BACK TO THE PRIMITIVE: Max Cavalera on playing the sidekick in Go Ahead And Die

BACK TO THE PRIMITIVE: Max Cavalera on playing the sidekick in Go Ahead And Die

- By Creative Team

Metal's lifelong ambassador shares how he's found new life in his latest project and details what has helped him maintained a connection with fans throughout the years.

Photo by Jim Louvau / Words by Dan Franklin

The first time I saw Max Cavalera perform live was his last time onstage with Sepultura, at London’s Brixton Academy, on 16 December 1996. I was fourteen at the time and blagged my way into the sold-out show posing as a Kerrang! journalist (with their permission, I should add). I was glad I did. It was an extraordinary evening of thundering, epochal metal, captured on a live album released in 2002: Under a Pale Grey Sky.

It was also extraordinary because the band broke up backstage. Max and his wife Gloria (the group’s manager at the time) left Sepultura. The remaining members continued under the name with vocalist Derrick Green. Max formed Soulfly. And the rest is history.

Family was always at the heart of Sepultura. Max played guitar and sang, while his brother Igor destroyed the drums behind him. The band famously sampled the in utero heartbeat of Max’s son, Zyon, now drummer with Soulfly: the first thing heard on 1993’s revolutionary Chaos A.D. Max pulled out of playing with the band at Donington’s Monsters of Rock festival in 1996 because Gloria’s son Dana ‘D-Low’ Wells suddenly died, leaving the band to perform as a threepiece. The grief inspired Max to originally roar ‘Soulfly!’ during his guest appearance on Deftones song “Headup” from 1997’s Around The Fur. The love and tragedy of the Cavalera story has propelled Max onwards.

When I speak to Max he is preparing to play Fort Lauderdale with Go Ahead And Die, the band he’s formed with his other son, Igor Amadeus Cavalera. When I call I get through to Gloria, who passes me to Max. And like the band he’s now playing in, I’ve come full circle with my teenage self.

‘It's really trippy for me to get back to the trenches. It feels like the beginning, like how I started,’ says Max of this live run.

When they announced the tour, Go Ahead And Die pledged to ‘make metal dangerous again’. Max admits that felt like it might be a challenge. But a few dates into it – of connecting with a younger, more frenzied audience – it’s making him feel alive again. There’s no barrier. There are kids on the stage, stepping on his guitar pedals. Every night there’s the feeling that anything could happen. Max is loving it.

There’s also the liberation of having less on his plate. Igor is center stage and Max is stage left, focusing on headbanging, roaring his vocal lines and furiously downpicking the band’s punky thrash riffs. He also gets to watch his son grow onstage every night in a band which Max says is "more his thing than mine".

"I am his sidekick. He's Batman. I'm Robin," he laughs.

Go Ahead And Die was born out of the boredom of the pandemic. Father and son were out of their minds with lockdown ennui so went back to where it all started – what Max describes as "the real fusion of metal and punk that is in the root foundation of thrash". 

Max and Igor had performed together before. Igor delivered guest vocals on the Motörhead-inspired “Feedback!” on Soulfly’s 2018 album Ritual. It seemed something of a mission statement for GAAD a few years before the band formed, with its nostalgic lyrics for grassroots-venue musical chaos and "a circle pit night after night". 

The year before, Igor began performing the classic 1994 Nailbomb album Point Blank alongside his father on tour with Soulfly. Nailbomb was Max’s one-off industrial metal duo with Fudge Tunnel’s Alex Newport. For the tour, Igor took on Newport’s vocal and guitar parts. He nailed it (pun intended) – even doing Newport’s English accent. It seemed to open up a new creative wellspring between Max and Igor. They even demoed 2021’s self-titled GAAD album on the same Korg drum machine Max used when he was writing Point Blank.

"The rawness and anger, and the dangerous, pissed-off elements that Nailbomb had, I think Go Ahead And Die has – even in the name," says Max.

Yes, there’s an aggression in the band’s name, and they’re happy to get a reaction out of people. It’s not a common phrase in American English – it has more in common with a Japanese expression. Elsewhere in metal, the phrase was used by Phil Anselmo in Pantera’s excoriating and self-annihilating “Suicide Note Pt. II”.

Also at play in Go Ahead And Die is the recent rerecordings of early Sepultura material by Max in Cavalera Conspiracy: 1985’s Bestial Devastation EP and 1986’s Morbid Visions album. Cavalera Conspiracy was started by Max and his brother Igor after they reconciled at a memorial concert for Dana Wells in 2006. Igor Amadeus even guested on drums for Cavalera Conspiracy as a boy, at 2008’s Les Eurockéennes Festival in Belfort, France. He did a half-decent job of fan-favorite “Troops of Doom” from Morbid Visions. (Incidentally, also the first song I ever crowd-surfed to – at that Sepultura Brixton Academy gig). It’s hard to imagine GAAD’s latest album, Unhealthy Mechanisms, going as hard as it does without a conscious nod to Max’s primitive beginnings.

