"We were young, hotheaded and everything boiled over." The reason Max Cavalera left Sepultura

Sepultura in 1996
(Image credit: Iperen/Getty Images)

Sepultura changed the face of modern metal in the late 80s and early 90s but their classic line-up came to a tumultuous halt one night in December, 1996. It had been a year beset with tragedy for frontman Max Cavalera, whose stepson Dana Wells was killed in a car accident earlier in the year. Cavalera took time out of a planned tour to attend the funeral and be with his family but returned to join the band on the road. 

Rather than the band come together in such a difficult period, though, intra-band relations sadly got worse and after a show at Brixton Academy in South London, Max was dealt a demand from the rest of the group, who included his drummer brother Igor. Max later told Metal Hammer’s Malcolm Dome about what went down that fateful night. “It was so soon after the death of my stepson Dana [Wells], and we were all in a highly emotional state. It was then that the rest of the band gave me this ultimatum,” he said. The issue was that they wanted to get rid of their-then manager Gloria Bujnowski, which was a bit of a delicate subject given she was Max’s wife and Dana’s mother. “They wanted to fire Gloria and get a bigger manager. The thing is the situation was coldly calculated. It’s as if they said, ‘We’re sorry about Dana, but business is business’. What angered me was that they all knew Dana as well. He was their friend. But they chucked that all away.”

Looking back with hindsight, Cavalera wished they’d all agreed to take a year’s break from each other and think everything through, rather than the parting of the ways that occurred. “We were young, hotheaded and everything boiled over,” he said. “Was it that bad backstage at Brixton? Yes. Do I regret what happened? Yes.”

He can see why his brother wasn’t on his side, too. “I understood that he was in a very difficult place. Being torn between loyalties.” The two brothers didn’t talk to each other for years, and it was only another tragedy that brought them back together. “I also knew there would be an incident, positive or negative, that gets us back together on a personal level. Sadly, it was Dimebag Darrell’s murder which did it,” Max explained.

The Cavaleras have since united for numerous projects, including their critically acclaimed band Cavalera Conspiracy and a batch of celebratory tours playing classic Sepultura material. Sepultura themselves, meanwhile, soon rallied following Max's departure, bringing in the stellar Derrick Green on vocals and never looking back. 

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer for The Guardian, Variety and Classic Rock, and co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former editors of Q magazine Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. Niall has written for NME, X-Ray Magazine and XFM Online and interviewed some of music’s biggest stars, including Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, St Vincent, The 1975, Depeche Mode, Radiohead and many more.