Max Cavalera: My Life In 10 Songs

Max Cavalera
(Image credit: Press/Jim Louvau)

Max Cavalera released his first record in 1985 and has barely paused for breath since. As of right now, he’s released 24 studio albums with the likes of Sepultura, Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy, Killer Be Killed and Nailbomb. A 25th, the self-titled debut from Go Ahead And Die, his collaboration with son Igor Amadeus Cavalera, will be released on June 11. “Me and Igor didn’t know we were gonna make a record,” says Max of the brutal, back-to-basics record. “We just ended up jamming in a house in the desert.”

It’s a stellar back catalogue, and one that’s hard to boil down to just 10 songs - especially when you factor in the countless extra-curricular collaborations he’s done. But that’s exactly what we’ve asked him to do. Take it away, Max…

Metal Hammer line break

Sepultura - Arise (1991)

I was still living in Brazil at that time, but we were on the verge of moving to America. For me, personally, this song is when I reached the perfection of that death-thrash sound. It was death metal coming together with thrash metal to create the best of both worlds. When I wrote that main riff, I was very excited, cos it’s a mean, mean riff - very in your face, very fast. Plus I love the words, “I see the world, old/I see the world, dead.” It’s powerful when you play it live and the crowd sings that.

Arise was a masterclass in that kind of music and it was an important album for us. It was kind of hard to reach that point, and it put us in a place where we could have just made Arise Part II, Part III, Part IV. It’s easy to back yourself in a corner, but we didn’t.

Sepultura - Refuse/Resist (1993)

We recorded Chaos AD in Wales with Andy Wallace, who is a master producer and engineer. He actually came to Phoenix before that and hung out in our jam-pad for about three days, making notes of all the songs. We never had anyone do that before: analyse the music, suggesting different things we could do.

The idea for Refuse/Resist came from when I was riding the subway in New York. The was a kind of Black Panther, punk kind of guy, and he had a black leather jacket with a protest verse painted on it. At the very end of the verse, it said: “Protest and survive/Refuse and resist”. I took the name right from his jacket - I got out of the subway and went back to our hotel and wrote it down, so I didn’t forget it.

I love the intro. [Max and wife Gloria’s eldest son] Zyon’s heartbeat opens the song and the record. That was fun - I was right there with a mini-disc and headphones, trying to record it with the nurses. It was important to get that right because it‘s such a unique intro. Now Zyon is 28 years old. [Laughs] It’s been a long time.

Nailbomb – Wasting Away (1994)

I loved Fudge Tunnel‘s Hate Songs In E Minor, it’s one of my favourite heavy albums of all time. Alex [Newport, Fudge Tunnel frontman] was here in Phoenix and Sepultura was on a break from touring, so I thought, “I’ll hang out with Alex and have him show me how to do those heavy Fudge Tunnel riffs, and then I’ll teach him the fast, thrash, galloping Sepultura guitars.”

But Alex bought a sampler, and he got very good at it. So we started working together, and the idea was to do something on the verge of industrial metal. We loved Fear Factory, Godflesh, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry and all that, but we thought, “It’s not heavy enough, we need Ministry times ten - a real pissed-off Ministry.” So [Nailbomb’s sole studio album] Point Blank is still one of the most pissed-off records today.

Alex always had the idea of breaking up before it got bigger, making it a cult band. I kind of wanted Nailbomb to continue myself, I would have liked to have made more records. But we ended up doing just one studio record and the live album [Proud To Commit Commercial Suicide]. But there’s something cool about that too - it creates a unique cult feeling to the band.

Sepultura - Roots Bloody Roots (1995)

We felt in the studio that this was a special song. I was really into the idea of less is more, and simplifying things. The original riff is like a mantra - you could play it with one string, over and over. I could close my eyes and imagine 10,000 people jumping up and down with the best.

I’ve always loved songs that had something that grabbed you. [1989 track] Beneath The Remains was like that, Arise had that, but Roots Bloody Roots was on another level. The chorus is definitely one of the finest moments for me - finding a hook that everybody’s gonna love. Of course, I took it from Black Sabbath – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Roots Bloody Roots. [Laughs] I straight-up stole it from them!

We originally recorded a demo that ended fast, but we didn’t do it on the album. It’s an iconic song, but a fast ending would have been cool and it would have tied up with our history with thrash. That’s the only regret I have – I should have pushed to get the fast ending, though when I do it live with Iggor [Cavalera, Max’s brother and bandmate] we always do the fast ending.

I’m honoured that Gojira have said their song [2021’s Amazonia, from the Fortitude album] is influenced by Roots. I think it’s something we started and they’ve picked it up and done something with it. They’re one of the big bands of right now, so it’s definitely an honour for sure. [Laughs] I think, when I'm dead and gone, Roots Bloody Roots will be playing as elevator jazz music. But hopefully that’s a long time from now.

Deftones - Headup (1997)

Dana [Wells, Max’s stepson] came home with a Deftones cassette with the song Bored on it one time, and he played it to me and I loved it from the first time I heard it: “Man, this is fucking great!” So when we recorded Roots, I listened to [Deftones’ debut album Adrenaline] morning and night - I was obsessed with that record. They came to play in Phoenix, and I ended up learning Engine No. 9 and jamming onstage with them - there was only 30 people there, nobody knew who they were.