"I definitely got charged up by the enthusiasm of the crowd [playing the old material on a recent tour with Cavalera Conspiracy], especially the nostalgic feelings that I get from playing those records," says Max. "I felt a couple of things. Super proud of our past. Some musicians try to forget the past and are even embarrassed by it. I enjoyed doing the opposite of that: embracing my past, being proud of it. I'm proud of those records. I know that they are raw. Morbid Visions is even out of tune!"

Unhealthy Mechanisms is similarly raw. But Igor’s production retains a clarity in the riffs that to Max "stays true to this kind of music". For him the songs are sharper and deeper than their debut – both more involving and less compromising.

The exception on the album proves the rule. “Drug-O-Cop” ventures into new territory – a type of garage punk as if legendary swamp/surf guitarist Link Wray is playing lead for the Dead Kennedys. For Max, it has strong echoes of the boogie-woogie of the latter’s “Police Truck”, which Nailbomb covered at the Dynamo Festival in 1995 (their only live performance to date). ‘Tonight's the night that we got the truck/We're going downtown, gonna beat up drunks,’ “Police Truck” gleefully opens.

“Drug-O-Cop” is a riot of a song and closes GAAD’s shows. It’s a quirkier follow-up to “Toxic Freedom” from their first album. That referred to "uniformed devils" who practice "vile justice". For the lo-fi “Drug-O-Cop” video, Max and Igor dressed up as corrupt police officers. In it, they order donuts, harass a woman and snort copious amounts of cocaine, before being taken down by a budget Robocop-a-like. Max even had a name for his alter-ego: Sheriff Buzzkill.

Throughout his time in Sepultura, Max made it clear he despised authoritarianism. From the photo of Tiananman Square’s ‘Tank Man’ (a lone protester with shopping bags facing down a Chinese army tank during the 1989 massacre) used on the sleeve of single “Refuse/Resist”, to their cover of “Policia” by Brazilian band Titãs and their rechristening Bestial Devastation song “Antichrist” as “Anticop” live. I once got in hot water on a school trip when I played “Anticop” on the stereo as a cheeky message to an off-duty policeman who was helping out on the day.

When I remind him of his past position on law enforcement, Max instead is keen to underline the sardonic humor of “Drug-O-Cop”: "It's a serious topic but doesn't mean that you can't have fun with it."

"Well, actually, I have a lot of friends who are policemen who come to Soulfly shows," he says to my surprised laughter. "And they're cool with it. They understand the humorous side of it. But there's a lot of bad ones too. There's a lot of bad cops and metalheads are a target for that, so we have to watch out for it."

One thing that Unhealthy Mechanisms is serious about is the travails of poor mental health – its title referring to unhealthy coping mechanisms. It was a subject that Igor, as the project’s main songwriter, was keen to explore. Igor has spoken about being in a ‘crazy headspace’ going into the album – alternately angry and depressed – and found himself aghast at the wider world: "the constant struggle of things – the way that each year just starts to seem a little harder than the one before." 

By his own admission Max "didn’t know much about the subject", but the duo tackled it head on.

There’s “Split Scalp”, where the song is torn apart alternately by blast beats (courtesy of drummer Johnny Valles) and then a furious 2-step, simulating split personality disorder. “M.D.A. (Most Dangerous Animal)” explores the psychotic terrain of the serial killer’s mind. But Max is most enthusiastic about the closing title track, which opens with a distorted sample of Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke in the 1998 film of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reeling off a shopping list of narcotics. The song’s key refrain reverberates from the same bottomless pit that Max recorded Bestial Devastation in: ‘Death by substance from unhealthy mechanisms’.

"Some of them even sound like they have a black metal influence, like real high, high notes," Max says of his vocals. "I'm hitting real high, crazy, psychotic notes and on purpose, you know, because we had to be on the edge of that [poor] mental health state of mind. I was like somebody actually losing his mind, to capture the intensity of what that feels like on the edge, or looking into the abyss – so that was kind of cool."

The song is a fine encapsulation of the frantic nature of Go Ahead And Die. Max can write giant hooks and killer riffs – “Roots Bloody Roots” and “Eye For An Eye” are classics that attest to that – but Go Ahead And Die want to sound out of control. Like the cover of the album, their music is akin to having a bonesaw taken to your skull.

"It's about consuming all this medicine that you think is good for you, but it's not really," Max says of the title track. "There's healthier ways to heal yourself. Music being one of them. I think music is an awesome healer. And it would be cooler to see music be used more as a therapy of healing than some of the pharmaceutical chemicals that people put in their bodies to try to make them feel good."

