Intellects often confuse primitivism with stupidity, as if raw and barbaric sentiments were strictly the byproducts of the inarticulate and emotionally unstable. However, more can often be communicated through primal anger than through thoughtful debate. Just check out the speeches of Malcolm X, the political discourse of Rage Against the Machine or the photographs of Andreas Serrano. And just because a message is as simple and direct as a blow to the teeth, doesn't make it less meaningful.
Soulfly frontman Max Cavalera knows this only too well. Ever since forming the seminal thrash metal band Sepultura in the mid '80s, the Brazilian guitarist and vocalist has dedicated himself to creating expressive and cultural torrents of sheer aggression. After leaving that band in 1996, he formed an even more cathartic and innovative outfit called Soulfly. In 1998, the group emerged from the studio with a self-titled album that reflected the changes in the heavy music community without compromising Cavalera's vision one iota. Where Sepultura hinted at cross-cultural aesthetics, Soulfly delivered, mingling surging, rhythm guitar tracks and roaring vocals with tribal Brazilian drumming.
The band's new record, Primitive, is every bit as aggressive as its predecessor, but it's far more experimental, incorporating a wide range of sound effects, dynamics and percussive variation. The ambient "Soulfly II," which employs a variety of Brazilian string instruments, doesn't even sound like a rock song. In addition to accessing every ounce of musical intensity from his soul to create Primitive, Cavalera accessed his bulging rolodex, and pulled forth a roster of guest musicians that rivals those of the hottest hip-hop records. Not only does the album features include tracks with metal mainstays like Tom Araya from Slayer, Chino Moreno from deftones, and Corey from Slipknot, it also features collaborations with Sean Lennon and Arizona rap group Cutthroat Logic.
Primitive, evocative and undeniably creative, Soulfly are taking heavy metal to a place most alterna-angst bands haven't even dreamed about.
Guitar.com: There are more dynamics on Primitive than on your debut record, but it's still extremely heavy.
Max Cavalera: It's a little bit more experimental. But the heaviness is still part of me. It's what I like. It's what my fans like. I love to fuck shit up. But I experimented a lot with guests and with percussion and with different sounds. Primitive has got more sounds than any other record. Through the whole record there's shit coming in and coming out every song.
Guitar.com: What was the goal going in?
Cavalera: The goal was to make a dream album that defeats the last album in terms of creativity and attitude and passion. So, I pulled everything I had from my heart and my soul. It took a lot of time between the last album and this album, but it was worth it. We used the time good to create something good rather than spit out an album real fast. That's not a good idea - not for a second record. On the first record a lot of people had doubts. Can Max go on without Sepultura? Now people know that Soulfly exists and survived the first album, so I needed to deliver a fucking kick-ass record.
Guitar.com: Were you under a lot of pressure?
Cavalera: I felt pretty military about this record. I was like, against all odds I will have to do this. Nothing will get in the way. So it was kind of hard sometimes. In the studio I was really pushing, making the whole band really go for it. We had a new drummer, [Joe], so I had to really work for him because I can scream at [bassist] Marcello [D. Rapp] and I can choke him and shit, and make him fucking do it, but the new guy is so new, I don't want to freak him out and have him passed out in the middle of recording. So I had to be careful with him. Sometimes the shit wasn't going right and I'd say, "Take it easy, man. Let's step outside."
Guitar.com: In Goodfellas lingo, comments like that are threatening. Did he think you were gonna whack him?
Cavalera: [laughs] No, I'd just walk with him and get some air and explain how my brother or [first Soulfly drummer] Roy ['Rata' Mayorga] used to play. I'd go, "If it's not working don't be frustrated. Move onto another song. We'll come back to this later." We did that a bunch of times - until we got it right.
Guitar.com: Do you work best when you feel like there's a gun up against your head?
Cavalera: I don't know. Some of the shit I did was done completely without pressure, and some of it was total pressure. So it varies. The song we did with Corey from Slipknot called "Jump the Fuck Up" was pretty fucking intense because I wanted that song to be real sick from the beginning. I needed that sick riff and I struggled with it all morning. I was playing the shit out of it and getting so mad, punching the guitar and shit and yelling, "Fuck you! C'mon motherfucker! Where are you? I know you're fucking there somewhere!" And then finally I got the opening riff, and the minute I played it, everybody goes, "Holy shit" and just automatically started playing. From there it took like an hour we wrote the whole song.
