“I didn’t want my children to grow up and not know Max”: how Max and Iggor Cavalera healed their wounds and buried the ghost of Sepultura with Cavalera Conspiracy

Cavalera Conspiracy
Cavalera Conspiracy in 2008: (from left) Joe Duplantier, Max Cavaler, Iggor Cavalera, Marc Rizzo (Image credit: Press)

Max and Iggor Cavalera formed Sepultura in their hometown of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in 1984. But, following a rise that saw them become the most successful South American metal band ever, Max acrimoniously split from his bandmates – including Iggor – in 1996, following the landmark Roots album. It would be another 12 years before the Cavalera brothers were reunited, when they joined forces in Cavalera Conspiracy. In 2008, they told Metal Hammer how the decade’s unexpected reunion happened

For Max and Iggor Cavalera, 1996 should have been something of an Annus Mirabilis. Their band, Sepultura, were the major rising stars of the metal world. Roots, their sixth album, was a genuine ground-breaking release for a band who occupied the more extreme end of the metal spectrum. It reached number 27 in the US charts, while in the UK it crashed into the national album charts at number 4, with both singles Roots Bloody Roots and Ratamahatta also breaking into the Top 30. For a band from Brazil to have made such an enormous impact on metal in the 10 years since their debut album, Morbid Visions, had been released was nothing short of astonishing.

In truth, Sepultura’s rise through the ranks was a combination of good timing and great music. Forming in 1984, they rode the thrash wave of the latter half of the 80s in style, blending a passion for Iron Maiden, Metallica and Slayer et al with more extreme death metal sounds and the odd hardcore influence. Add to that a dash of the exotic – few Brazilian bands managed to make the leap to the international stage with such panache – and a record label in Roadrunner, who were also proving to be adept at moving with metal’s ever-changing styles, and it’s not difficult to see how the Brazilian quartet manoeuvred their way to the head of the pack. In Max Cavalera they had a frontman who wore his heart on his sleeve and was loved by the press and fans alike. Few people who witnessed a youthful Sepultura dispatch head-liners Sodom with comparative ease at their first ever UK show at London’s Marquee in 1989 will ever forget it.

A studio portrait of Sepultura in 1993

The classic Sepultura line-up in 1993 (Image credit: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

Likewise, few who saw Sepultura’s original line-up play their final show at London’s Brixton Academy on December 16, 1996 are likely to forget the night either. Not because of anything that happened onstage. No, because the shocking implosion that happened out of the public eye shortly afterwards came out of the blue. 

In the year that the band had built so impressively on the ground gained on the back of 1993’s excellent Chaos A.D., they also appeared at Donington Monsters Of Rock, seemed destined to take on Metallica as the champions of the metal cause (a feat made all the more impressive when you consider the brutal nature of their output and Max’s less than mainstream-friendly vocal approach), Sepultura allowed themselves to unravel following a blindingly good show during a bitter row backstage. It sent shockwaves not just through the winding corridors of Brixton Academy, but around the whole industry as the extent of the damage became clear. Thus 1996 was Annus Horribilis for Max Cavalera, his brother Iggor and longstanding bandmates Andreas Kisser and Paulo Pinto.

“You know, I don’t really want to talk about that,” says an almost sheepish Max, picking on cooked chicken, seated at the table in the suite of his West London hotel room. An hour earlier he’d jokingly waved a hotel hairdryer at Metal Hammer, explaining that was what was used to drown out any questions he deemed unfit to answer. “It’s not a hairdryer, it’s a taser,” he’d laughed. As if to show the mood of our conversation is still positive, if teetering on awkward ground, he reaches for the dryer once more.

Max might not want to talk about it, but the facts of that fateful night are thus: following their stupendous performance, Max was confronted by the other three members of Sepultura, who expressed dissatisfaction with Sepultura’s manager, Gloria, who is also Max’s wife. In the ensuing ‘debate’, Max, who formed the band, told the others exactly what they could do with their proposals, and quit Sepultura. The blind panic that shuddered around backstage that night at Brixton merely pointed at the fact few expected the split, despite some suggestions later down the line that the band were allegedly unhappy at having to appear as a trio at Donington. This had been because Max and Gloria were forced to return to the US on the eve of the gig when Gloria’s son (and Max’s stepson), Dana, was killed in a car accident. Whether the suggestions are true or not, Max stuck to his guns and formed Soulfly, who continued his musical ideas, blending rootsy, tribal rhythms with a metallic attack, while the three remaining members of Sepultura recruited ex-Outface singer Derrick Green and have continued with diminishing returns ever since. 

And more recently a diminishing line-up too. Iggor took time out in January 2006, having become a father for the fourth time. By June he’d quit for good, because by then he’d decided 10 years of not talking to his brother was enough and picked up the phone.

“I did it for many reasons,” explains Iggor, seated at the same table as Max, the first time the UK press has sat down with both Cavalera brothers for over a decade. “There were personal reasons, family reasons, the fact he is my brother. I didn’t want my children to grow up and not know Max. And also the Dimebag situation [former Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was murdered onstage in 2004] had affected me and Max, because we knew both of them [brothers Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell] well. It made us both think about what we’d do if that happened to us. It wasn’t a nice situation to find myself in, so I decided to call, regardless of what the outcome was going to be.”

