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Cavalera: Benevolent Rage and Sunlit Depression of Brazil (and Arizona)

As kids, we were both disturbed and excited by the idea that a band would choose to name themselves "Grave" – in Portuguese, "Sepultura."

8. July 2024. — Author: EXIT

We were also confused by the fact that metal bands existed in Brazil at all, especially ones with such a powerful sound and dark themes. Isn’t that a place where the sun always shines, people play football and samba, sunbathe, swim, and just dance with smiles on their faces? Isn’t metal played mainly by people who are unhappy with the weather? Yet, the most passionate among us kept chanting the names Sepultura and Cavalera, often adding “Max” in front of the latter.

Just sun and smiles? Big mistake. I realized that when I traveled on a student exchange to Brazil. In fact, places with a lot of sunlight are among the most depression-ridden in the world, as I later found out, and it’s a depression mixed with rage. An old article about the Californian band Thin White Rope highlighted their statement that only eternal sunshine might be more depressing than Seattle’s rain. Add to that the very devout Catholic atmosphere of Brazil, especially during the 70s and 80s, and you have a winning combination for the formation of a band like Sepultura, the obsessive darkness in their lyrics, and the “growl” in their music. Similar to the winning combination for metal bands in Greece – the sun and a general sense of religious piety (this time Orthodox).

Anyway, the “icing on the cake” was the fact that the brothers Massimiliano and Igor Cavalera weren’t even “real” Brazilians; their father was an official at the Italian consulate in Belo Horizonte, the wealthiest city in Brazil where the rock scene flourished. Being “outsiders,” they could see the flaws in Brazilian society even more clearly – inequality, the rich hiding behind church dogmas, and a host of other injustices – it’s much easier to see everything if you’re somewhat of an “alien.” There, they began to form – listening to hard rock and metal bands like Motörhead, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Metallica, and in 1984, the provocatively named Sepultura was born.

On an upward trajectory, they attracted an increasingly larger audience before slowly transitioning from the subgenre of death metal to thrash metal. Their second album, “Schizophrenia” (1987), already brought them global attention, especially from European audiences – they signed with a major label and gained exposure worldwide while introducing a melodious sound with big rhythm shifts within every single song. If they initially joked that they started performing “for financial reasons to earn a few cruzeiros” (the currency at the time), they could now take it seriously. Max began to play unconventionally, with only four strings, developing his own chords and style in his youth after the two thinnest strings on his first guitar broke.

In the following years, they released “Beneath the Remains” (1989), “Arise” (1991), and “Chaos A.D.” (1993), where they confidently stepped into ethnic and Afro-Brazilian rhythms and groove metal. The lyrics addressed all perceived injustices and pseudo-religious people who introduced norms and false morality, as well as politics and economics. This flirtation with religious themes and criticism of the church also got a few of their videos banned. They were nicknamed “Devil’s Motörhead” and moved to the chaotic city of São Paulo, where all that was problematic in Brazil was more apparent and where one could easily get angry and stay angry. Later, Max decided to move to Phoenix in sunny Arizona, and we’ve already talked about the sun’s connection to elegies of anger.

They played with words and sang in English: referencing Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel “Brave New World,” the band wrote the single “Slave New World. “ Indeed, in place of ideology and religion, people became enslaved by capitalism and corporations, and Max Cavalera didn’t hesitate to “bash” that. MTV, since the early 90s and the big comeback of “heavy music” (Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, grunge, etc.), introduced Sepultura’s singles “with a bang” and “Roots Bloody Roots“ and “Rattamahatta“ from the album “Roots” achieved notable success as singles ranking 19th and 23rd on the UK Charts. But that was it.

Max Cavalera split with his brother Igor and left the band in 1997 to form the groove-metal band Soulfly, while Sepultura continued with a new vocalist. During this phase, Max worked closely with Kojot from Eyesburn. After ten years, the brothers reconciled and formed another band named Inflikted, which they soon renamed Cavalera Conspiracy but kept the initially intended name as the title of their 2008 debut album. The album is a mix of “hardcore punk, death metal, and thrash metal,” according to Max, who noted that Igor was hitting the drums so hard in their reunion collaboration that “his wife seriously suspected he was on cocaine, though he was perfectly ‘clean’ the whole time.” The following album from 2011, “Blunt Force Trauma,” strayed into pop territory, gaining a broader audience without alienating the core fan base, and the fast-paced album “Pandemonium” was released in 2014. The mystical “Psychosis” from 2017 was never performed live for unknown reasons. However, Max and Igor, who began signing as Iggor also for unspecified reasons, started playing old Sepultura tracks on their tour, which was interrupted by the pandemic in 2020. When the pandemic ended, they realized that the Conspiracy might be an unnecessary addition to the name, given the proliferation of conspiracy theories during that time, so they continued simply as Cavalera.

The year 2023 saw a return to rumors that the two would return to Sepultura – they re-recorded two “classic” Sepultura albums under the name Cavalera, “Bestial Devastation” and “Morbid Visions,” with the re-recorded album “Schizophrenia” seeing the light of day on June 21 this year, along with promotional videos. Is this “Sepultura nostalgia” an announcement that the band will reunite in its “old lineup”? Max says that everything is possible if it comes from the heart. But for now, we listen to Cavalera, who will bring their solo material and a reminder of what one of the most influential metal bands did in its “golden era.”

They will bring a hurricane of energy to the Main Stage at EXIT and a voice of rebellion against everything that oppresses modern man. Metalheads sometimes seem and sound intimidating; as Max himself once said, “metal music is evil in a good way,” but most often, despite all the morbid iconography and dark lyrics, they are on the side of justice and ready to “fight for it with a hammer.” I remember a Portuguese class at the University of Campinas where the professor proudly showed the “biggest Brazilian band” in a photograph in the Amazon with a local tribe, “dressed” (better said, “almost completely undressed”) in their traditional attire as a symbol of the fight against deforestation of the Amazon.

To the uninitiated, Max and Ig(g)or Cavalera may seem far from “benevolent spirits” and “humanity’s conscience” at first glance, but they are just that. They have always been proud of Brazil, even now when they no longer live there – flags, football shirts, guitar designs – all of this reflects their somewhat unique patriotism. And their music will “blast away” injustices, at least for that one Sunday night on the Tesla Universe Stage, to close EXIT ’24 furiously. After all, their surname – Cavalera – means “Knight.” So, let’s treat them that way.

Author: Žikica Milošević