Sepultura’s founding siblings, Max and Iggor Cavalera, reunite to produce a militant noise that revisits their bloody roots
By Jon Wiederhorn
Photo by Angela Boatwright
The first seven months of 1996 were an amazing time for brothers Max and Iggor Cavalera, the founders of influential Brazilian death/thrash band Sepultura. In February of that year, the band released its sixth album, Roots, a bludgeoning tribal disc that reached No. 27 on the Billboard album charts. The album represented the group’s long-overdue infiltration of the mainstream music market after 12 long years spent pounding the pavement of the metal underground. Sepultura supported the gold record with a successful run on Ozzfest’s main stage, then headed to Europe. That’s when everything turned to shit.
On August 16 at 1:43 A.M., Max’s 21-year-old stepson, Dana Wells, was killed in a car accident in Phoenix, Arizona. At the time, Sepultura were in England with Ozzy Osbourne, and after hearing the news, Ozzy and Sharon hired a private plane to shuttle Cavalera and his wife and manager, Gloria, back home.
“It was the most horrifying thing I’d experienced since my dad’s death,” says Max, still pained by the memory. “Being around my wife, who had just lost a kid, was pure hell. You can’t even imagine.”
After the funeral, Max returned his focus to Sepultura, and the band resumed its European tour. Then, on December 16 at London’s Brixton Academy, Max received a second crushing blow. Following a scorching sold-out show that was captured on the live album Under a Pale Grey Sky, Iggor, guitarist Andreas Kisser, and bassist Paulo Jr. told Max they wanted to replace numerous members of the band’s staff, including Gloria.
“I was not down with that at all,” Max explains. “I felt like they were biting the hands that feeds. Gloria worked for us for two years without earning one dollar, man—just for the passion of the music. So I said, ‘If this is how it’s going down, I’m out. I quit. I can’t just put a mask on and backstab a bunch of people that trust me.’ It was the worst decision I had to make in my life.”
Not only did the decision hobble Sepultura at their prime, it caused a 10-year feud between the Cavalera brothers. Suddenly siblings who had not only escaped the slums of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, but had also spearheaded one of the most fiercely innovative and popular metal bands in the world weren’t talking to one another. Over the ensuing decade of total silence between the Cavaleras, Max formed a new band, Soulfly, which released five albums and recently recorded its sixth, and Iggor (until recently spelled ‘Igor’—he claims his mom suggested the change) pressed on with Sepultura, appearing on the group’s next four studio records before leaving in January 2006 to work on his DJ project, Mixhell, and spend more time with his family.
Then, out of nowhere, the Cavalera feud came to an end. In July 2006, while Soulfly was on tour, Max received an unexpected call from his brother, and by the end of the conversation, Max had invited Iggor to visit him in Phoenix for the tenth anniversary of D-Low, an annual memorial show for Dana. At the concert, the drummer joined Soulfly for emotional renditions of “Roots” and “Attitude” (the lyrics of which were written by Dana). The next day, Max suggested they begin a new project after Soulfly finished touring. A year later, the Cavalera Conspiracy made their live debut opening for Soulfly at the 2007 D-Low concert, and a week after that, Max and Iggor entered Undersea Studio in Los Angeles with Soulfly guitarist Marc Rizzo, Gojira bassist Joe Duplantier, and producer Logan Mader (ex-Soulfly, ex-Machine Head), and started creating songs out of a batch of riffs Max had written over the previous few months.
The fruit of their labor, Inflikted (Roadrunner), is an explosive flashback to the remorseless thrash and primal groove-metal Sepultura created between 1991’s Arise and 1993’s Chaos A.D. Although the songs were arranged and recorded quickly, Inflikted sounds neither hastily executed nor incomplete. There’s an almost telekinetic connection between Max’s riffing and Iggor’s drumming—the kind of chemistry that comes only from musicians who learned to play together and honed their craft through years of studio sessions and live shows. The songs are raw and simple, yet graced with syncopated drum runs, experimental guitar flourishes, and sonic frills inspired by Max’s love of reggae and Iggor’s fascination with DJ culture. The vocals are primal and savage, emboldened by a sense of urgency that’s equal parts desperation, rage, and celebration.
“It felt great to be playing with Max again, but it didn’t feel like old times. It felt really new,” says Iggor, unconsciously tapping his fingers on the studio couch where he and Max are sitting. “I think we are very different now than we were the last time we were in the studio, so we eliminated a lot of the personal bullshit we used to bring into recording sessions. This time we only had positive vibes and the passion to play together.”
In addition to reconnecting musically, the Cavaleras re-established their bond as brothers. Watching them share their enthusiasm for Brazilian barbecue before their interview with Revolver, or nudge each other and playfully roll their eyes as they head off to one of their many Cavalera Conspiracy photo shoots, it’s hard to believe they went a decade without speaking, and it’s clear that even if they haven’t forgotten past bitterness, they’ve forgiven each other and moved on. During our revealing conversation, we discussed the Cavaleras' childhoods in Brazil, their rise from obscurity to stardom, the Sepultura years, the creation of Inflikted, and the unique bond of musicians bonded by blood.
REVOLVER With Inflikted, it sounds as if you had something to prove.
MAX CAVALERA In the very beginning of this project, Iggor said to me, “Let’s show the motherfuckers how we do this,” and that really fired me up. We were confident as fuck, and motivated to show the world what we could do.
IGGOR CAVALERA But not in a cocky way. We just really wanted to get in there and make some great music, because we knew we could.
Did you want to recapture the thrash vibe of old Sepultura?
MAX We wanted to do the classic Max and Iggor sonic-metal-punk that we love so much. To just go back to thrash wasn’t enough. It needed some raging punk stuff like “Nevertrust,” and songs without solos. That’s why I love “Inflikted” so much. I told Marc Rizzo he’s not allowed to solo on that. He really wanted to, and I said, “No, we have to keep that punk vibe.”
IGGOR I don’t like leads, anyway. For me, it just interrupts the song. Someone like Slash solos the whole song and then he’s fighting with the singer. That doesn’t leave any space for the band to breathe.
MAX I like short leads. Inflikted’s got a lot of that.
You wrote much of Inflikted in the studio and worked quickly, yet nothing sounds rushed.
MAX Yeah, there’s weird stuff like “Dark Ark” and “Ultra-Violent” that sounds like we spent a whole month on it. But it was all done really fast. We did very little rehearsal and it was recorded live, so we’d practice, play, and record all at the same time.
IGGOR There are some great mistakes that really work. And a lot of the stuff in this album was done on the first take.
MAX Throughout our lives, a lot of our greatest stuff was done on the first take. Once we started messing with it, that’s when you end up with crap songs like “Subtraction.” [From 1991’s Arise]. We worked on that song for three weeks, and we did “Desperate Cry” [from the same album] in two hours. I’ve always thought the gut feeling was the best for me and Iggor.
What did you want to address with the lyrics?
MAX I wanted to do something different. At the time, I was watching the same four movies almost every day: Apocalypse Now, City of God, A Clockwork Orange, and La Haine. And that gave me a lot of ideas. Like, I sing “Ultra-Violent” in the slang kind of language of A Clockwork Orange. And “Hearts of Darkness” is totally about Martin Sheen going into the river to kill the general in Apocalypse Now. I felt like that character with this record. I’m on a journey, I don’t know where it’s going, but I know in the end I have to do something.
Were any of the lyrics about your reunion?
MAX I didn’t feel the necessity. I know what happened, and he knows, and I didn’t feel like dragging this on any longer. We’ve passed that. We’re brothers again. We’re playing music again. Let’s go to the future.
Dana’s death was a major factor in your rift. But on any level, do you think his memory led to the birth of the Cavalera Conspiracy?
MAX I really do. I know that my dad and Dana have something to do spiritually with making us get back together after all this time. There are forces working all the time that we don’t see, but they are there.
Iggor, what inspired you to pick up the phone and call Max after 10 years?
IGGOR I met my wife, Laima Layton, who really changed my life. I saw how close she is with her family, and I got really inspired. That, to me, was the most important thing, more than music. I just wanted to have Max as a brother again.
MAX It was all about family, man, and that was the coolest thing. Iggor called and had a great talk with Gloria for about an hour. And then she gave me the phone without any warning and said, “Oh, it’s Iggor.” I almost dropped dead right there. But we had a great conversation, and I said, “Hey, man, I’m playing in Phoenix in a month. Fucking come over. Let’s talk. Let’s see each other.” A friend of his was so happy that he gave Iggor an airline ticket to come. And seeing him again was amazing.
