Cavalera Conspiracy are finally to tour Australia in 2012.
Some years ago, I was pleased to find myself writing music interviews for Live to Ride, a motorcycle magazine with scantily clad hot chicks draped over cool bikes (I include that last phrase to aid random google hits to this blog post). I was mainly talking to metal musos, and wasn't particularly into metal – but when the dude from the record label would ask the musos which interview they enjoyed most, more often than not, they'd name mine. I think it was because I just love a chat. And, not knowing much about metal, asked them questions they weren't often asked.
One such occasion was this chat with Max Cavalera in 2008, when he and brother Igor  first patched up their friendship and decided to collaborate once again. And now they're returning to Australia, so it's as good a time as any to put this interview on my blog.
“I lied to him,” Max confesses. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, I got plenty of material already written. I’ve got ten songs.’ It was a big lie. The next morning I looked at my wife Gloria and I said, ‘I’m in big trouble. I better write some f*cking music – I don't have any!”
Max Cavalera is coming clean about the reunion with his brother Igor in the project that became Cavalera Conspiracy. It’s a pretty big deal: some 12 years ago, Max walked away from Sepultura – not just the heavy metal band he fronted on guitar and vocals, but the band he’d founded with Igor. When Max walked, he turned his back on his brother as well as the band. There are few things that’ll make a man walk away from his life’s work and his own blood. Yep, that’s right, there was a woman involved: Gloria Cavalera, the band’s soon-to-be former manager. Who also happened to be married to the person soon to become the band’s former guitarist and vocalist. But we’re not allowed to talk about that – on pain of the interview being terminated. Rather than the break-up, we’re here to discuss the reunion, which is a good thing. However bitterly the brothers parted, the fact that they’ve made amends – and meant it – is apparent in the solid, full-on album that resulted: Inflikted.
“It was great, man,” Max says of recording the album. “Playing with Igor again was such a great feeling of relief and excitement. We were hungry to make the music and we went right into it.”
Well, not right into it. First there was a ‘break the ice’ jam, which began with covers before turning to Sepultura classics. They didn’t get very far. “We played half of one song,” Max says, “‘Territory’,” – the big single from 1993 album Chaos A.D. – “and Igor just stopped and said, ‘Okay, enough of this sh*t; let’s make the f*cking record then’. That was the attitude I needed to hear. Forget about the past, go with the future, you know?”
So after the ‘break the ice’ jam, a brief ‘shit – I got no songs’ panic was inevitable. But, says Max, it was ultimately “no problem”:
“I was so excited that I would write for 24 hours, man – riff, riff, riff – just throwing all kinds of riffs. I sent these to Igor in Brazil – something I never did before with anybody – so Igor could check out the things I was doing and give me feedback. He called back from Brazil: ‘I love the riffs. I’m ready. Let’s do this.’”
To recap, ‘sepultura’ is Portuguese for ‘grave’, and was inspired as a band name by Max Cavalera’s translation of the Motörhead song ‘Dancing on Your Grave’. The band came into being in 1984 in Brazil after the death of Max and Igor’s Italian diplomat father, Graciliano. “My dad was very family-oriented,” Max recalls. “He had strong plans for us to follow him into diplomatic careers. If he had not died, we would not have been musicians.”
Life changed dramatically after the death. “We were living pretty good in Sao Paulo – Brazil’s biggest city – while my dad was making money. After he died, we had to live in a shack out the back of my grandmother’s house in another city. Me and Igor were like, ‘What happened? Our lives got fucked up so fast!’ We were angry; we were poor. It was very depressing.” Metal music offered an outlet. And, unexpectedly, a way out, as Sepultura pretty much pioneered the sub-genre of ‘death metal’.
“I remember my mother saying, ‘You guys are wasting your time. You’re not jazz musicians, you’re not classical musicians; you’re just playing by ear.’ We proved her wrong!” If it was a surprise to Mama Cavalera that Brazilian kids could become well-respected metal musos, it was as much of a shock to the rest of the world that well-respected metal musos could come from Brazil.
“So many people were blown away,” Max concurs. “Doing interviews for America, for Europe – all they knew about Brazil was football and nice girls and samba and coffee. We came with death metal. It was a different Brazil to the tourist Brazil.”
Twelve years after he started the band, Max left it. By this time the initial death/thrash metal combo had expanded its remit to include hardcore punk and industrial noise. Max went on to form a new band, Soulfly, which would extend the remit further still, to groove metal, Brazilian tribal music and world music.