There’s no doubt that heavy music has helped many people suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. But medicine has its place when someone suffers a full-blown psychiatric crisis. As for wider medical scenarios, I’d think twice before prescribing a band called Go Ahead And Die to a cancer patient.

What undoubtedly seems to have kept Max himself in a healthy state of mind over the years is the sheer variety of musical outlets he has created.

"I think one of the things that to me is more interesting in my career is the fact that I got to connect with so many levels of different metal through the years," he says. "Starting with black metal with early Sepultura, and then the death-thrash stuff was great. Then the industrial shit with Nailbomb, and then the whole nu metal thing with Soulfly and [1996 landmark Sepultura album] Roots, and connecting with different people all the time."

Unhealthy Mechanisms has allowed him to combine the old and the new – to complete the circle. His love of old-school English punk and hardcore is prominent in GAAD's “Cyber Slavery”, which he compares to the bands Doom and Extreme Noise Terror. And there’s always the "pissed off, angry" Max who roars out over a chugging beatdown like “Tumors”. When Max stripped the two high strings from his guitar to concentrate on music that was all bone and sinew on Chaos A.D., he distilled metal to its essence. His message on the song is perennial, as he deliberately quotes the lyric of “Spit” from Roots: ‘Live your fucking life and leave me alone’.

But Max has changed since I first saw him in action, twenty-seven years ago. Aside from a friendlier attitude towards the good apples in the police, he’s happy to let his son take the reins on what matters to Igor and his generation. 

Sepultura famously filmed the video for their song “Territory” in the Palestinian territory and Jerusalem. Through the video, the song’s themes of racism, dictatorship and endless war were attached to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians around the time of the signing of the Oslo Accords. In doing so, Sepultura guided young metalheads to think and care about world affairs. I ask Max how he feels about the war in Gaza now. I get the feeling the question throws him a little.

"We did the Territory video a long time ago and I think the situation is still the same," he says. "I mean, it just repeats itself. History just repeats itself. We'll never learn and it keeps getting worse and worse. But I think all those wars are dumb, pretty much. The real people [in authority] don't fight the wars – they just send young people to die. It's a horrible situation."


It’s a diplomatic answer and seems heartfelt. The tragedy being he could have given it at many points in the last thirty years. Like a lot of his songwriting, it contains an honest assessment of an intractable truth. And the music that has delivered his message over the years has a power and stripped-down honesty that is fundamental to how we understand heavy music today.

In short, Max Cavalera is the father of modern metal. He taught a generation to care about political matters, to make them personal, and redefined the genre in the process. If his firebrand views have mellowed somewhat and he’s happier to use GAAD to support his son processing his own struggles, his legacy is still assured. The energy and vehemence of his musical output is undiminished. And his bloody roots will always remain.


See Max Cavalera on tour with Go Ahead and Die. The remaining dates of the Unhealthy Mechanisms Tour can be found below. 

02.20.2024  US  Columbus, OH - Skully's Music Diner ^
02.21.2024  US  Flint, MI - Machine Shop ^
02.22.2024  US  Indianapolis, IN - Black Circle Brewing ^
02.23.2024  US  Chicago, IL - Reggie's
02.24.2024  US  McHenry, IL - The Vixen
02.25.2024  US  St. Paul, MN - Turf Club
02.26.2024  US  Fargo, ND - The Aquarium
02.27.2024  US  Des Moines, IA - xBK
02.28.2024  US  Kansas City, MO - Record Bar
02.29.2024  US  Omaha, NE - Wating Room
03.01.2024  US  Denver, CO - HQ 
03.02.2024  US  Greeley, CO - Moxi Theater +
03.05.2024  US  Grand Junction, CO - Mesa Theater
03.06.2024  US  Salt Lake City, UT - Metro Music Hall 
03.07.2024  US  Boise, ID - Neurolux +
03.08.2024  US  Seattle, WA - Substation +
03.09.2024  US  Portland, OR - Hawthorne Theatre +
03.10.2024  US  Eugene, OR - WOW Hall +
03.11.2024  US  Redding, CA - The Dip ~
03.12.2024  US  Roseville, CA -  Goldfield Trading Post ~
03.14.2024  US  San Jose, CA - The Ritz ~
03.15.2024  US  Santa Cruz, CA -  Atrium At The Catalyst ~
03.16.2024  US  Fresno, CA - Strummer's ~
03.18.2024  US  Bakersfield, CA - Temblor Brewing ~
03.19.2024  US  North Hollywood, CA - Knitting Factory ~
03.20.2024  US  Palmdale, CA - Transplants Brewing ~
03.21.2024  US  Long Beach, CA - Alex's Bar ~
03.22.2024  US  Pomona, CA - Glass House Concert Hall ~
03.23.2024  US  Yuma, AZ - Red Moon Ale House ~
03.24.2024  US  Jerome, AZ - Puscifer The Store ~

+ - with MADZILLA  
~ - with DEEP WITHIN



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