Dana was one of their best friends, and when he died, Chino [Moreno, Deftones singer] came to the funeral - he was one of the pallbearers. So when I got a phone call from them saying they were going in the studio and they wanted to do a song with me about Dana, I loved the idea. It was the first thing I recorded after the break-up with Sepultura, before even Soulfly, so I went deep into the riff box and get one of the best riffs I could find - it was a real fucking jammer. I went to Seattle, where they were recording, and played it for them, and they were, like, “Fucking love the riff, man, this is killer.”

I remember recording it, and I was singing with Chino, and he hit his knee on his nose, he got a bloody nose right in the middle of the studio. There was blood everywhere - it was fantastic, like a live show. [Producer] Terry Date was going, “Keep rolling!” and taking pictures of it.

I love the fact that they put a picture of Dana in the record [parent album Around The Fur], and Zyon too. And I love the fact that they still include Headup in their set. I always jam with them if I’m around. I even saw a video of Muse playing it. That blew my mind: that’s how far that riff has gone.

Soulfly - Eye For An Eye (1998)

That song saved my life, pretty much. Dealing with Dana’s death [in a car crash in 1996] and splitting with Sepultura, I was done with music - I was heartbroken, angry, there had been too many disappointments. Gloria was trying to lift me up, put me back in the right frame of mind and get me writing against. Also, I remember we had a dinner at Ozzy’s house, and he was telling me that when he got kicked out of Black Sabbath, he was very, very discouraged, but it was up to him to get back on his own feet.

Coming from Ozzy, that was mind-blowing - like, “I have to do it.” So I grabbed my guitar and Eye For An Eye just came out of it. I really love the riff - again, it’s simplicity, it can be played with just one string. And it has a very catchy chorus, which is hard to do.,

The original lyrics were much harder and totally directed towards Sepultura. But talking to the producer [Ross Robinson], he made me change my mind and make it something more positive, instead of talking shit about those guys. It was, like, “Ok, I'll take the higher road and be more diplomatic.” I made Eye For An Eye more about me than them.

It’s an important song to me as well because it’s one of the songs that got Soulfly signed. We went to New York and met with [Roadrunner Records A&R supremo] Monte Connor, and we played this and another song for him and he signed Soulfly on the spot. It’s one of those songs that I will never be able to write again.

Soulfly - Prophecy (2004)

It was a time when the whole band left me, and I was by myself again. It was, like, “Fuck, I’m here again, in the corner.” But at the same time it gave me fresh energy - it meant I could find some other interesting people to play with, and that‘s when I found [guitarist] Marc Rizzo, [drummer] Joe Nunez and [bassist] Bobby Burns.

I’ve always loved the vibe of Prophecy. I was very inspired by the [Martin Scorsese movie] The Last Temptation Of Christ, and the Peter Gabriel Passion soundtrack album - ended up using some of the Passion music on the record. The line, “I see the Red Sea part in front of me” refers to Moses. But there other things in there: “We will fight the heathens and the ghost enemy” is actually Navajo – Navajo Indians believe that sometimes you can get possessed by the ‘ghost enemy’ and it takes over your soul. And the line at the end, “New millennium tribal war”, refers to upcoming wars, futuristic wars.

I love Marc Rizzo's intro. The thing he does with the wah-wah pedal is amazing; it's one of the coolest things I've seen a guitar player do. I remember when he created that, I was like, “What's that? We have to start a song with that.” He tried to redo it many other times in other songs, but it was never quite as good as Prophecy.

Cavalera Conspiracy - Inflikted (2008)

That first Cavalera Conspiracy record is still one of my favourites. There was just the joy of playing with my brother Iggor again after 10 years of not talking to him. It was so emotional: “I missed you for 10 years, let's make some metal together.”

Inflikted was actually written for a Soulfly record, but I lied to him and said I had a bunch of stuff written for us to do a record together. It was definitely worth lying for [laughs]. Gloria had the great idea of asking Joe Duplantier from Gojira to play bass on the record to make the band a little more international.

Killer Be Killed - Face Down (2014)

That was the first Killer Be Killed song ever written, back when me and Greg [Puciato] got the band together. We went to my house out in the desert to make the demos, and this was the first riff to come out. I remember Greg loving it, especially the energy it has in the beginning - it sounds like a groove Motörhead, but with a very punk chorus.

One of the cool ideas was to have two tunings in the same song. The song is in C, but the very last part, the guitar goes to A but you keep the fifth string in C. It’s some mad scientist idea and it’s really tricky.  I remember the  producer looking at me, going, “Why would you want to do that?!” But it gets really heavy in the end, even heavier than C. But I always think the secret weapon of Killer Be Killed is the three voices together; that's what makes it fun to listen.

Go Ahead And Die - Truckload Full Of Bodies (2021)

With Go Ahead And Die, I just sat down with Igor and wrote riffs. We wanted something raw, that feels like it came out in 1987.  It was a caveman approach - like two caveman discovering fire!

That name of the song came from when I was reading an article from National Geographic, and there was a truck in Italy that was just full of bodies of people that had died from Covid. It’s, like, there’s the powerful government that just does not care about the people. Even the name of the band comes from that: “Go ahead and die, we don’t give a fuck if you live or die.”

It really pisses you off, because the powerful people are taking care of themselves, making sure they have the shots, the medication, but they let the people die. Life is a precious thing, no matter who you are.

The video was fun to make, but I was also freaked-out, because we had to get inside these body bags. They close the things and it’s pure darkness - I’m lying there, kind of freaking out, going, “I don't wanna be in here.” It had a psychological effect on me, but it felt right. It felt like an issue that should be tackled.

Go Ahead And Die’s self-titled debut album is released on June 11

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.