As you can expect, Iggor was shit-scared as he dialled the number, first talking at length to Gloria, as Max was on tour at the time with Soulfly. She in turn handed the phone to an unsuspecting Max.

“She just handed me the phone and said, ‘It’s your brother’,” Max recalls. “I said to her afterwards, ‘Man, be careful next time you do that to me, it could give me a heart attack!’ But we talked. It was good.”

Seated down together, the pair might occasionally be cautious in each other’s company – the stark refusal to discuss, at this juncture, the incidents that led to Max’s departure from his own band suggests there are still areas the pair are not comfortable discussing in public.

“I don’t see the point,” claims Max of being drawn into mentioning either Andreas or Paulo. “It’s a bit like the American Presidential elections at the moment, which are a complete joke to me. It’s just a lot of people saying how much they hate each other. What good can come of that?”

A cynic might suggest neither side wishes to aim too broad a swipe at the other, in case the much-longed-for Sepultura reunion were to ever take shape in the future.

“There’s no original members left in the band any more,” snorts Iggor, when asked if the fact the Sepultura name is still being used is a source of annoyance. He later admits that he probably would not have made the call to Max had he remained a member of the band.

“You know, I’m so proud of my brother,” exclaims Max. “He made that call and he didn’t know if I was going to tell him I never wanted to talk to him again. It reminds me of a documentary I saw recently on Martin Luther King, where he says the worst things in the world are those you leave unsaid.”

Iggor visited Max at home in Phoenix as soon as he arrived back off tour. Ironically, just in time for the annual benefit show for the late Dana Wells. At the event he ended up playing Roots and Attitude on stage with his brother. The brotherly musical bonds were more than evident. It didn’t take long for the seeds of future work to be sown.

“Max called me up and said ‘Do you want to do some music together?’” explains Iggor matter-of-factly. The younger Cavalera was also developing his own electronic side project as well as working with the rapper Necro. “I was just like, ‘Sure, why not?’”

Max Cavalera of Cavalera Conspiracy in 2008

Max Cavalera onstage with Cavalera Conspiracy at Download in 2008 (Image credit: Future)

And so what is now called Cavalera Conspiracy was born. The project was originally going to be called Inflikted, but that’s now the name of the album from the Cavaleras, together with Gojira guitarist Joe Duplantier on bass and Soulfly guitarist Marc Rizzo.

“I liked the name Inflikted because to me it said a lot about the music we were making. How we’d inflict it on people,” says Max. “But there are already a few bands with that name and the last thing I wanted was someone cropping up with a lawsuit. So this is kind of like a conspiracy with my brother. We like it.”

While the Cavalera Conspiracy is not a Sepultura reunion, it does find the two brothers returning to sounds that recall the heady, youthful enthusiasm of albums like Beneath The Remains. Urgent thrash collides with hedonistic death metal riffing on the likes of Bloodbrawl, Sanctuary and Ultra-Violent (the latter featuring a contribution from ex-Pantera/Down bassist Rex Brown) all boasting serious cranium impact. And there’s little room for the world music excursions of ‘Roots’-era Sepultura or Soulfly. This is heavy shit.

“It really just came naturally,” says Max, beaming. “I was just so happy that we were talking again, I got really enthusiastic about writing. Iggor would call me up and I’d be babbling about all these new songs that I’d written. And when we got into the studio it just felt great to be able to go back and play that really heavy stuff we used to play and fuck shit up with. Having Iggor back on the drums, he plays that stuff so well it really gave me goosebumps just working with him on music again.”

The youngest Cavalera is equally excited about the sound they’ve conjured up, with one-time Machine Head guitarist Logan Mader in the producer’s chair.

“It’s great,” he smiles. “Obviously I’ve got my electronic project, but it really feels good to play this sort of music and to be playing with Max again.”

Both brothers are determined to keep their feet on the ground with the new project, amid the expected myriad headlines hinting at the project being something more than it is. In an astonishing insight into how he felt about the Seps’ success, Max recently admitted he didn’t enjoy that time with the band.

“That side of things means nothing to me,” he shrugs. “People just don’t seem to get it. When I formed Soulfly, I used to have people saying to me that I must miss the massive thing that Sepultura had become. But I have no interest in that side of things. We’d become so big in Sepultura that by the time of ‘Roots’ I almost felt we’d lost sight of what we should have been. There’s too many people around, too much expectation, too much money. That’s one reason we didn’t go for big-name people to join us in this. People would have started talking about a supergroup, and that’s not what this is about.”

“This is a chance for us to play together again in a situation where we can also do our own things,” adds Iggor. “We don’t want to put ourselves under any pressure, just to enjoy it… although Max has already written some mean shit for the second album.”

The pair exchange big grins and the warmth between them is evident. Hammer remarks that they genuinely look happy to be back together again.

“Oh, we are,” smiles Iggor. “But not nearly as happy as our mum.”

Originally published in Metal Hammer issue 177

Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock.