Max Cavalera, archangel of metal

Soulfly 2015A little Soufly here, some Killer Be Killed there, a bit of Cavalera Conspiracy, and back to Soulfly – you just can’t stop Max Cavalera. Apparently, the man and his buddies are already planning a second Killer Be Killed record next year, and even some new Cavalera Conspiracy material. Cavalera is insatiable, but that doesn’t mean Archangel, Soulfly’s tenth album, shouldn’t be taken seriously. After all, it was Soulfly that helped him get back to his feet in 1998, after his painful departure from Sepultura.

As he explains in the following interview, he had a hard time and put a lot of pressure on himself. This new album had to be memorable, so naturally he picked the main themes from the Bible, added a certain celebration of metal to the whole thing, and engaged the services of producer Matt Hyde, who tackled the project most effectively.

Max Cavalera tells us all about Archangel, its conception, its themes, and its state of mind, as well as the importance of Soulfly in his life, since the band allows him all the freedom in the world and, according to him, « pushes back the limits of metal ».

Soulfly 2015

« At the beginning metal got us out of Brazil, out of the violence, out of the bad ways. So you could say that metal saved my life. »

Radio Metal: Last time we spoke, the last thing you told me was: « The tenth record is a big number for us and I am going to work real hard on this new Soulfly record. » So, how hard did you work on Archangel?

Max Cavalera (vocals/guitar): Pretty hard. We really went a bit out of our comfort zone and reach a high level of stress making Archangel, but for good results I think. It was not really a fun record to make because it was very stressful. It took a lot for us to make this kind of record but it’s good now that it’s done. Now that we can hear the result, I think it was the right album to make. So I’m very excited for this album!

Why was it so stressful?

Well, just because we tried to do something different from what we had before, not making the same record. That’s always hard. In the other hand, we had a couple of challenges like making a song like “We Sold Our Souls To Metal”. It’s a very simple song, so you’ve got be careful not to become generic. The hardest songs on the album were the simple songs, in order to make something exciting out of it. But I think we did it. I listen to the album now and I’m very happy of the way it came out. I like the blending of some of the topics; metal topics blended with biblical topics. I’ll tell you why I think it’s cool: because I think metal is a religion for us, so it’s all connected. So even the biblical themes match the metal themes. It’s all part of a… A bit of a spiritual kind of record but in a really metal way.

Did you actually have in mind the importance and the symbolic of it being the tenth album during the whole process?

Yeah! That was in my head all the time! [Laughs] That never went away. Writing the first riff, I was like: “Okay, this has to be good, this has to be different, this has to be powerful, this has to be exotic! Oh shit… Here we go again!” So that’s why I say it wasn’t really fun to make it. It was more stressful trying to get it right but the results are good. I compare Archangel a bit to the first Soulfly album that was not a fun album to make, it was a difficult album to make but it’s a fun album to listen to because good stuff comes out of it. But on a creative aspect, it’s not fun to make this kind of record. For me, it was much more fun to make the Killer Be Killed record. If want an example of fun record to make, Killer Be Killed was fun. Archangel was not fun. But the result is really good, so I’m happy with that!

Do you think it’s worth being the tenth record?

Yeah, I think, from the exotic and mystic point of view, it was the best approach I found for the tenth record. The idea and the topics of the album were the best I could think of for the tenth record. So I think on that aspect, it’s safe to say that I probably made the right choice for the album.

With it clocking at only 36 minutes, Archangel is the shortest Soulfly album so far. Although it’s still has a lot of experimental elements, did you want it to be concise and to the point?

Yeah. I didn’t want to let things drag too much… If a song is good, let’s cut it off and get to the next one. It doesn’t need to have the verse repeated three times and the chorus four times. Trim all the fat, make it to the point. I think the tribal stuff has been replaced on this album by biblical sounds and stuff that me and Matt [Hyde] did together which is like… I don’t even know how to call this… I guess biblical sounds is the best description but I think it comes out of keyboards. Matt did it all. I was just giving him examples of what I wanted to do on the intros, outros, etc. Inside some of the songs there are some horns, some cool chants, etc. Those are what replaced the tribal elements from the past and I think that kind of cool. It might be interesting to do a tribal biblical album! Maybe I’ll try that next! [Chuckles]

Soulfly - Archangel

« I think that’s the freedom that sometimes some metal bands don’t have. They become so serious about whatever they’re doing that it’s not fun anymore. »

Do you think, in general, that it’s harder to make a short interesting song than a long song that allows you maybe more freedom?

Yeah because with short songs, you have to be careful because by being so simple, it’s almost on the border of generic. You don’t want generic. You want to be good and exciting but with simplicity; a simple fast song. It takes more time for me to work on a song like “We Sold Our Souls To Metal” than a longer and bigger song like “Archangel” or “Titans”. I worked more on “We Sold Our Souls To Metal” to get in right. But at the end of the day, we got it right, especially with the ending that’s kind of psychedelic. It became a cool song! I’m excited for that. We’ve be playing that one live and the reaction’s been amazing during this tour. So, judging from the reaction of the crowd that we’re getting right now, it’ll be a really good record.

I know you’re a Slayer fan, and Slayer’s classic albums are known to be very short and efficient. Were these, perhaps unconsciously, a reference to you while making Archangel?

Well… No, I wasn’t timing the album when I was making it. So, the reason it came out shorter was just maybe accidental. It wasn’t done on purpose. I just knew that some of the old Soulfly albums are really long. The first one is like an hour and ten minutes, it’s a really long record and I didn’t wanna make a really, really long album. I wanted to make something that people can actually listen to all the way through. Archangel is only half an hour. Anybody can devote half an hour of the day to check our record. So that kind of a nice thing about it.

The album brutally begins with the metal anthem called « We Sold Our Souls To Metal », which is a big statement in itself. What does metal represent to you, actually?

Really, everything. If you wanna get really philosophical about it, you can say that metal saved my life. Which it did, given all the choices that I was facing when I was a teenager, it could be drugs and crimes… Of course later in life I came back to drugs and drinking but at the beginning of it, it got us out of Brazil, out of the violence, out of the bad ways. So you could say that metal saved my life. I can say that!

You said that the ending of the song reminded you of Pink Floyd and that you didn’t know why you did it like that and still didn’t know if it was the right thing. Is experimenting always very instinctive for you?

Yes! Ending of songs have always been for me a real curiosity… Like, in the end of “Prophecy”, it goes into this ultimate double bass brutal ending and I remember one of my friends hearing it for the first time, he loved it, he said it was the coolest ending because “Prophecy” was pretty much a rock song, with a rock beat, but the ending of it was unpredictable and it was all double bass and brutality. So I’ve always been intrigued by ending of songs. [I like] having at the end of the song something that’s totally different from the way it started. When we were doing “We Sold Our Souls To Metal”, we had the bass break down part and the song’s really punk because the riff on the chorus is pretty much a punk riff, it could have been a Black Flag riff. And then Marc [Rizzo] came up with all this crazy guitars that sounded like real technical later Death albums, like Symbolic, but to me it sounded like Pink Floyd, actually. So I said: “This shit sounds like Pink Floyd! But it’s cool! It’s been going from a metal song to a Pink Floyd ending, it’s perfect! It’s actually awesome! [Laughs] Let’s keep that! It’s crazy enough for me and it should be crazy enough for the rest of the world!”

Do you this is how we actually end up innovating, by doing things we’re kind of uncertain of?

Yeah, that’s the freedom of metal that, I think, should exist. In the past, I did things like that, even going back to the Seputlura years, like recording in a castle in Wales a song about a Brazilian tribe (note : the song “Kaiowas”), which is a total crazy and absurd idea but it’s cool! We need more of that. I think that’s the freedom that sometimes some metal bands don’t have. They become so serious about whatever they’re doing that it’s not fun anymore. For me, it’s still fun to go into different areas of experimentation. I’m not afraid of it, you know. It’s actually really rewarding when you find something different with your music at the end of the tunnel, like something quite surprising and quite fresh and new. That’s always rewarding.

