It’s 1994 – 10 years after George Orwell predicted social meltdown and legalised terrorism. And where does the music industry stand? In complete confusion. Kurt Cobain has just put a shotgun to Nirvana’s career and sent grunge spiralling towards nostalgia.
What was needed was a musical tirade that would shake the shit out of the obese metal underground. It came as Nailbomb. And when they exploded, all preconceptions were shredded and the agenda for nu-metal set. Their debut – and to date only – album, Point Blank, was a blast of de-tuned, dysfunctional anger. There was a genuine fury here that combined metal, hardcore and industrial. Music for the blanked generation.
“We met when Fudge Tunnel supported Sepultura on the European leg of one of our tours,” recalls Max. “I was already a fan of what Alex did with Fudge Tunnel, and when I found out he lived in Phoenix – which is where I live – it seemed natural for us to get together to play some music and write some songs.”
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At first, the pair had no intention of doing anything other than play with their ideas. But Cavalera’s wife/manager Gloria got involved.
“She’s one of the big surprises in all of this, because I never thought Gloria would have any interest in what we were doing,” says Max. “But he was the one who pushed the two of us into turning this into a record, and got us the deal with Roadrunner. I always maintain that Gloria was the brains behind what we did then.”
Suddenly, what was just a bit of fun between two musicians who shared a similar love of underground sounds, took on a more serious air.
“We were genuinely excited by the thought of going into the studio,” explains the guitarist. “That may sound a bit odd when anywhere can be turned into a studio. But back in 1994, it was all very different. I guess that Alex and I took different views on the record. He was the knob twiddler, the real producer. What did I do? Fuck shit up, and get real drunk. In fact, there were times when I was so drunk that I don’t actually remember doing things. One day, I’d gone through a whole bottle of rum by 4pm. Alex wasn’t impressed – and complained to Gloria.”
Principle influences on Nailbomb were bands like Ministry and Godflesh. But there were distinct differences in the way the two men involved approached music.
“Alex was more into samples than I was,” says Max. “To me, it should have had a live feel in the studio. I was into the hardcore of bands like Discharge, and I could never imagine them being ruled by machines. So, we came to the understanding that there would be a mix of both on the album. That’s the reason we got in Igor [Cavalera, drums] and Andreas [Kisser, guitar] from Sepultura, plus Dino Cazares of Fear Factory [on guitar] and Ritchie Bujnowski, the guitarist with a band called Wicked Death. We got the live feel sorted, and Alex also got to put in those samples. The combination worked well.”
Newport also came up with something of a surprise approach for the chorus to the song Sum Of Your Achievements.
“I was in Wales working on the mixes for the Chaos AD record with Andy Wallace. Alex was in Phoenix doing the Nailbomb record, when he realised that he needed me to do the chorus for the song. He called me up, and asked when I could do it, but I wasn’t due to go back home for a while. Now, this was in the time before MP3s and emails really existed. So, Alex suggested what seemed to us to be a novel solution – that I sang the stuff down the phone! It was a crazy idea, but it worked. Mind you, it was a little odd. I was screaming my guts out down the phone, while all these ‘normal’ people, like chefs, were wandering past. I don’t know what they made of me.
“At the time, Alex and I thought we’d done something new with the phone chorus. We only found out later that the Bad Brains had done it first,” says Max referring to Bad Brains’ ‘Sacred Love’ from their ‘I Against I’ album which singer HR had to record by phone from jail.
The Point Blank album was released in early 1994, and immediately blew up a storm, with its unaffected vitriolic blast furnace emotion. It was, moreover, a record that seemed to delight the label.
“Despite what we were doing not being commercial Roadrunner never interfered. On the contrary, they let us get on with things. The only problem they seemed to have was with the photo we used on the cover [an Oriental peasant with a gun pressed against her temple]. I found that in a book – we went through lots of books looking for appropriate images – but some of the people at the record company were a little freaked out by it. But we insisted that had to be the image.”
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If Cavalera was responsible for the sleeve photo, then it was Newport who came up with the title for the project.
“I had never heard of a Nailbomb, until he mentioned it. Once he’d explained what it did, the idea that we were musically doing something similar appealed to me.”
Exactly why the pair decided to make Point Blank the album title is lost in the mists of time. Even Cavalera cannot actually recall the logic.
“That wasn’t our first choice, actually. We were gonna make the title ‘1000 Percent Hate’, but then it got changed along the line. We also had a great idea for a sticker to go on the sleeve. It was gonna read: ‘Now with 10 per cent more hate than any other record.’ It was a piss-take on all those consumer goods that seem to boast they’ve got more caffeine or whatever than the rivals. I can’t remember why that idea got dropped – it’s just so cool.”
Both Cavalera and Newport were sure the album was to be a never-to-be-repeated one-off. They never saw themselves as a band, and were ready to move on, having hammered their brutality straight through the dormant cerebellum of the music business. But a year later they got an offer that they simply could not refuse. And it was nothing to do with money.
“We were asked to play at the Dynamo Festival in Eindhoven, Holland in June 1995. It was the biggest Dynamo ever – over 100,000 were there. Now, we had agreed not to turn this into a regular band and tour [see box, left], but we felt that this was a one-off, and therefore it didn’t count as breaking our word. Actually, we did two shows, as we played a club gig the night before, just to warm up.
“We decided that this had to be an event, not merely a gig. So we got loads of people involved with it. The list is enormous: Evan Seinfeld from Biohazard, Dave Edwardson of Neurosis, DH Peligro from the Dead Kennedys, Rhys Fulber of Front Line Assembly... it was amazing. And the gig was incredible. Eventually, it came out as a live album, Proud To Commit Commercial Suicide, and a DVD [Live At The Dynamo] as well. The strange thing is that we didn’t know at the time that anyone was recording or filming the show. I don’t even remember seeing any cameras at any point!”
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Newport and Cavalera decided to record an unusual bonus studio track for the live album, one that involved a prank phone call.
“I called up a friend of mine, Danny Marianino, the frontman with a band called the North Side Kings. When he answered, I just acted like a psycho, whispering things about getting him. It was freaky. Now, if someone had tried it with me, I’d have hung up in about a second flat. But Danny kept on for about a minute saying, ‘Who’s there? Who is this?’ And then his Italian blood got the better of him, and he said, ‘Come on tough guy, show me what you’ve got!’ At which point I hung up... and the song starts!
“It was only when he heard the track, While You Sleep, I Destroy Your World, that Danny realised what had actually happened. We never told him before he heard it. The strange thing is that he was our second choice for the prank call – I was gonna do it to Gloria’s parents, but they weren’t actually at home!”
Released in October 1995, Proud To Commit Commercial Suicide marked the end of Nailbomb’s career, barely 18 months after it had begun. Cavalera and Newport have resisted big money offers to reunite (though the former played Point Blank in full on Soulfly’s 2017 tour, with Max’s son Igor Jr stepping in for his erstwhile bandmate). Today, Point Blank represents a project whose inspiration still resonates down the years, amazing even one of the people involved.
“I am really surprised at how Nailbomb has remained so important to many people,” says Max. “In fact, I would say that, in some ways, it’s even bigger than ever. I think what we did captured the pure spirit of two people who had no qualms about really ditching all restraints. We had a lot to say, and were determined to shock people.”
Published in Metal Hammer #143