The history of Brazilian thrash-metal giant Sepultura is fraught with bitterness, tumult and controversy. The band, formed in 1984 by brothers Max and Iggor Cavalera, put out six albums — all good, with three bona fide genre classics — before frontman Max left the band in a blaze of ill will at the tail end of 1996. Drummer Iggor stuck around for another decade and four more albums before he ditched out and reunited with Max as the Cavalera Conspiracy.
We spoke with Max about some of this back in February, when the Cavaleras were on tour performing Sepultura’s Roots album, from 1996, in its entirety. At the time, Max told us, “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.”
The tour, billed as “Max & Iggor Cavalera Return to Roots,” was a great opportunity for fans to hear half of the original Sepultura perform one of the group’s best albums, but it also felt a little awkward. And while the Cavaleras have been out reminiscing about the old, the current lineup of Sepultura is promoting something new.
From 1997 and the Against album until the present, Sepultura’s frontman has been Cleveland native Derrick Green, a tower of a man with an appropriately intimidating presence who’s been filling some of the biggest shoes since Sammy Hagar stepped in for David Lee Roth.
Max Cavalera was and is a much-loved figure within the metal community, so Green had a tough gig to take over from day one. We’re two decades into his stint with the band, and talk of a “classic lineup” reunion never goes away. Green does his best to take it all in his giant stride, but he admits that he’ll always be the new guy to some fans.
“For me, it’s such an experience that I guess it’s really difficult for people to imagine being in this position,” Green says. “For me, feeling like the new guy went out the door many years ago.”
The truth is, while the Cavaleras (particularly Max) and Sepultura mainstays Andreas Kisser and Paulo Jr. are unable to patch up their differences, Green is inarguably the best choice to front the band. He has a monstrous voice that suits the old songs and fresh material alike.
“I think [the band has] evolved the same way that we have — as individuals,” Green says. “A lot of things have been happening in our lives personally and socially and all around us, even politically. So many things have changed — technology and everything around us. The world is constantly evolving and changing. I think we’ve been able to go with those changes as a band and embrace a lot of the experience we have from traveling and going around the world, meeting different people and being open to new music. It has such a tremendous impact on the evolution of the band, and you can hear that through the evolution of the many albums that we’ve put out until today. Each one is extremely important because they’re all connected to each other, and I think it brings us to where we are today.”
It’s been a remarkable journey for Green, going from fronting hardcore band Outface in Ohio to relocating to New York and now living in São Paulo, Brazil, fronting a legendary thrash-metal band and performing in front of thousands of people night after night.
“I’ve been living in Brazil since 2000, 2001,” he says. “It’s a whole other world, another culture, a language to learn, which is fascinating. It’s become a second home to me.”
This January saw the release of Machine Messiah, Sepultura’s fourteenth studio album and the eighth since Green joined the ranks. The soft-spoken singer says that these days, he’s heavily involved in the songwriting process, as is new drummer Eloy Casagrande (the second to fill the spot since Iggor’s departure).
“Eloy’s been really doing an amazing job, on the albums we’ve recorded and especially touring,” Green says. “It’s really brutal and very difficult, but he has his own style and technique. He goes above and beyond to perform everything to a degree that’s amazing. It’s been mind-blowing for a lot of people to see, and to work together in that group is something very special.”
Machine Messiah has gotten an overwhelmingly positive response from fans and critics alike, says Green. It’s a fierce and topical slab of work, tackling the metaphorical robotization of society and the need to follow and worship someone. The frontman notes that the band’s current label, Nuclear Blast, deserves some credit for steadying the ship.
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“That was another part of the combination [that made] for great albums — having a great label to back them, to really believe in what you’re doing,” Green says. “That’s definitely one of the major things that helped in the evolution of the band, moving to this level. It was definitely necessary. We had a lot of problems with the last labels. It’s moving in a smoother direction with Nuclear Blast.”
Green concedes that he and his bandmates don’t get to Denver enough — but on May 6, Sepultura will play the Summit Music Hall, and it should be a strong show. The set list will be heavily weighted with tunes from the new record, but longtime fans needn’t worry: The new material is intensely good, and the band will pepper the set with old favorites.
“I was a fan before I joined the band, so for me to play the old songs is an honor and a privilege,” Green says. “It’s extremely enjoyable.”
Sepultura, with Testament and Prong, 6 p.m. Saturday, May 6, Summit Music Hall, 1902 Blake Street, 303-487-0111, all ages.