Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera revisits early material for San Antonio show with his brother Iggor

Singer-guitarist Cavalera pioneered a sound that was equal parts death metal and thrash metal with his first band Sepultura.

click to enlarge Max Cavalera belts it out during a 2021 performance by Soulfly at San Antonio’s Vibes Event Center. His latest tour reunites him with his brother Iggor. - KATELYN EARHART
Katelyn Earhart
Max Cavalera belts it out during a 2021 performance by Soulfly at San Antonio’s Vibes Event Center. His latest tour reunites him with his brother Iggor.

The word "legend" gets thrown around a lot these days, but a musician who has truly earned the title is extreme metal pioneer Max Cavalera, who will appear at San Antonio's Rock Box on Thursday, June 23.

Singer-guitarist Cavalera pioneered a sound that was equal parts death metal and thrash metal with his first band Sepultura, which roared to international success out of its home country of Brazil in the late '80s and early '90s. Seputura albums such as Beneath The Remains and Arise became staples of early extreme metal.

But by the time Sepultura released Roots in 1996 — which became a foundation of nu-metal — things had run their course and Cavalera chose to leave the band after the supporting tour. He's stayed active since in a variety of projects, most prominently Soulfly and Killer Be Killed.

Cavalera has now lived in the U.S. for three decades. But while you can take the boy out of Brazil, you can't take Brazil out of the boy. His music remains rooted in his home country, and he's revisiting his early years with his current tour, which also features his brother and fellow Seputura alum Iggor Cavalera, who left the band in 2006, on drums.

The road dates will focus on songs from both Beneath and Arise. Tech-grinders Cephalic Carnage and stoner-metal practitioners Healing Magic will kick off the San Antonio show.

We talked to Max Cavalera from his home in Arizona via Zoom, and he reflected on his work with Iggor and those early albums. The interview was edited for clarity and length.

Do you have any memories of San Antonio or Texas that you'd like to share?

I love Texas. Every time we're on tour, you can tell you're in Texas. Everything changes. The vibe changes. The shows get better (laughs). And I'm not just saying that because you're in Texas.

Let's talk about Beneath The Remains and Arise. What made you dive into those records now?

There's not really a rhyme or reason to it. We just do it. We started with Roots, the last record I recorded with Sepultura. For this tour, we are playing more of the records than we did on [the Roots tour]. We are only leaving two songs out, so we're playing about 90% of each record. There's some stuff that we never even played before like "Under Siege (Regnum Irae)," "Sarcastic Existence" and "Lobotomy." I think that's exciting for the fans. It took 30 years, but we're finally gonna do it.

In your memoir My Bloody Roots you talk about candomblé, the religion that your mother practiced. You wrote about your first gig, and that you felt "possessed" by the music. And you had previously mentioned that possession is a component of candomblé. How did your mother's religion influence your music?

There's definitely an element there. The possession thing that I felt at our first show was something I could not really understand and still, to this day, I don't fully understand how it happens. But in the music itself, if you have something in it that can transport you mentally into a possessed state of mind — and that's some strong shit, man — I love that. Because I experienced that through my mother's religion, because I saw people being possessed when they were doing their blessings and their rituals, [I know] there's a connection there. Metal music is connected to the spiritual world. There's more to it than people think. I don't want to sound too dramatic, but in a certain way, to be at a metal show does feel like a religious experience, a spiritual experience. It's so powerful that it can take you to a different world, kind of. It really is the unknown of metal. A lot of the old Sepultura stuff, there were parts of songs that I remember writing and saying, "Oh, man, when we play this live, I'm gonna lose my shit!" I was not responsible for my actions. I was like a possessed animal on the stage, you know? Many people — to this day — talk to me like we made friends or became family. I hear from them, "Max, you're so nice and you're so mellow, what was that I just saw on the stage? That's a different guy! You're completely different from that." If I was the person I am at home on the stage, it wouldn't last five seconds. The most boring show ever. But it's not that. We do have the things, we do have the tools, the riffs, the parts, the breakdowns, the fast parts, all that stuff that can make you feel the possession come to life. I love that. That's a good question. I haven't been asked that before. I want people to be aware of my mom's religion and the connection I had through that. The hardest thing to explain to somebody is what the music does to you. For every person, it's a different feeling. To me, it's almost like music becomes so many things. It becomes a weapon. It's something you can use on an everyday basis to fight the world, you know? Everything negative that people throw at you.

An audience member was murdered during the tour for Arise.

Yeah, it was a free show in Brazil.

Does that event occurring after the music was written, recorded and released change your perspective?

What happened was one of those things you have no control over. It was a free show, so anybody could come. Most of the people were there to have a good time, to enjoy the music. Sepultura was becoming extremely popular at that time. We were celebrating our record Arise. But there were some bad elements, some skinheads with different ideas, and they came to the shows with axes and guns. Actually, the kid that died was cut open by an axe. The whole thing is so brutal. If you could put me in a time machine and I could change one thing, I would have visited the kid's family and maybe have tried to bond with them. Maybe have tried to give them some encouragement. I don't know. You still feel pretty guilty about it even though it's not really your fault. You really had nothing to do with it, but it happened during your show. It's kind of one of those moments in life. We went on tour, I think, the day after. We flew to Europe and the newspapers pretty much totally destroyed us, made us look like the worst. They find a scapegoat, and Sepultura was the scapegoat for that kid's death. They blame it all on the music. Society has to find a culprit. Sometimes playing something like "Orgasmatron" — which was the song that we ended up shooting as a video from that concert — or when I watch images from that video, it brings me back to that time, you know? But at the end of the day, those songs were just really fun to play. They just really are. It's even more fun now than it was before. There's two cool things about it: playing for young kids that never saw that. And then you also connect with older guys, our-age kinda guys who will be like (adopts caveman tone), "I was there back in the day, and it was better back then than it is now."

$30.50-$35, 8 p.m. Thursday, June 23, Rock Box, 1223 E. Houston St., (210) 255-3833,
facebook.com/therockboxsatx.

Current freelancer Enrique Bonilla contributed to this report.

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