MAX CAVALERA on the Ritual of Soulfly

Max Cavalera – Soulfly – Killer Be Killed – Cavalera Conspiracy

Had Max Cavalera’s career come to a conclusion following the demise of Sepultura’s original incarnation, the trailblazing icon would have still been considered one of the most influential metal musicians off all time.

These past two decades, however, have only further cemented Cavalera’s status atop the Mount Rushmore of the metal universe as he continues to push the boundaries of aggressive music whether it be with Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy or Killer Be Killed

Ahead of Soulfly’s performance at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston, Massachusetts Cavalera sat down with HEAVY to discuss all things Ritual, why he thinks Madison Square Garden sucks, his tip of the hat on Ritual to the late Lemmy Kilmister, as well as how writing death metal songs can serve as a quality father and son bonding experience.

HEAVY:  At this point in your career you could choose to be a part of bigger tours or just play festivals that draw tens of thousands of fans. Instead you continue to play more intimate shows at the smaller to mid-size venues here in the U.S.  What’s behind this approach?

Cavalera:  I don’t have to do this, it’s something I want to do.  I still really love the lifestyle and playing all the small places. I’m not one of those guys that thinks we only need to play the big places. In fact, I don’t know if I like many of the big places all that much anyway. I always had this vision of the big places before we played them but then once you play them, you find out many of them suck.

Like Madison Square Garden, it sucked.  I almost got thrown out of there because they said there was no stage diving but I staged dived anyway, to hell with their laws.

To me this kind of music, the kind of music we play, thrash, death, tribal music, it’s best felt in the smaller venues.  At this point in my career I’m also in a really cool place because I get to do what I love, with the people I love.

I do Soulfly with my son (Zyon) playing drums and with Gloria (Max’s wife). I’m still doing things with Igor where we play the Sepultura stuff and we also have Cavalera Conspiracy. On top of all of that I have Killer Be Killed, so I never get bored.

Max Cavalera – Soulfly – Killer Be Killed – Cavalera Conspiracy

HEAVYSo even after all of these years it sounds like you’re still in love with the touring life.

Cavalera:  I really think it’s cool when we’re travelling on the bus right after the concert and that ringing in your ears is still there and you’re looking at the city lights going by. That’s a cool feeling, that’s the essence of touring.

Pulling into a truck stop at midnight or like going into Walmart at two in the morning, that’s touring. Fuck yeah, lets go raid Walmart.   You fell like a bunch of Vikings and then you look at the Walmart employees and they’re all looking at you like, what the fuck is going on here?

I also just love touring the United States.  I think the U.S. in general is a heavy metal country. Metal may not be as big as pop, rap and the country stuff here but it’s still in the peoples’ souls. America’s fans are so faithful, so super passionate and I love that about touring here.

HEAVY:  Can you talk a little about the writing and recording process for Ritual and maybe dive into your thoughts on a few of the record’s standout tracks?

Cavalera:  It was really fun to make Ritual because it was a record where I could look back on what we’ve accomplished while I also tried to restore and reconnect with the early Soulfly stuff.

Listening to a lot of early Soulfly I realized that shit was so cool, especially our first record.  There was a real magic to that first album that was probably there because of the place I was in back then.

It wasn’t a fun place for me to be in, you know right after I quit Sepultura. It was horrible a place to be in and I hated it. So I had to just surrender myself to the music and put all of that emotion into that first Soulfly record.

When I wrote the song “Ritual” for the new record I was so happy man because to me, that song is neck and neck with songs like “Eye for an Eye” or “Primitive.”  “Ritual” is also a powerful song that has a really good groove, cool riffs, cool lyrics and a great chorus.

The album also has “Dead Behind the Eyes,” that has this thrash insanity to it with Randy (Blythe from Lamb of God) singing on it. That song really brings me back to my early Sepultura Arise type of days.  Then we also do the death metal stuff on Ritual with Ross (Dolan from Immolation) on “Under Rapture.”

You know, all that is the the type of stuff I listen to.  I heard somewhere that you’re supposed to play the music you listen to and I agree, if you’re not doing that, why do it?

Max Cavalera – Soulfly – Killer Be Killed – Cavalera Conspiracy

HEAVY:  Josh Wilbur has worked with heavier acts likes Lamb of God and Hatebreed but in recent years he’s also worked on less heavy material from bands such as Papa Roach, Motionless in White and From Ashes to New.   What lead you to bring in Josh to help produce and engineer Ritual?