“It was as though someone had said to me, ‘There’s so much more in metal you can do – you don’t have to copy them, you can invent sh*t’. And I did, man.”
Naturally, with growth, there should be change. Why the changes seem to take place in 12-year cycles for Max Cavalera is anybody’s guess. But it’s 2008 and time to work out what to do with his and Igor’s reunion. First item on the agenda: what should they call it? It couldn’t be ‘Sepultura’ – by this stage, Igor had also quit that band.
“And it should not be Soulfly because Soulfly is a different beast I’d already established,” Max reasons. “I don't think Igor’d be comfortable. He’s a real creative guy, the best thing would be to start fresh, from Ground Zero up – a new chapter.” The argument was convincing enough for Igor and created the perfect situation for Max. “Soulfly is a lot on my shoulder all the time, whereas Conspiracy is not. That’s the way we worked in Sepultura – everybody had his own role and did it the best he could. It works great for the Conspiracy.”
Once they got stuck into the music, it was as though the twelve year sabbatical – of their collaboration and their brotherhood – had never taken place. Well, musically, that was the case.
“Personally,” says Max, “it was a little different. It took me a little while to get used to Igor. We’ve changed a little bit. But musically, it was automatic. When me and Igor get our instruments, people were noticing even our faces changing – we put our ‘war face’ on. During soundcheck, Igor’s entire face changes – it’s quite amazing. You don’t want to f*ck with him at that time. He’s a very intense drummer, man. Intense and provocative. You have to be really on your toes. You don’t fuck around with him. But I love that about playing with Igor. It’s one of the things that I missed.”
Inflikted is itself an intense and provocative album, brimful of righteous anger. The opener is the title track and it begins with a siren. “It’s like the war has started,” says Max, who initially had trouble accepting the siren – created for an earlier Soulfly project by bass player Marc Rizzo – was executed on guitar, rather than a sample. “That siren is very unique,” Max explains, “better than some guitarists’ solos. When you hear that, you’d better run!”
The track ‘Nevertrust’, following the peaceful and gorgeous acoustic play-out of previous track ‘Bloodbrawl’, is an extreme punk follow-up to John Lennon’s ‘God’, albeit seeking this time to systematically destroy everything rather than merely denounce it. From nihilism to total annihilation. “It’s about the things around us that we can’t trust,” says Max, citing “cops” and “the President”.
One of my favourite tracks is ‘Terrorize’, featuring a funky, percussive introduction that a foreboding, low drone – accompanied by that siren again – inevitably dispels. The drumming comes from traditional Brazilian carnival music. “I first heart Igor do that during a soundcheck in Arizona. It’s not samba – it comes from old, old folk music. But once the guitar starts, it’s all over.”
Is that a statement about village life coming to an end as a result of modern politics? 
“I never looked at it like that, but it’s a very cool coincidence. The world today, with globalization: folk music being slaughtered by future music, by technology…”
Perhaps the most important song on the album is ‘Black Ark’, about Dana Wells, Max Cavalera’s “murdered” stepson. Dana died in a car accident, under questionable circumstances. His mother, Gloria Cavalera, filed a ‘wrongful death’ lawsuit against passengers who survived the accident but claim no recollection of it. That this occurred in 1996, the year that Gloria and Max ceased working with Sepultura, may be significant… but again, the renion is far more important to discuss than the breakup. Particularly in this instance, since Dana’s brother Richie joins Stepdad Max and Uncle Igor to provide vocals.
“We felt inviting Richie would make Dana proud,” Max beams. “It would be exciting to include the family and it would be really special, with the reunion. Richie was great. I’m really very proud that he was part of it.” As ever the Cavaleras cope with family tragedy by making passionate music.
One quirky aspect of Max’s is his insistence that all of his albums – at least with his earliest work with Soulfly, ‘have colours’: Soulfly 1 was green; Primitive was yellow; 3, “like the earth”, was brown; Prophecy
was gold; and Dark Ages was, suitably, black.
“Inflikted is black and red,” he says, “the voodoo colours for war. It’s a pretty heavy album, and it has the most powerful voodoo spirit around.”
1. At the time of writing, Igor Cavalera had decided to change the spelling of his first name to ‘Iggor’ – apparently for no other reason than it looks better – and that’s how it appeared in this article at the time of publication.
2. More significant now than when first written, seeing as – it turns out – Brazil does boast some of the last ‘uncontacted tribes’… that we know about. Or at least did; more recently, one such tribe disappeared and nobody really knows what happened to it.