Max, you obviously missed Iggor. Why didn’t you call him first?
MAX It’s not that I was too proud or hard-headed. It was more that I was scared. If I called him and got the wrong vibe, I had the feeling that I would damage this thing to the point that I could never talk to him again. It’s very stupid. Now I look at it and say, Oh, I should have called him, definitely. But I just couldn’t. I thought about it all the time, but I didn’t do it. He did.
Were there any lingering tension when you first saw each other?
MAX I was nervous to meet him, but in a good way. My belly was hurting and I was excited. When I saw him at the Phoenix airport, it was very emotional. And when I gave him the first hug, it was as if a huge cloud had lifted. And the great thing about being back with Iggor now is that we don’t have to see each other every day like we did when we were in Sepultura. We have our time apart and our time together. And when we’re together, we have a good time. And when we’re apart we have different, separate, complete lives with kids, families, and other music.
IGGOR I think it’s a new format that fits our lives. Maybe when I was 14 and Max was 15, we were more the same. We put 100 percent into Sepultura and nothing else.
MAX And that wasn’t good. I really believe we should have taken more breaks. But at that time, you’re not really thinking like that. You’re just going.
IGGOR Yeah, and now when we get together, we focus on the positive thing, which is to play music—doing what we love, and it’s more special than ever. I feel like I’m 14 years old again.
You were both born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil?
IGGOR Yeah, but only because our grandmother worked at the hospital there and she trusted the doctor. We actually grew up in different parts of São Paulo, because we moved around a lot. We started out living in the ghetto, and then our dad got a better job and we moved to a better place. And then our father died and we moved back to the ghetto, so there was no real stability.
What did your dad do?
MAX He worked for the Italian embassy in Brazil. At one point he was the vice council there. When I was a kid, I wanted to be like him until I found out you gotta read seven newspapers every day, and I said, “That’s not for me.” I get headaches from reading. I can’t read a book. But our dad loved to sing opera, and he played acoustic guitar, so the music comes a lot from him. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack when he was 41. I was 9 and Iggor was 8.
That must have been hard.
MAX Hell, yeah. I think the birth of music is from that. Up until that point, we didn’t like music. We liked soccer. I guess Iggor was a little bit more into music.
IGGOR But I didn’t buy albums. I just liked the drums.
MAX I believe when our dad died, there was a void that we needed to fill. And music was really the best tool to even express how to deal with that. Some kids go through drugs or drinking when they suffer a loss. We got really into music.
What were your first jams like?
MAX They were crazy. Iggor’s drum kit was a broom with one cymbal, a snare from a marching band, and a bass drum from a school band. The first bassist, Gato, didn’t know how to play, but his dad bought him a bass. We had a guitar player, Julio, and he was a full-on doctor. He was 35 and we were, like, 15. Then we had another guitarist, Roberto, whose mom wouldn’t let him go out after 10 P.M. He used to tap his feet to keep the beat, so if you held his feet, he couldn’t play. I would do that and he would get really mad and leave.
How do you get from that to Sepultura?
MAX That was Sepultura. Sepultura was first me and Iggor with a bunch of guys. [Guitarist] Andreas [Kisser] and [bassist] Paulo [Jr.] came way later. I didn’t sing at first. We had another singer, [Wagner Lamounier]. From the beginning, me and Iggor had this thing, which was like, OK, we’re the worst musicians, probably, but there’s an attitude that you can’t ignore. Wherever we went, trouble followed. That’s how we got signed. The first concert we got was a show where we got into a fucking fight. The owner of the label went, “I don’t like their music, but I love their attitude
How did you make it out of Brazil and onto the international metal scene?
MAX It took a lot of work. We made our first EP when we were 15 and we never stopped. We had attitude, we had hope, and we took it a long way. We became the biggest Brazilian band ever, but it was a hard road, man. Getting signed with Roadrunner was a trip. I got a plane ticket from a friend to come to New York. I had to travel with a tie and my hair pulled back and say I was an employee of the airline. I can’t believe I didn’t get busted for that. But that was the only way for me to get to America.
Last year you did some interviews suggesting there might be an eventual Sepultura reunion with them. Is that still a possibility?
MAX We are waiting for Armageddon. We’ll do the soundtrack and play right before the world goes to hell. [Pause] No, I don’t know. It’s possible, but it’s nothing we have any plans for.