Saturday, May 29, 2010

Soulfly review - Max Cavalera interview redux

Max Cavalera of Soulfly by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Having interviewed Max Cavalera for the Straight meant getting comped into the Soulfly show at The Venue a couple of months ago - an experience that would have been a lot better if I'd been able to stay for the whole show! Soulfly had barely done five songs before I had to leave, in order to catch a bus to get back to Maple Ridge. I'm told that later in his set, the band played "Roots Bloody Roots," and given the astonishing energy of the crowd - who were very, very excited to be there - I'm sure that it would have been a great experience to see that (and say what you will about Sepultura's Beneath The Remains and Arise and such - I'm a Roots man, am staggered by the creativity and passion packed into that album, which everyone with an interest in creative rock, metalhead or no, should check out).
While there's a lot I'm not wild about about The Venue - from being told that night by two coplike security guards with Starbucks cups in their hands that I couldn't bring my own Starbucks beverage into the place, to being informed by another of the "Venue police" that I wasn't allowed to take my footwear off (I was tucked into a corner writing and resting my feet, bothering no one and not being particularly stinky) - I have to hand it to whoever renovated the club: it sounds bloody amazing compared to its former incarnation as the Plaza. Also, when there's a packed crowd - as was the case on this particular night - and the lights are down, the ambience in the black-on-black room is that of a "miniature stadium rock concert," not a bar gig. It'd be nice if it were a little less zealously policed, and when the lights are up the vibe is a bit upscale for my tastes, but if you can overlook these things, it's definitely not a bad place to see live music...
...and thankfully, there had been some pretty interesting opening bands to make up for the fact that I couldn't see Soulfly's whole set. Rotting Corpse, a somewhat neglected Texas band from, I gather, the first wave of crossover thrashcore, were missing a member - some reprobate barred from crossing into Canada - but this led to the rhythm guitarist, by way of compensation, punctuating the set with jokes and anecdotes (none of which do I still remember, but he was definitely an engaging storyteller, telling us the band's history and making a couple good- humoured jabs at the relative lameness of Canadian metal - until someone from the audience called out "Razor," which impressed the dude... I'm sure Anvil got a nod, too...). They were probably my favourite band musically during the night, not counting the headliners. I always wonder about people who swing their hair like that and play at the same time, tho': don't they get dizzy?

Rotting Corpse by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Incite by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Incite had a strong presence and the lead singer had a truly menacing air to the way he scowled from the stage, making threatening "bring-it-on" hand gestures to the crowd. I couldn't really make out what he was singing - there's a buffalo-throatedness to a lot of metal singing these days that I haven't figured out how to decode, having grown up on Ronnie James Dio and Bruce Dickinson - but there was definitely a compelling theatricality to the way he glowered at us. Or maybe I couldn't stop watching him because I was afraid he might leap into the stage and start beating people up?
Incite's bassist had the coolest look of the night: photo by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Prong by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Prong were a stranger experience: while they had superb musicianship, the mien of seasoned pros, and a charismatic stage presence - mostly centered on guitarist/vocalist Tommy Victor - they seemed, in a way, not wholly reconciled to their genre. The song I liked most in their set didn't even sound like metal, but more like a Goth/industrial pop tune (I have no idea of the title, sorry). While I couldn't fault their playing, when they used it in the service of more "metal" numbers, it seemed like the form was limiting what they could do, like they were straining to sound more like a conventional metal band than they actually are. Maybe I just didn't get what they were doing, though. The crowd certainly dug them; the Rotting Corpse guy had namechecked Tommy Victor from the stage as being a prince among men, or sumfin' like that, and Victor collaborates with Max on "Lethal Injection," on the new Soulfy album Omen... so fuck me, anyhow.

By the time Max hit the stage, in any event, the audience was well-primed and receptive. I've had so many people I engaged in conversation about Soulfly say they preferred early Sepultura and/or barely knew Soulfly's stuff that I figured maybe Soulfly didn't have that enthusiastic a following, but from the way the packed house sang along with "Blood Fire War Hate" - the opening cut off Conquer, the album they were touring - I guess I'd just been talking to the wrong folks. The crowd cheered wildly for "Back To The Primitive," a few songs later, too, so they clearly knew their stuff. And no matter what songs they'd come to see, the crowd fucking loved Max, centering on his every gesture. The vocalist from Incite should perhaps consider Max as a counter-example of a metal image; his charisma was in no way lessened by his looking rather, uh, "soft and cuddly," and - as anyone who has seen the Global Metal documentary will understand - he seems more like a friendly, well-adjusted, and good humoured guy, offstage or on, than someone who is going to suddenly start beating you up. I'd leave my kids with Max, if I had any, but I'd lock my door if Incite knocked. None of this interferes with Cavalera's presence one whit; he outdid even Lemmy as a compelling bandleader and focal point.

