. They are getting really good. They're kicking ass, writing really cool new shit. And we're gonna have Noisem and Cannabis Corpse opening, as well.
It sounds like you're making an effort to return to the underground.
Yeah, and in a way, it's like it was 25 or 30 years ago. That's when all the cool, new shit was happening, and that's why we're very lucky that we got to work with Arthur, who's very much a part of that. We're trying to keep the spirit of the underground alive. That's kind of what people want to see. We could play with bigger bands, but I think it's cool to have some really small but good underground bands. It goes more with the Nailbomb style. That record was really underground. No matter how big it got, to me, that's always going to be an underground album.