Soulfly 2015

« [About the OLd Testament] That book is just hardcore, man! When you read about Sodom, Abraham and Bethlehem, it’s all bad shit! [Laughs] It’s a bad book! But it’s full of good stuff for metal! »

There’s also some experimenting with your voice (like the incantations on “Shamash”). And you did also experiment on the last Cavalera Conspiracy album with some very deep growls. Are you at a point in your life where you wanna explore more what you can do with your voice?

Yeah, those are things we end up doing in the studio. You know, I have the Max voice that I’m very happy with but it’s a bit limited. I want to see what else can I do with it. In the Cavalera album, I tried to go as lower as I could possibly go and it was borderline death metal. And on the Soulfly record, because of the religious themes, the Biblical themes, I talked to Matt Hyde about creating some chants. He told me that he thought that, actually, underneath all the [17:13 – growls] in my voice, there’s some really cool melodic tones that he could explore if I wanted to. So we did that! And we created the chants ourselves instead of… We could have easily used the sounds from a sample taken from YouTube or something, but it was more fun to create those ourselves. Everything that you do by yourself is more fun than just ripping off a computer or a keyboard. If you can do it yourself, you should try to do it yourself.

You called this album exotic, mystic and biblical. And the album features songs about the destruction of Sodom, the war of the Titans, the Akkadian god of the sun, the Babylonian queen Ishtar, etc. What kind of relationship do you have to those stories?

I try to read a lot of book about those and I watch a lot of documentaries and a lot of History Channel, they always have great biblical shows. Especially the Old Testament, it’s very bloody, you know. That book is just hardcore, man! When you read about Sodom, Abraham and Bethlehem, it’s all bad shit! [Laughs] It’s a bad book! But it’s full of good stuff for metal! I like reading Old Testament but also other cultures like Babylonian, Akkadian, Mesopotamian, etc. Those all interest me. I don’t know why. I can’t explain why. I have a fascination with it just like I have a fascination for army pants! You know, I like camouflage pants, I don’t why. I just like them. I’m not a military guy. I’m actually an anti-war guy but I like to wear camouflage military gear. I don’t understand that! Something must have happened. Maybe I was soldier in another life, I don’t know.

Do you draw parallels with the current world in these stories?

Yeah, of course. You can say that the tsunami that happened is southern Asia could be a new version of Sodom and Gomorrah destruction. There’s things that you can see as similar. Especially now that, I think, we’re living in Armageddon or Apocalyptic times, like it’s said in the Bible, we’re living in those times right now. So there’s gonna be more crazy stuff happening in the world, we’ve gotta be prepared for it!

Has the song “Mother Of Dragons” anything to do with Game Of Thrones?

Actually that name wasn’t taken from Game Of Thrones. People were actually calling my wife that because she gave birth to Zyon, Igor and Richie and they’re saying that she’s the mother of dragons! So the song is kind of a dedication for her and that’s why I’ve had Richie and Igor singing on it, and we have a girl from my Iran, Anahid, also singing on it. And the Iran thing is a little bit more complicated: we are trying to make a bridge between metal in the western world and metal in the Islamic world. I hope that more people get involved and hopefully the bridge will grow in the middle east metal scene. But I am a fan of the show Game Of Thrones, I do watch it. This song didn’t start from that but it does share that name “Mother Of Dragons” from Game Of Thrones. So it’s kind of a cool coincidence. It’s fun to write songs that… You know, like I said: in metal there are no rules! We create the rules. So we can sing about whatever we want. You can make an album about Breaking Bad if you want to! It can be amazing and really cool! There are no rules. We create the rules.

Speaking of guests, can you tell me more about the other guests on this album?

There are two official guests. There’s Todd [Jones] from Nails on “Sodomites”. Nails’ a band that I really like, it’s a new band but really, really great, one of the heaviest bands right now. And Matt [Young] from King Parrot is on “Live Life Hard!” King Parrot is a band from Australia, it’s kind of a party band, really crazy on the stage. I watched them when they played in Phoenix and I met them in Australia. They’re connected with Phil Anselmo, they’re on his record label. And then there are my kids and Anahid on “Mother Of Dragons”. And that’s about it. Archangel’s got some newer collaboration bands. Nails and King Parrot are the new generation of heavy metal that’s coming out right now that for me is really important.

