Interview: Max Cavalera and Soulfly Get Extreme with 'Enslaved'

From the first few seconds of "World Scum," it's clear that Enslaved is a different kind of Soulfly album.

Death metal riffs abound on the Brazilian metal band's eighth studio album, as do a number of unexpected twists and turns, including, but not limited to, slide guitar on "Treachery," a violin, and guest appearances from Dez Fafara of DevilDriver and Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation.

It's fitting that such an extreme record should come from Soulfly's most musically imposing lineup yet, the band's current incarnation seeing guitarists Max Cavalera and Mark Rizzo joined by former Borknagar/Arsis drummer David Kinkade and ex-Static X bassist Tony Campos.

Kindade's influence is felt almost immediately on the album, with his nimble double-kick work driving tracks like "Legion" and "American Steel," while Campos supercharges the bottom end with equal parts rumble and growl.

It may be hard for some metal fans to believe, but Cavalera has now recorded more albums with Soulfly than with his first band, Sepultura. Max plans to reveal his side of the Sepultura story in his upcoming biography, which he hopes is out by Christmas. But right now, it's all about Soulfly.

GUITAR WORLD: You recently had a bit of a scare with a sudden bout of Bell's Palsy [a condition that causes a typically temporary paralysis of the facial muscles]. How are you feeling now?

It's gone away. I went to the doctor yesterday, actually. It's 90 percent gone now. It was freaky. It's a virus you catch in the air. I think I might have gotten it while I was in Australia with Cavalera Conspiracy for the Big Day Out festival. It was two days after we got back from Australia that I woke up and half of my face was paralyzed. I thought I was having a stroke!

First Jeff Hanneman contracts a flesh-eating disease after going to Australia, and now this. When are metal musicians going to learn to stay out of Australia?

Yeah, right? You go there and you catch all kinds of crazy shit. [laughs]

You played a short run of shows in South America recently with your son, Zyon, on drums. What was that like?

It was awesome, man. He did great. All the people that saw him were really surprised. There were a lot of comments online that the songs sounded really great. It was something special I wanted to do for South America. Dave [Kinkade, drummer] is in the band, he made the record with us, and he's going to get back in the band now when we head to Mexico next week, and then we have the Five Finger Death Punch tour.

Just from listening to the record, especially the more aggressive nature of it, Dave seems to be fitting in really well.

We did two shows with Dave and it was great. We just have to do more shows so we can get more in tune; the more shows you play, the tighter the band gets. We need to do that with Dave so he can get more comfortable with the song, especially the old Soulfly material.

He did a hell of a job on the record, though. I love his drumming. I love that death metal style of drumming he plays; it's really exciting. I can't wait to be playing with the whole band -- him and Mark and Tony. I think it's a really cool Soulfly lineup.

Speaking of Dave's death metal style of drumming, I can't help but notice that Enslaved is probably the most extreme Soulfly album to date. Did his style influence the record at all or was that already something you had in mind?

He helps execute the songs the way I had them in my head. When I wrote the riffs for Enslaved, I had the double-bass sound in my head, and to have someone that can really play that helps. He can really execute the double-bass perfectly; he's flawless. But it was already set in my head that I was going to make a heavy record, a little more death metal with the music.

Were Tony [Kampos, bassist] and Dave able to get very involved with the songwriting for Enslaved?

I wrote all the riffs; that's what I do, I'm pretty much a riff machine. So a lot of the riffs that became songs on the record were created before they were even in the band.

But then I take it to the studio and show it to them, and we play it together, and it develops into a real song. That's when their ideas and contributions go into the song, so more parts get added. Having someone like Tony in the studio was really killer, because he's a solid bass player and really professional -- and excited too! When he hears a riff he really likes, he gets everyone excited about it. It's good to play with musicians like that.

"World Scum" is the first track most people heard from Enslaved. Did you feel that track was a pretty good representation of the sound and feel of the whole album?

I love having it be the first single because it just shows the state of mind Soulfly is in right now, which is heavy and brutal and aggressive and all balls-out. I think Travis [Ryan, Cattle Decapitation] did great vocals, it was a blast having him on the song. I'm really proud of that song.

Speaking of Travis, he's not the only guest on the new album. In fact, for the first time ever, a violin makes an appearance on a Soulfly song. What led to that?

I always wanted to do a song with a violin; I always loved the sound of the instrument, especially for melodic stuff. When I was making Enslaved, I thought it'd be really cool to have something different on top of it, apart from what we already do.

I got in touch with a violin player and he came in and played live. He just heard the song once and then just played along and did great. He played throughout the whole song, and we decided we didn't need the violin the whole time, so we took him in and out in some parts. Most of his best performance was left in, though, and I think it worked out great.

Back to "World Scum" for a moment. That track is pretty representative of a lot of the album tracks because it brings in a lot of historical themes, which also can be found on songs like "Legions" and "American Steel." Where do you draw that inspiration from?

That's my own interest in history. I love history and I love watching history movies, stuff like Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. I get ideas from these movies. When I write lyrics about the assassination of the czar, that comes from Nicholas and Alexandra.

I really love history. when I was a little kid in Brazil, it was my favorite subject in school. I always did really well in it. It's a big part of why I do what I do, because I get to travel and see all these places. We get to travel to Siberia, Japan, China, Australia, South America and even the little cities all around America. It's probably my favorite thing about being in a band.Turning to gear for a bit, the rhythm guitar sound is really great on Enslaved. What are you using?We used Peavey amplification. Mark used some old Marshalls to record some of his rhythms. I used B.C. Rich guitars and some ESP guitars and very little pedals. I didn't use any pedals; my sound was just using the distortion from the Peavey. Mark used his digital wah and a couple other pedals for some of the solos, but most of it's just what we had. I really like working with Mark because he always manages to get that crushing sound from the guitars. He really likes that thrash metal sound, a lot of old Metallica, Exodus -- and I always liked that too.Combined with the death metal riffs, I thought they go together really great, because you've got that crunchy guitar and you're playing death metal riffs. The two and two together match perfectly.The rhythm sound really hits you hard when the tracks change tempos and hit a slower, more grooving part of the song.It was fun doing that. What I like a lot about this album is that it has middle sections, and we did work a lot on the arrangements of the songs. Songs like "Legions" and "Treachery" have a build-up part for the solo, and there's a breakdown part -- even "World Scum." There's a whole breakdown section in the middle of "World Scum" that gets away from the beginning of the song, which is really death metal-sounding. Then it comes to this part that's almost melodic or eerie sounding, and then it comes back to the death metal.We had fun doing these kinds of structures on the songs. Most of the sounds are five and six minutes long, so they're longer than I'm used to. Especially in Cavalera Conspiracy, where the songs are more like two minutes. It's good to get back to longer songs with more parts. You really get to experiment with your instrument.We have such awesome players in the band now, so we can really do that. We have a great bass player, a killer drummer and Mark, who's an amazing guitar player, so it was actually fun to experiment with the music. As heavy as it is on the album, it's still kind of melodic because Mark put a lot of melodic solos on it and gave it another dimension. My favorite solo it on "Treachery." It almost sounds a bit like "Diary of a Madman" when it breaks down. Mark put some acoustic guitars on the bottom of the song and did this Pink Floyd solo on top of it with a slide guitar. It's great playing with Mark, he always surprises me with new stuff I haven't heard before.Soulfly's new album, Enslaved, is out March 13 via Roadrunner Records.

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Josh Hart

Josh Hart is a former web producer and staff writer for Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado magazines (2010–2012). He has since pursued writing fiction under various pseudonyms while exploring the technical underpinnings of journalism, now serving as a senior software engineer for The Seattle Times.