Guitar.com: The percussion on Primitive is really impressive.
Cavalera: I did it more interesting this time. I mixed Jamaican and Brazilian percussion. Brazilian's really tribal, and big sounding. And the Jamaican is more like something you'll hear on a Bob Marley record - all these little drums that sound killer. So you mix the heavy percussion and light percussion, and then you get what you hear on the record.
Guitar.com: Did the last Soulfly record outsell anything by Sepultura?
Cavalera: Yeah, it went gold and it did better than Roots, which I think was Sepultura's most popular album. We got a lot of different fans with Soulfly. Sepultura fans are kind of closed-minded in a way, where Soulfly got to attract more people into the tribe who were into different things. We get the metal people, but then we also get people who are into Korn and even more melodic things. We have one on this new song called "Soulfly II" that sounds like Dead Can Dance. It's got piano, clarinet. That will please the guy that's not into heavy shit at all. So I think overall, we can gather more people with Soulfly.
Guitar.com: You wrote the cut "Son Song" with Sean Lennon. How did that happen?
Cavalera: It was a coincidence mixed with fate. We were in Australia together on Big Day Out and we ended up sharing the same bus through the whole tour. So we'd talk about music and we realized we had a common love for Japanese hardcore bands like Yellow Machinegun and Boredoms. He watched us play live and he loved it. And then I listened to his music and I thought it was interesting how he mixed the influence of his dad with the crazy sounds of his mom. I thought doing a song with him would be cool. Like the Beatles meets metal. So I invited him to spend five days in Phoenix and we wrote together. I think it's one of those contrasts that works. We both really enjoy what we're doing and I think that's the key to making a good song.
Guitar.com: "Terrorist" features Tom Araya from Slayer. How did that come about?
Cavalera: The idea came from a fan in Europe who wrote me a letter. The kid said I should do a full metal attack with Tom, and I thought that was a really cool idea. Me and Tom go way back from carrying on metal in the Beneath the Remains and Rain in Blood days. And I thought, "Man, him and me in the studio can be fucking killer. We can just write a sick tune and give a present to every metal fan in the world." It was fun to work with Tom, and I was kind of like a fan in the studio as well. I love Slayer. I was freaking out. That was a high point. It was a special thing because he doesn't record albums with anybody. He sticks to doing Slayer. As far as metal goes, it was like, wow, what a moment.
Guitar.com: All your stuff has always been aggressive and angry. And this one's really loud too, but the anger doesn't seem as prominent.
Cavalera: I've turned anger and hate into something positive. This stage of my life right now is about gathering our tribe and feeling the music and energy and letting it flow. It's a celebration of that instead of just being pissed off for no reason. I didn't feel it would be natural to make a negative album.
Guitar.com: How long did the album take to do?
Cavalera: About four months to write and another month to record. We started working in January, but we didn't write it all at once. It was a stop-start, stop-start process. We recorded it at Saltmine Studio in Mesa. But it had good gear, so it was all Toby Wright needed. He said he could make a good sounding record there and I didn't want to leave Phoenix. I wanted to be with my family and my friends. So we made it work.
Guitar.com: Chino Moreno from the Deftones helped out on "Pain" and he was on the last record as well.
Cavalera: Yeah. Chino and me go back to the beginning of Soulfly. We've got this connection. I sang on "Headup," which was on their Around the Fur record. And actually the name Soulfly came from that song. So there's a big roots-like connection. We're bonded together by Dana, who is my stepson that was murdered. He brought deftones to me long before they were really popular. I loved them in the beginning and I embraced them right away. And we became friends, and when they would come to town, I would get on the stage with them and jam "Engine Number 9" with them. We just kept the bond alive through the years. So I had to have Chino on this record because "Pain" was a song about Dana, but in a different way than "First Commandment," which was on the first record. "Pain" is more about what happened after all these years. The only thing that remains in the heart always is pain. Everything else smooths out a little bit but the pain stays.