Heavy metal group
Across between heavy metal and world music, Soulfly is a leader of the “world metal” movement that has gained popularity across Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Incorporating indigenous musical forms—in Soulfly’s case, Brazilian rhythms and chants—with aggressive guitar work and rage-filled lyrics, world metal has crossed boundaries and cultures to become a truly international genre of music. As leader Max Cavalera commented in an interview with the Orlando Sun, “I joke around and say I’m the Paul Simon of metal. I will jam with anybody.”
Soulfly had its origins with Cavalera’s acrimonious departure from Sepultura, a Brazilian heavy metal group that had released several albums throughout the 1980s and 1990s. With a name that literally meant “grave” in Portuguese, the band attracted a dedicated death-metal following in its own country and toured extensively to promote its work in Eastern Europe and America. Its fans were shocked by Cavalera’s departure in late 1996; not only was he one of the band’s founders, but its primary singer and songwriter as well. In an open letter posted on This Swirling Sphere website, Cavalera criticized the band for listening to ’ “outsiders’ telling everybody what to do, how to act,” and for forcing out his wife as Sepultura’s manager. “This is not the tribe I believe in anymore. I’m sorry, but I’m faithful and loyal to the people that have been good to me and I won’t change my ways for nothing!” After 15 years together in Sepultura, however, Cavalera’s brother stayed on with the band.
In addition to the loss of his band, Cavalera also suffered through the death of his stepson, who was murdered in an unsolved slaying that characterized the chaos of Brazilian society. In the 1990s, more than 100 individuals had “disappeared” and were presumed murdered in Cavalera’s hometown of Belo Horizonte, and an estimated ten percent of homicides in Sao Paulo were committed by the police. Cavalera himself had often criticized the role of the police in perpetuating violent crimes in songs such as Sepultura’s “Policia,” a stand that he claimed resulted in his arrest for supposedly desecrating the Brazilian flag at a 1994 concert in São Paulo. Fed up with the violence and corruption in Brazil, Cavalera relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1991.
Cavalera may have lost his stepson, his band, and his native country, but he retained the musical direction that Sepultura had taken with the release of the last album he completed with the band, Roots, in 1996. That album melded Brazilian Indian chants and percussive rhythms with intense guitar feedback and pointed criticisms of Brazil’s military establishment as well as the corporate music industry. Forming a new band, Soulfly, Cavalera was joined by drummer Roy Mayorga, guitarist Jackson Banderia, and former Sepultura roadie and bassist Marcelo Rapp, a lineup that later changed to include Mikey Doling on guitar and Joe Nunez on drums. Continuing the direction he had taken with Roots while coping with the series of losses he had faced during the past year gave Cavalera the opportunity to complete “the most personal and diverse [album] of my career,” as the front man told Las Vegas Weekly. “I had to use all the tragedy around me and turn it into a positive thing. The experimentation and tribal rhythms heard on this album are a cry of celebration and rebirth.” Released in 1998, Soulfly was “even harder and more aggressive” than anything Sepultura had recorded, as a Q magazine review noted, praising its accomplished blend of indigenous and metal influences.
Soulfly underwent a number of personnel changes as Cavalera sought members who could share his commitment “to give it all,” as he told NY Rock online in 1999. “I think we’re on our way somewhere. We’re building something. At the moment we sow, later on we can bring the harvest in. But anybody who wants to harvest has to make sacrifices and has to work hard for it, like playing in dingy little clubs and not having a lot of money.” Cavalera’s dedication included an extensive concert schedule that took the band to Germany, England, America, and Russia, where the audiences were especially receptive to Soulfly’s mix of rage and hope. In order to give local bands some exposure, Soulfly tried whenever possible to give them a spot as an opening act. The group also made room for anti-censorship booths to distribute information on its 1999 United States tour. For Cavalera, such deeds demonstrated the possibility of retaining his integrity even while enjoying a successful career. Soulfly’s leader was not above commercial endorsements, however,
Members include Max Cavalera (born Massimiliano Cavalera on August 4, 1968, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil), lead vocals, guitar; Mikey Doling, guitar; Joe Nunez, drums; Marcelo D. Rapp (born Marcelo Dias), bass.
Band formed by Max Cavalera after departing death-metal band Sepultura, late 1996; first album recorded the following year and released as Soulfly, 1998; toured extensively based on large international following in America and Europe; released follow-up album, Primitive, 2000.
writing a song for a Sprite soft drink commercial that aired in Brazil.
With one well-received album and a string of successful concert tours behind the band, Cavalera and Soulfly looked forward to entering the studio for their second album. Although the band’s membership was still changing, Cavalera emphasized the collaborative aspects of Soulfly’s creative process. Discussing his musicianship in Guitar Player, Cavalera explained, “If everything is completely tight, the band sounds like a machine—yet if everything is too loose, the music sounds sloppy. In our case, when you put Mikey [Doling] and me together, the groove sounds very fresh and loose, without being sloppy.” Soulfly also enlisted musicians as diverse as Sean Lennon, Tom Araya of Slayer, and Chino Moreno of the Deftones for its second album, released as Primitive in 2000. With elements of Brazilian, gospel, and reggae music incorporated into the band’s speed-metal format, the album contained highlights such as “Soulfly II,” which NY Rock hailed as “a gorgeous example of what [Cavalera] can accomplish with his sense of melody and Brazilian rhythm.”
Although most of the lyrics of Primitive were less overtly angry than those on Soulfly’s debut album, songs like “Terrorist” and “The Prophet” showed Cavalera continuing to vent his rage. The front man hoped, however, that his music served a greater purpose. As Cavalera commented on his record company’s website, “With this album, it’s about turning anger into something positive…. The average Soulfly fan deals with a lot of show every day, and I think my music helps.” As well, the newfound maturity reflected in Primitive further completed the separation of Cavalera’s Soulfly work from that of Sepultura, which had continued to record and tour with a new singer after Cavalera’s departure. Indeed, experimenting with collaborations of guest musicians and taking a musically eclectic approach, Soulfly’s first two albums had expanded the heavy metal genre to the extent that the label “heavy metal” seemed too limiting a term to apply to the band.
The completion of Primitive and the collaborative efforts of Soulfly also helped Cavalera put the disillusionment of his final Sepultura days behind him. Continuing to live in Phoenix with his wife and son, Cavalera enjoyed a measure of peace that renewed his commitment to his music and Soulfly’s fans. Retaining his integrity remained his paramount mission. As Cavalera told Las Vegas Weekly, “Too many people in this industry are so worried about money, fame, and security they forget about the real meaning of it all.” He concluded, “But things will be all right as long as you don’t lose the fire inside of you. I’ve never lost the fire.”
Soulfly, Roadrunner, 1998.
Primitive, Roadrunner, 2000.
Levine, Robert M., The History of Brazil, Greenwood Press, 1999.
Amusement Business, August 8, 1999.
Billboard, March 5, 1994.
Guitar Player, January 2001.
Las Vegas Weekly, September 2000.
Rolling Stone, March 21, 1996.
Orlando Sentinel, April 4, 2001.
Q, May 1998.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (April 19, 2001).
CMJ, http://www.cmjmusic.com/articles/ (April 27, 2001).
NY Rock, http://www.nyrock.com/interviews/soulfly_int.htm (April 27, 2001).
Roadrunner Records, http://www.roadrunnerrecords.com/ artists/soulfly (April 21, 2001).
Rough Edge, http://www.roughedge.com/cdreviews/soulfly. htm (April 27, 2001).
This Swirling Sphere, http://www.thei.aust.com/isite/max.html (April 27, 2001).
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