When Sepultura formed in Brazil in 1984, there was little evidence to suggest that the band was ever going to be anything more than your run-of-the-mill death-metal outfit. By the second album, Schizophrenia, people were taking notice. The fourth, 1991’s Arise, catapulted Sepultura into the international spotlight, and then things started to get interesting.
The group started to play outside of its genre and, while it retained all of the prior heaviness, 1993’s Chaos A.D. saw the band edging into thrashy territory. With Metallica one of the biggest bands in the world at that time, the blurring of those lines brought with it a bigger fan base. The Brazilians suddenly found themselves on festival main stages, toward the top of the bill. Against all odds, these extreme metal heads were getting some mainstream success. Just a little, but more than would have been expected just ten years earlier. They were adored, and they needed a followup to cement that standing.
Enter Roots. What should have been the best year of the band’s career to date ended up spelling the end of an era. Roots, released in 1996, was a spectacular record that saw Sepultura joining forces with the Brazilian Xavante tribe, plus talent such as Faith No More’s Mike Patton and Korn’s Jonathan Davis. It was deceptive in its simplicity, a brutal tour de force that seamlessly blended contemporary metal with the roots music of their home nation.
But that same year, everything went wrong. Frontman Max Cavalera’s stepson Dana Wells was killed in a car crash on the day that the band was supposed to perform at the Donington metal fest in England. Max flew home, and the band performed as a three-piece, with his brother, Igor, behind the drum kit. Weeks later, Max returned to Europe to finish the tour, but tempers flared when the band decided that they wanted to fire manager Gloria Bujnowski, Max’s wife. That didn’t go down well with the singer, and by Christmas ’96, he had quit. Soon afterward, he formed the band Soulfly.
Sepultura carried on, recruiting vocalist Derrick Green, a Cleveland native. But after ten years of feuding, Igor Cavalera left in 2006, leaving only guitarist Andreas Kisser and bassist Paulo Jr. from the classic lineup. The Cavalera brothers patched up their differences and soon started playing out together as the Cavalera Conspiracy.
The year 2016 marked the twentieth anniversary of the release of Roots, and it only made sense for the brothers to celebrate. After all, the two Cavaleras currently sound more like Sepultura than Sepultura. So they’re heading out on tour, billed as “Max & Iggor Cavalera Return to Roots,” performing the Roots album in its entirety.
“It’s a cool idea just to play a whole album from the beginning to the end,” says Max. “I had never done anything like that before, so it was new and exciting for me. We tried the idea last year, and it was fantastic. Everywhere was sold out. It’s even a bit more special because a lot of those songs that we’re playing from the Roots album never got to be played live. So it’s even more special because of that.”
Despite the fact that Roots was recorded two decades ago in the midst of a blossoming nu-metal movement, Max believes the songs have held up well.
“It’s one of the easiest Sepultura records to play,” he says. “We simplified everything on Roots; we took a minimalistic approach. A lot of the songs were less about riffs and almost punk rock, like ‘Spit’ and ‘Roots Bloody Roots.’ Real back-to-basics stuff. I had to go back and listen to it a little bit, get my guitar and remember the riffs. But once we got it going, it went right back to where it was. It was automatic, like riding a bicycle. It just feels natural. Other Sepultura albums would be more challenging, like Schizophrenia. Beneath the Remains has about 1,000 riffs.”
It’s interesting that Max brings up “Spit,” a vicious and, as he says, punk-rock blast of a tune. The man says that it’s one of his favorite songs to play on the current tour.
“Cut to the chase, right there in your face,” he says. “Live, when ‘Spit’ comes in, there’s always a circle pit. So that, and 'Straighthate,' because they run into each other. ‘Straighthate’ was the first song we wrote for Roots. We had the whole build-up section in the beginning, which was almost like the tribal noise we’d been listening to. It was right after I did Nailbomb (a side project featuring Max and Fudge Tunnel’s Alex Newport), so I was under Alex’s influences of all the stuff he showed me, like Big Black and all that noisy shit.”
In reference to his former band and the musicians currently out there using the Sepultura name, Max is quietly diplomatic, though still understandably hurt.
“This is as close to a reunion as we’re gonna get because we don’t deal with those guys, we don’t know what they’re doing, and this thing was so successful that it made us realize we don’t even need a reunion to be happy doing what we do,” he says. “People love to hear the way it is, it sounds great, they don’t mind that the other guys aren’t in the picture, and for me and Igor, we did start this band before anybody else was in the picture. It feels right. We’re part of it. We started it, and we’re in the right place doing it.”
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On February 25, the Max & Iggor Cavalera Return to Roots tour will stop at the Summit Music Hall. The frontman is excited, despite the fact that he is the only person in the band who doesn’t indulge in some of our smokier pastimes.
“I’ve been straight-edge now for ten years, which is great,” he says. “But I know the roadies do. It’s almost like going to Holland now. But I think the Denver crowd’s really cool, man. It’s exciting. All the times I’ve been there have been great. I’m looking forward to this whole tour. The guy who stays two weeks at home and then is itching to go out again. I’m on the edge right now. Thank God the tour is coming.”
Max & Iggor Cavalera Return to Roots plays with Immolation, Full of Hell, Medina Grooves and Eye of Minerva at 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 25, at the Summit Music Hall, 1902 Blake Street. For more information, call 303-487-0111.