Soulfly 2015

« When I created Soulfly, I said: “Fuck everything! I’m gonna do whatever I want! People don’t like? Well, fuck ‘em! I don’t care.” But to my surprise, Soulfly was actually really well received by the fans. »

Archangel is the second Soulfly album for your son Zyon as the drummer of the band. I know you considered having him joining the band as a risk and that you worked very closely with him on the Savages album. How did his work and you collaboration evolved on Archangel compared to Savages?

It was really good watching him develop. I knew he was kind of like a beast live, like a wild animal. I love that energy that he plays live with and told Matt Hyde that we had to capture that live energy because I didn’t think it was captured on Savages. It needed to be captured. I think that’s what Matt did on Archangel was very smart, he made Zyon be as comfortable as possible but at the same time he really was like a drill sergeant. He expected Zyon not go the easy way out. When there was double bass, he had to do them. Zyon tried to get out of it, he tried to say: “No, I can do the easy drum beat.” And Matt said: “No! The easy drum beat is not the right drum beat. The double bass is the right drum beat.” So he had to do the hard way! [Chuckles] But I think in the end it was for the good of the recording and he became a better drummer. After the recording of Archangel he’s a better drummer than he’s ever been.

What were you looking for when you chose to work with Matt Hyde on the production rather than continuing with Terry Date or returning to self-production as you did with many Soulfly albums in the past?

Matt worked with my son Richie’s band Incite. Richie really loved it and told me how much Matt pushed him and the band to try different things. I wanted to get somebody like that involved for our tenth album. I knew I couldn’t… I could to do it by myself and I wanted to but it was going to be really hard to get something special out of it, so I needed an extra help. I think Matt Hyde was the perfect guy for this album because he really tries different approaches and different things. In the end we got a different album the way we wanted. A lot of it actually has to do with Matt Hyde’s way of recording; it’s really cool and unusual. It makes it feel very easy to work with him but at the same time, he demands a lot from you, which is really, really good. He’s a very experienced guy. He worked on Slayer’s God Hates Us All, with No Doubt and Porno For Pyros, he already won a Grammy, etc. He doesn’t have anything to prove but he knows that he’s an amazing producer. I put the project in his hands and trust him entirely to come out with something good and special. At the end of the day, I also found out that he loved the biblical themes. He helped me a little bit with the [35:16 – Kabbalah] in the album, he knew a lot more about it than me. We ended up becoming this great team in the studio that worked together on the record, trying to make the best record possible.

Bass player Tony Campos left Soulfly just a few month ago to join Fear Factory. Can you tell me more about the circumstances of his departure?

Yeah, Fear Factory was a band that Tony wanted to join for a long time. We love the guy. We worked a lot with him but he was always involved with other things, like Ministry, Possessed, etc. So it wasn’t a total surprise for me when he left. It was something that I kind of saw coming because he was busy with other bands all the time. In fact there were some tours that he couldn’t do because he was with Ministry or other bands. But, you know, we’re still great friends and I have nothing but good things to say about the guy. Having him in Soulfly was a blessing and, hopefully, maybe our paths are gonna cross in the future again. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen.

He’s been replaced since then by your other son Igor Cavalera Jr. After Zyon, was getting Igor in Soulfly the next logical step to have your two sons with you? Especially since, as you told us in the past, you have a great interaction with Igor as death metal fans…

Right. Well, you know, it just happened like that… You know, I’m very excited but, at the same time, I know they got their own band Lody Kong and I think that they’ll do well with it. So they’re not gonna end up staying with Soulfly. This is just momentary. But it’s really fun and I should enjoy as much as I can because I knows that it’s not gonna last a long time. Eventually they’re gonna have to go back to their own band and I’m gonna have to find other people to replace them. But for the moment it’s been really, really great!