Cavalera:  One of the main reasons we brought Josh in for Ritual was me and my wife Gloria really liked what he did on and how he treated the Killer Be Killed project. We both really believe that Josh elevated that record.  Killer Be Killed was just a project of mine and Josh turned into something special, so both Gloria and I thought he could come into Soulfly and help elevate Ritual as well.

Although I knew Josh was a fan, I didn’t know how big of fan he really was, which was really cool.  Josh told me that three of his favorite records ever were three of my records and that he worshiped Chaos AD, Roots and the first Soulfly record.  From the beginning Josh said he wanted to make a Soulfly record that he would be proud to hear as a producer and I thought that was different.

So I think Josh was the perfect guy for this record and when I see all the positive reviews for Ritual, that’s me made me even happier.  A lot of folks are saying it’s the best Soulfly record in a long time and that’s cool.

We wanted to make a good record after twenty years that doesn’t sound tired, that doesn’t sound outdated or doesn’t sound like we’re losing gas. I think Ritual accomplished that and that’s something we’re all very proud of.

Max Cavalera – Soulfly – Killer Be Killed – Cavalera Conspiracy

HEAVY:  Diving back into the songs on Ritual could you talk to me a little about the track, “Feedback.” It feels as though the front half of song was written for Lemmy from Motörhead to provide guest vocals on, whereas the back half of the track has this New York hardcore vibe reminiscent of Madball, Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags.

Cavalera:  “Feedback” started with this “Ace of Spades” type of riff but the bass ended up sounding more like Iron Maiden, which is interesting because Mike (Leon) plays a lot like Steve Harris with his finger and a lot of galloping.

So when you listen to “Feedback” the bass is very Iron Maiden but the riff is very Motörhead.  The first part is very heavy metal but the second part is New York hardcore. I think we were really drinking from Leeway, Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front with that and maybe even a little bit of Hatebreed towards the end.

It was so much fun to do a song like “Feedback” for Ritual and it is a tip of the hat to Lemmy. My relationship with Lemmy goes way back.  We were friends, we were enemies, we hated each other and we loved each other man.

And the lyrics are on “Feedback” are lot of fun.  So the lyric, “shithole venue smells rot.” I remember I wrote that and I was laughing so hard. I looked at Josh and I said to him I can’t really put that on the song? And he was like yeah you can, you’re living it, you do that every day, you go those to places and your fans are going to relate to it.

Lemmy Kilmister – Motörhead

HEAVY:  Another track on Ritual that is getting a lot of positive feedback is “Dead Behind the Eyes.”  Can you discuss the song and how Randy Blythe from Lamb of God ended up providing guest vocals on it?

Cavalera:  You know “Dead Behind the Eyes” wasn’t even written with Randy in mind.  In fact, there’s a version of it where I sing the whole thing.

The song is very interesting and I actually call it Zyon’s song.  Zyon was asking me one day about my old stuff asking me about “From the Past Comes the Storm” and Beneath the Remains.  He asked me how did I write those songs because they’re fucking amazing.  So I looked at him and said I tell you what, we can do it together if you want. We’ll do it as a father and son project.

Some fathers and sons build Leggo’s together, some play football together, we’re going to make a death metal song together. So Zyon and I took it to the jam pad and starting working on the song together, piece by piece.

Josh played it for Randy (Blythe) while they were doing the Burn the Priest record.  Randy fell in love with it and wanted to sing on it and I was like, hell yeah.  What’s funny is Josh told me that he and Randy forgot to record it. They tracked all the Burn the Priest stuff, they high fived each other and Randy went home.  So at one in the morning Josh was like, oh fuck, the Max song.

So Josh calls Randy and Randy’s already at home and he says to him, we forgot to do the Max song. It’s a big deal, you told him you were going to be on the record. And Randy was like, fuck yeah it’s a big deal and he came back to do his vocals at like two in the morning.

When I heard that I was like fuck yeah, Randy’s a true metal warrior and that made it even more special.  His vocals don’t sound like two in the morning vocals, they sound like two in the afternoon vocals.

The song also feels like we were made for each other because it’s like Lamb of God meets Sepultura meets Soulfly with lyrics about Hellraiser and Cenobites.

Randy Blythe – Lamb of God 

HEAVY:  Another standout collaboration on Ritual is the track Ross Dolan from Immolation came in to do vocals on, “Under Rapture”.  Can you touch on the track and how Ross can to be involved with it?

Cavalera:  When I wrote it I already knew I was going to have Ross sing it.  I’m a big Immolation and Morbid Angel fan.

