On October 11th, 2013, veteran Brazilian purveyor of anger anthems Max Cavalera rolled into town with Soulfly to satisfy his devout legions. Shed My Skin caught up with the activist-minded frontman to discuss his latest album Savages, his rapid recovery from Bells Palsy, being involved with the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and the immense influence hardcore music has had on him and his brother Iggor.
Coming off the successful cycle for Savages’ predecessor Enslaved, Cavalera details his concentrated effort to create records that will be different from each other every time and not be obsolete, sensing he has succeeded at that once again with Soulfly’s latest release. He discusses the challenge of following up what he considers to have been his most extreme Soufly record yet in Enslaved, which he refers to as having been “a hardcore death metal record with lyrics about slavery” and which he cites bands like Oceano and Chelsea Grin as influences. He maintains that while half of Savages retains the Enslaved mentality, notably on tracks like Holocaust featuring a guest appearance by the frontman of deathcore cult act I Declare War, the album also marks the return of tribal grooves that the band became known for early on in its career. He feels that humanity as a whole continues to be a savage race, hence the inspiration for his band’s new record.
Cavalera recalls his recent bout with Bells Palsy, which he claims to have contracted in Australia while on tour with his other project Cavalera Conspiracy. He jokes that he couldn’t feel half of his face following the condition’s onset, and that it felt as though he was speaking like actor Sylvester Stallone. Upon being informed of the diagnosis, he recalls thinking that the condition “sounds like Metallica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls” and asked himself “what is this Bells shit.” Not wanting to cancel Soulfly’s then-upcoming South American tour, he soldiered on and completed the tour, after which his doctors credited the continual touring and work schedule as largely responsible for his fast healing.
He then opens up about his 2 year-old son Igor who he says is diabetic, and which has inspired him and wife Gloria to become heavily involved in fundraising for the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, starting the Iggy Fund, so that underprivileged families can afford diabetes medication for their children. In its short existence, the Iggy Fund has raised around a million dollars.
Cavalera believes strongly that “music succeeds where politics and religion fails to bring people together and make a better world.” In February the couple plan to travel to Pakistan to speak and perform Sepultura songs with local musicians in honour of an organization that encourages kids to stay in school.
Unafraid to discuss his love for hardcore music which has influenced him greatly on not only a musical level but also political which he claims to love, he remembers when Sepultura brought Californian crossover kings Strife, then on Victory Records, to Europe while the bands supported their genre-defining records Roots and In This Defiance, respectively. According to Max, both him and his brother Iggor had always maintained close ties to the hardcore scene, spending their early adolescence discovering British hardcore punk pioneers such as Discharge, GBH, The Exploited, English Dogs, and The Varukers, and later the Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. But it was when he discovered the Cro-Mags and New York Hardcore that it truly changed his life, he remembers. He makes mention of one of his most beloved t-shirts that simply reads “Age Of Quarrel Is My Bible,” and ode to the Cro-Mags 1986 Rock Hotel/Profile Records debut which remains highly influential on a global scale to this very day.
He reflects on the Titans Tour where Sepultura and Sick Of It All supported UK grind legends Napalm Death, and the tension on the east coast when skinhead group would attend the then-controversial crossover tour package. He also gushes about Cavalera Conspiracy inviting Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret to contribute guest vocals, who Max describes as having been “so humble…he said, “I thought you’d record with my brother not me…he’s the famous one,” referring to Madball frontman Freddy Cricien.
If anyone has earned the right to claim what’s crossover and what’s not, it’s Max Cavalera, and he loves both hardcore and death metal, which he feels serves as the foundation for artists like Abysmal Dawn, The Acacia Strain, and Despised Icon. The brothers Cavalera continue to pledge their allegiance to the core, as Iggor most recently recorded an album’s worth of drum tracks for Strife’s long-awaited return to form, Witness A Rebirth, which was released last year on California’s 6131 Records.
The last time Soulfly performed in Los Angeles, the dreadlocked throat shredder tells the story of how Skinhead Rob joined him onstage for a “wild, off the wall” rendition of his previous band’s anthem Roots. “I like the Transplants a lot. He’s a really cool guy and a big fan. I love the interchange between metal and hardcore. It used to be divided, but now it’s united. It’s supposed to be this way.”
He’s equally eager for Soulfly to tour with Agnostic Front, Sick Of It All, or Madball in tow in 2014, and hopes this package can come together sooner than later. He also makes mention of one of his favorite current artists, Nails, who he credits with inspiring him to create a new extreme and ultra-fast project with his brother which could see the light of day within the coming year.
The interview winds down with Cavalera making a pilgrimage to music, suggesting people take their shoes off when in the presence of music due to how sacred and pivotal the art form is to effect survival and life-altering change, saying it saved his life and gave him a passport out of Brazil where he may not have survived if not for his craft.
When he is asked how he can continue to compose angry songs that are still relevant after all these years, he often replies by offering a not-so-inaccurate comparison to a certain British group of the past century: “I think the Beatles had a gift to write love songs…I have a gift to write angry songs,” he offers with a chuckle.