Soulfly 2015

« Maybe that’s why I’m here: to push the boundaries of metal. »

Archangel is your tenth album with Soulfly. But let’s go back a little bit in time: what was your state of mind in 1998, right after you left Sepultura and when you were just about to release the first Soulfly album?

Not so good, you know. Right after I left Sepultura, I wanted to stop playing music altogether. I didn’t want to have anything to do with music anymore. I was just really disappointed. Sepultura was my band that I created and named it, and I was no longer a part of it. I went into a big depression. Eventually I came out of it and wrote some songs. When I wrote “Eye For An Eye”, it was a real big song on that album and it opened the doors for the future. I saw what the future could be, and I saw the future of Soulfly as something that I could actually be happy with again, with music. And I am! There’s so much freedom in Soulfly that it’s amazing! I can do whatever I want with this group, there’s no limit. I love that! I love the fact that we can put a Russian song if we want, we can put an African song, and it’ll still be Soulfly. That kind of freedom, you don’t get to do that every day, it doesn’t happen all the time, but it did start with the first record. I think that first record was very, very important in the creation of Soulfly.

How can you explain that you had more freedom in Soulfly than you had before?

Yeah, because even in Sepultura there was always a big category we were framed into. Even though we tried all the time to get out of box as much as we could, with stuff like “Kaiowas”, “Itsári”, the New Model Army cover “The Hunt”, etc. just to show the fans that we listen and like other things, it still felt very controlled sometimes. When I created Soulfly, I said: “Fuck everything! I’m gonna do whatever I want! People don’t like? Well, fuck ‘em! I don’t care.” But to my surprise, Soulfly was actually really well received by the fans. So I was very excited about that.

If we compare the first Soulfly album to Archangel, both are quite different and this difference show how your state of mind as a musician and songwriter has evolved over the years. With hindsight, how do you view and explain the evolution of Soulfly over the course of ten albums?

I think it’s been really amazing that we could stretch out like that and make records that are very different from each other, like Soulfly I and Primitive are more tribal kind of records and then you have thrash stuff like Soulfly 3 and Prophecy. But then, Prophecy started the experimentation with world music, and going to different parts of the world to record, like Serbia and Russia. And we continued on Dark Ages and Conquer. And then, a great experiment to me was Enslaved. The only thing I didn’t like about Enslaved was the album cover. I wish I had a different one, but you can’t have all that you want all the time. One of the few thing that I wish was different was the Enslaved album cover and also Soulfly 3 should have been called Downstroy, that’s the original name of the record and I don’t know why I changed it to Soulfly 3 – it was stupid. Apart from that, I just see Soulfly as a band that really stretched out and had tried a lot of different things, inside metal, to keep metal exciting. Maybe that’s why I’m here: to push the boundaries of metal. I think there’s more to do and I will continue doing it.

The tour you did with Soulfly last October had the particularity to not feature any Sepultura song and even now there seems to be fewer Sepultura songs in your setlist than in the past. Is it important for you at this point to distance a little bit Soulfly from Sepultura?

Yeah because I think Soulfly’s got its own identity. It’s its own monster and it has its own fans. Right now I’m only playing two Sepultura songs, “Refuse/Resist” and “Roots Bloody Roots”, and it’s really because I think some of the fans still wanna hear some of the classics with my voice. But I did some of the tours without anything, with only Soufly. And I have so much material, you know! With ten records, there are so many songs to play that I don’t really need Sepultura songs. But I think having two songs is good. It’s not a lot but it’s still part of the repertoire. It keeps a good setlist. We have a really good setlist right now. We’re playing songs from every record, at least one song from each album. It feels really good!

And during the tour in October, wasn’t the audience a bit upset not to hear songs like “Roots Bloody Roots” or “Refuse/Resist”?

No, not that I noticed! I mean, nobody wanted their money back [laughs]. There was none of that, so it was good!

Interview conducted by phone 13th, july 2015 by Nicolas Gricourt.
Retranscription: Nicolas Gricourt.
Promo pics: Hannah Verbeuren.

Soulfly Official website: www.soulfly.com.

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