At first Ross was like, I don’t think I can do it right now, by the time I come back you’ll probably be done with the record so maybe you should grab someone else.  And I was like, hell no, I’m going to wait, I’ll pull the release back, it has to be you.

I wanted to stretch the song as much as we could. It’s a thrash song, then it’s going to turn into a death metal song and at the end it’s going to turn into something like Godflesh with these industrial tones.  It’s a trip.   But I think that’s the kind of stuff that makes Ritual exciting.

Ross is an idol of mine.  I love what he does, I love Immolation and having him on the record was very special.

HEAVY:  Max it sounds like you’re a big fan of collaborating with other artists when the chance presents itself.  Why is that and is there another Soulfly collaboration you’ve done not on Ritual that you’re really proud of?

Cavalera:  Collaborations are important and I’m really happy I’ve been doing them so long because it’s given me the chance to work with all of my idols.  A lot of times those collaborations work and the fans are always really into them.

When Tom Araya (Slayer) recorded on Primitive that was one of the coolest things ever because Tom is rarely on anyone else’s record.  It was a unique chance to hear Araya in a different band that’s not Slayer. So having him guest on “Terrorist” was really fun.  Tom and I got to do that song live in England once. He didn’t have his bass, so he’s just up on stage singing looking really uncomfortable the whole time.  It was really special.

Tom Araya – Slayer

HEAVY:  You’ve mentioned your son Zyon a few times.  Can you touch on his growth as a musician these past eight years and why you think his playing compliments Soulfly so well?

Cavalera:  When Zyon first joined he was really green and didn’t have a lot of experience but he had a lot of heart and that’s one of things I’ve always loved about his drumming.  That energy and that passion has always been there and that’s one thing I’ve never tried to control.

Zyon’s got his own style that came from nothing, he’s built like that, just like my brother (Igor).  My brother never took one lesson in his own life, all of that drumming is inside of him and it came out the perfect way. I tried to do the same with Zyon by just letting him do his thing. I think it’s cool that he changes the patterns on the songs every night.

It kind of used to try me crazy at first because I was like can you fucking play the same beat or the same part be the same ever?  Now I’m much more at peace with. It’s chaotic, it’s different, it’s exciting and that’s what makes it so fucking cool.

HEAVY:  On the current tour you’re sticking pretty much to featuring Ritual towards the front of the set with the back half of it focusing more on Soulfly classics.  That’s not a formula you’ve typically followed in the past.  Was this approach rooted in how strongly you feel about Ritual and your desire to the share the record with your fans?

Cavalera: If it was up to me I’d play the entire record and I think Ritual is strong enough to do that.  But we still have to play the classics. It’s cool to be able play the old stuff with the new stuff.  On this tour we are ignoring records like Savages and Arch Angel but we’re also diving more into some of the older records like Dark Ages.  But the first three songs we are doing live on this tour are from Ritual. It’s really cool to just show the fans this is the now, this is Soulfly 2019.  I think it makes a statement.

Max and Igor Cavalera

HEAVY:  Following the current leg of the Ritual tour you’re going to Australia to tour on the Beneath the Remains and Arise with Igor.  Can you touch on your past experiences in Australia and what the fan response was like in South American last year to the Beneath/Rise tour you’re brining down under soon?

Cavalera:  Australia is great and it’s always been crazy for us, even going back to the Sepultura days. When Soulfly first began we played Big Day Out and that’s still one of the most massive shows we’ve ever played.  We went on at like three in afternoon and I didn’t think hardly anyone would be there but it was fucking packed and everyone went nuts.

We had a surreal experience in South America last year on the Beneath the Remains & Arise tour.  It was kind of like being in a time capsule that brought us back to the 1980’s but bigger.  It was like being in the Beatles with hundreds of people waiting for us at the airport in Chile.  We thought, how is this happening, isn’t this period already over?

Nostalgia is powerful thing brother.  Every night that tour was great and people were just losing their minds.  So yeah we’re definitely looking forward to doing those Beneath & Arise shows in Australia.

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All Writing & Photography:  Robert Forte

Instagram: 40_photography – http://www.instagram.com/40_photography/

Written by Robert Forte

In addition to my outlet writing & photography contributions I serve as a gear photographer for Banker Custom Guitars, Collings Guitars & Elixir strings. I've provided tour photography for bands such as Anthrax, Royal Thunder & the Marcus King Band. My photography has appeared on major label record releases and it's also been used by high profile bands for tour merchandise & promotion.

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