Max Cavalera of Soulfly by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

I can't really review the set, mind you, since by the time they were really starting to cook, I was walking towards Hastings Street, cursing my luck. Instead, since Omen, the new Soulfly album, has hit the stores, I'll offer you some outtakes from my Max Cavalera interview (thanks to Max for being gracious and taking the time to talk to me while on the road!).

Allan: Curious - do you have any feelings about people who fixate on, say, Beneath The Remains and the early thrash stuff as a high point in your career?

Max: People have different records that they like. I don’t agree or disagree - I just play them all; I’m proud to have made them. Life goes on. I gotta keep making records, because that’s what I do.

Allan: It seems like you're actually returning to that sound a bit on the last couple of albums...

Max: I really like that era and that style of music; it’s really exciting. It’s got a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy. And part of that to me was missing in the metal scene, so I started to get that thrash sound back. It started with Dark Ages, and continues with Conquer. It continues on too with Omen, the new album, it still has that thrash sound.

Allan: It's a really aggressive-sounding album - you say somewhere in the press release that “murder is this records’ state of mind.”

Max: Yeah, it’s definitely full of murder, from songs like “Jeffrey Dahmer” to “Bloodbath & Beyond,” there’s a lot of death and destruction to go around, on the whole record.

Allan: And yet it’s dedicated to God! It seems like a contradiction -

Max: Yeah, I believe in paradox!

Allan: I guess it depends which God it is - some Gods are more death-oriented.

Max: It could be the God of war, right.

Allan: Let me ask you about “Off With Their Heads” - I'm not sure where the beheading stuff came from; it got me thinking of Al Qaida or something, though that might just be current events influencing my perception of things...

Max: No, the inspiration actually comes from Alice In Wonderland! I have a mirror in my house that’s an Alice In Wonderland mirror and it says “Off With Their Heads” on it. And I just thought that would be a really cool name for a song - “Off With Their Heads.” So it’s not really related to Al Qaida - nothin’ to do with that kinda shit! It came more from the Alice In Wonderland kind of vibe. It’s more about society in general - like, off with their heads, whatever is wrong -

Allan: Any particular people you want to behead? The rich, politicians, or...

Max: Yeah, a lot of them!

Allan: There also seems to be quite a lot of stuff on the album about the fall of the west, in songs like "Bloodbath & Beyond." Is that something that you want to see happen?

Max: It’s not that I want it. I think it’s just gonna happen, because every hundred or two hundred years, a new empire is gonna be gone. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, France was the most powerful nation, and then you had Germany, WWII and whatnot, and right now it’s America. 100 years from now it could be China - it’s just going to happen, no matter what. It’s not something that I want, it’s just a comment on something that I think is gonna happen.

Allan: You live in America now, though. Do you like it?

Max: Yeah, I do - I like the vibe of Phoenix. When I’m up there, I’m not on tour, so I’m just living a regular life. It’s in the desert, so it’s a little bit away from civilization. I’ve got a house in the mountains in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by desert. So it’s cool. I like that kind of peace and quiet.

Allan: Do you ever miss Brazil?

Max: I kind of learn how not to, because I still miss it, but life is so different now for me, and I’ve adjusted myself to the new life. So you learn not to miss those things anymore. It’s cool - I haven’t been in Brazil in 14 years, and uh, I know I’ll go back there sometime. But for the moment, I haven’t been there for awhile...

Allan: Why did you relocate, initially?

Max: I was still in Sepultura when we moved there. Everybody lived there - the crew lived there and Gloria and everybody. It was a decision that was made that the whole band go and we left Brazil. That’s the place that we all went, except for my brother Iggor. He didn’t like the desert, he didn’t like the sun, so he went to San Diego. But the rest of us were in Phoenix. And I just liked it and I made it my home and I’ve stayed there until now.

Allan: Of course, the stuff with you in Global Metal is NOT filmed in Brazil, though they make it seem like you're there...

Max: No, they only contacted me to do the interview and they came up to my house. I did actually a two part interview, one part was in Germany at the Wacken Open Air festival, and then the other part - they needed more, so we scheduled to come to Phoenix, Arizona and then they meet me in the desert in my house and they finished the interview there. But I didn’t know they were in Brazil - I found out later when I saw the movie. Which I saw thought was a really good movie.

Allan: But you’re representing Sepultura, they aren’t in the movie!

Max: It’s because I was so heavily involved with the lyrics and the albums - I was a huge part of Sepultura, so people still ask me to this day about Sepultura. So it’s kinda normal, I’m okay with it - it’s my past, I cannot deny my past, I don’t have reason to deny it. I embrace it. I move to the future, but I embrace my past. I’m proud of all the records I’ve made. They left a real huge legacy to the fans. But I keep moving on.

More to be read online here! I imagine Max is back in studio now recording the new Cavalera Conspiracy album; look forward to hearing what he and Iggor come up with!

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