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Max Cavalera Reveals The Stories Behind Every Instrumental Soulfly Track

Cavalera dissects every instrumental jam from 1998’s Soulfly to 2018’s Soulfly XI.

“Nobody should fear music… I certainly don’t,” begins Soulfly leader Max Cavalera, before talking Kerrang! through the stories behind the self-titled tracks from their 11 albums. “Music should be something you can explore and experience, almost like good food or good wine. You should enjoy it. I’ve found that Soulfly fans are open-minded, they like that wild exotic side of my music. If you can make your albums more flavourful and do it well, you won’t get a backlash from your metalheads. Even if there’s saxophone, as I’ve learned!”

He’s not kidding. Along with the metallic razor-sharp riffs Max has been dealing out since forming Sepultura during the mid-80s in his native Brazil, he’s trawled new sonic horizons through these eponymous lysergic instrumentals, bridging into the long-distant realms of jazz, film scores and reggae. If you were to make an album out of these otherworldly imaginations, as we’ve done below, you’d probably never look at Soulfly the same way again. Max Cavalera explains it all…

Soulfly Promo 1 2018

Soulfly
Soulfly (1998)
Max Cavalera: “We didn’t even know what we were doing or what the plan was on this first one. I think we’d just finished one of the heavy songs like Tribe or No Hope = No Fear and [original guitarist] Lúcio Maia had his acoustic guitar with him. He started playing this beautiful piece, then I came in and joined him. There was such a cool vibe, the studio guys brought a bunch of candles and turned all the lights off for this spiritual, trance kind of jam. Luckily our producer Ross [Robinson] was smart enough to press record and capture it. Lúcio came up with doing the solo backwards, Jimi Hendrix style. I’d never seen anything like it and was mesmerised!”

Soulfly II
Primitive (2000)

“This was probably when I realised we could have a Soulfly track on every record to showcase a different side of us. When I started playing the riffs, I envisioned deserted highways in America or mountains and deserts, it was all cinematic vibes. After Sepultura had done the Roots tour, my wife bought me this one-of-a-kind guitar-sitar which you can hear – with the usual six strings and then 30 more you could play plugged in. There was a 200 year-old Indian burial site around that studio so we got some shovels and buried the tapes for 24 hours to capture the energy or some kind of shit to give the album a special vibe. Chino [Moreno] from Deftones was there too…”

Soulfly III
3 (2002)
“By this point, I think I knew these songs had to get even more unpredictable using whatever I could. It became a conscious decision. We had a Brazilian percussionist called Meia Noite come in with all these water jugs and crazy stuff. One of those riffs I actually came up with during the Sepultura days, in Australia on the Chaos AD tour and I remember showing it to Andreas [Kisser, guitars] and he didn’t really care for it, saying it didn’t fit us. He didn’t get it or like it at all so I thought I would keep it for later… and that’s probably when I started recording more melodic stuff.”

Soulfly IV
Prophecy (2004)
“We introduced Marc Rizzo into the band and found he could play flamenco beautifully, as we showcased on [Prophecy track] Mars. Him and Joe [Nunez, drums/percussion] used to have these bossa nova jams that I felt we needed to bring onto the album. Again, Meia Noite added extra percussion to turn it into a Brazilian bossa meets flamenco kind of song. Some of these self-titled tracks almost came like an accident in the studio, which I think is brilliant. I love that whole idea. You can hear we were definitely trying to be different here.”

Soulfly V
Dark Ages (2005)
“This could be my favourite of them all! It’s a big, long one but if you have the patience, it’s worth it. Around Dark Ages, we’d been travelling a lot to places like Russia, Egypt and France – where we recorded with a French-Brazilian musician who added some things. While we were in Russia, we recorded some bells and then some rain elsewhere in Eastern Europe. I love how the melody came out. You lose yourself in a trance; this jam brings a hypnotic state as well as that cinematic vibe. If you’re into Yob or bands that have long jams, it’s quite cool. It marks an inspiring time for Soulfly – a lot of people like Prophecy and Dark Ages.”

Soulfly VI
Conquer (2008)
“This definitely has more of a guitar hero vibe. Rizzo listens to a lot of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, those kinds of greats. We didn’t really know what to do next, we might have been running out of ideas a bit, so went for this up-tempo kind of 80s rock track. It didn’t have all the extra percussion, just live drums. The music reminds of Satriani, I love his solo records like Surfing With The Alien because he wasn’t just showing off, he was actually hitting cool melodies that are exciting to listen to. So that’s what we were going for here… it felt good to show that side of Rizzo.”

Soulfly VII
Omen (2010)
“For this, I remember asking Rizzo if he could summon The Edge from U2 on guitar. He’s good at doing that – there was one song on Dark Ages, Innerspirit, that I asked him to summon Tony Iommi on and it was so incredible, he took me right back to [Black Sabbath’s] Vol. 4. This song is like The Police mixed in with U2, all it needs is Bono singing on top! I’m a massive U2 fan – October, War, The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree are all masterpieces, especially on guitar because The Edge is not a typical guitar hero, he has his own style. He doesn’t actually do much (laughs)! We drank the U2 Kool-Aid on that one and it came out pretty cool.”

Soulfly VIII
Enslaved (2012)
“This was partly inspired by Led Zeppelin, those big string lines reminded me of things they’d done. That felt cool because I don’t think we’d ever gone that close to that kind of sound. And actually that whole Jimmy Page style of writing is not easy to get your head around, it’s pretty hard. Around this time, we started having violins involved. I always loved the sound of them, they’re a very cool, melancholic sounding kind of instrument. We brought more people in to make it more interesting, by this point I knew we had to welcome more creativity to make the songs sound even more out of the ordinary.”

Soulfly IX
Savages (2013)
“Honestly, I think this one may have come out a bit less inspired… it gets pretty reggae-heavy in places! I remember showing the guys a few dub songs and found out some of them aren’t really reggae fans at all. But in the end they played it to please me (laughs)! To be honest, it’s a pretty straightforward jam, with some really cool middle-Eastern twists… I guess it was my weird way of trying to put Jamaica and Pakistan together, throwing them into the same pot and recording what comes out!”

Soulfly X
Archangel (2015)
“We had a duduk player come over from Armenia, who was amazing to watch – we could literally see the song come to life. It’s an instrument I fell in love with after hearing Peter Gabriel using it on his soundtrack for The Last Temptation Of Christ. The song itself is actually one of our darkest songs. The band are stuck on this weird loop so the duduk can do its thing. I had one other idea but we had such a massive trance, I didn’t want to stop it. I just thought let’s roll with this long interlude. The duduk made it interesting and eerie, but in reality what the rest of us are doing is kinda repetitive, it just creates a background.”

Soulfly XI
Ritual (2018)
“People have compared this to King Crimson, which made me very happy because I love that band. I had the whole format in my head – no drums, just programming beats like Massive Attack. I remember showing our producer Josh [Wilbur] that band and he hadn’t heard of them. I asked if he could do something similar alongside my Pink Floyd-sounding riffs. The saxophone brings the jazz element, the player was from a big band called The Pretty Reckless who were friends with Josh. When I heard it all back, I knew it was fucking killer. It felt like, even after all these years, I wasn’t afraid to do things that might freak people out… which is cool!”

Soulfly’s album Ritual is out now through Nuclear Blast.

Words: Amit Sharma

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