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Max Of All Trades: Cavalera Talks Soulfly, Killer Be Killed And A Life In Metal

Tuesday, 15 July 2014 Written by Alec Chillingworth

There are very few metal musicians who live up to the larger-than-life, monstrously bonkers images they portray on stage. In the real world, Metallica listen to Kasabian, Devin Townsend loves a bit of Enya and Iron Maiden are mates with Lady Gaga.

Beneath the face-painted, bearded exteriors, the pop pleasures lurk, even masking a certain level of disdain towards the genre as a whole in certain cases. But, if our standard bearers will no longer fly the flag, who can possibly save us? Max Cavalera, that’s who.

“I've been listening to Benighted, and there's Wormed from Spain, Psycroptic from Tasmania, Man Must Die from Scotland and Melechesh from Israel,” he said, reeling off just some of the bands currently doing the rounds on his iPod. No messing.

The co-founder of Brazilian thrash legends Sepultura, creator of Soulfly, one half of Cavalera Conspiracy and now a cog in the Killer Be Killed machine, his bands have one common factor: they’re fucking heavy, son.

Cavalera has been representing metal for 30 years and he’s still not done with its distorted, tremolo-picked culture. Not yet. Fresh from unleashing Soulfly’s ‘Savages’ last year and ‘Killer Be Killed’ in April, he has shown no signs of slowing down. He’s already putting the finishing touches to Cavalera Conspiracy’s ‘Pandemonium’ with his brother Igor.

“We have Nate [Newton] from Converge playing bass, which added a lot of killer distortion,” he said. “During the writing of the record, I was really into a lot of heavy stuff like Pig Destroyer, Behemoth, Black Tusk and Nails. All of this stuff filtered into the record, so when I said the new album's a little bit grindcore, it's because it has that grindcore power and influence that I really like. It's very brutal – Igor's playing really fast. It's a powerful record.”

As beautifully dirty as that sounds, metal musicians are forever condemning themselves with this half-arsed rhetoric. But when Max Cavalera tells you something’s going to be heavy…well, it’s going to be heavy. This is the man who brought us ‘Chaos A.D’ and ‘Arise’.

With that said, it must be difficult to have three bands on the go and maintain distance between their respective sounds. “They do sound different from each other,” Cavalera said. “Soulfly's got its own sound, Killer Be Killed is more melodic with help from Troy [Sanders] and Greg [Puciato]. Cavalera is just me and Igor playing the metal that we like.

“Cavalera Conspiracy is the most direct thing I do – Soulfly's got more influences, Killer Be Killed is more melodic but Cavalera Conspiracy is pure, straight to the point metal. I love playing metal with Igor, and I don't want that band to have any outside influences like Soulfly does. It'd be pointless.”

And it’s not like Soulfly have just been peddling the same crap since their inception in 1997, either. Having started out as a quasi nu-metal band, with flourishes of tribal and thrash, the band have since evolved into a hulking beast with more in common with death metal than anything else.

“It naturally changes, it's not forced,” he said. “I just kinda went that way because, for me, the nu-metal scene was not exciting. Stuff like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park was all very commercial and superficial. I like metal. I like the power of metal.”

The shift in style does – inevitably – lead to a shift in popularity. Cavalera no longer packs out Brixton Academy like he did back in the Sepultura days, but through his eyes, that’s a good thing. Having opened for Black Sabbath at Hyde Park a couple of weeks ago, Soulfly have just wrapped up a string of club shows.

“I don't mind playing small places – I love it actually,” he said. “I think it's in small places where legends are made. It was fun playing with Black Sabbath - don't get me wrong, that was a great show - but on our own tour is where you get to see us at our best. We get to be close to the fans, and there's this magic that happens in small places that doesn't happen anywhere else. I love to be part of that. I love playing all of the shitholes in the world, y'know? I'm actually attracted to it. The smellier and shittier they are, the better. I have more fun in those places.”

And that’s the thing – he sounds like he genuinely loves this sort of stuff. This is a guy in his mid-40s, tattooed, dreadlocked, clad in camo trousers and embracing everything that comes with a life in metal. There is a maturity and freedom about him that’s rare. The barrage of guest vocalists on each Soulfly release is testament to the fact - it’s not about ego, but the band.

“It started with Sepultura and it's just carried on,” he said. “For me, it's just fun to work with friends of mine, and to have the privilege to work with people whose bands I'm a fan of is really killer. Tom Araya, David Vincent, Mike Patton...there are so many great people. I'm always thinking about who would be cool to have on the next record: who's going to be interesting, wild and exciting? I look forward to that and I think the fans are excited to find out who's going to be on the next record.

“One of my favourite collaborations was Sean Lennon. We spent a whole week together working on Son Song from the 'Primitive' album. He formed a really cool bond with my kids and we all really liked him a lot. He was not a rock star at all, he didn't have a big head, even with a big name like Lennon. He's a great guy. And I love the song – I think it's a really truthful song about sons losing fathers and how that affects your life.”

Killer Be Killed takes the idea a step further. Featuring members of Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan and the Mars Volta, their debut release remains one of the highlights on the metal calendar this year. But, with all the members originating from high-profile bands, is there actually a future for Killer Be Killed?

“We mentioned that it'd be cool to do a second record at some point,” Cavalera said. “The first album just came out, so that's still quite new. We're gonna try do some European festivals and stuff like that next year. It's hard to find time because I have my bands, Troy has Mastodon and Greg has Dillinger Escape Plan, but hopefully we'll be able to put Killer Be Killed on the road.”

With so many LPs and bands tucked under his belt, is there any point trying to pick a favourite album he’s been involved in? “The most fun album was the Nailbomb album, ‘Point Blank’,” he said, referring to the industrial-thrash crossover he fronted in the mid-90s. “It was just done in a really great way.

“Half of it was done in my house. Me and Alex [Newport] bought a used synthesiser and we just played music in the house, wrote riffs and it was all do it yourself - really punk rock. Then we took it to a studio and made it into a real record, but it's the most fun I ever had recording. That album had no rules – it was pissed off, fuck the world kind of music. Sometimes it's just fun to do that.”

There’s that word again – ‘fun’. For a bloke who sings about cannibals, war and torture, he sure is happy. And why not? Cavalera truly is one of the metal scene’s most consistent, respected and committed members. With three bands on the go, an eye-opening autobiography out on the shelves and a brain jammed full of riffs, he still has so much more to give.

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