Sound studio

Soulfly: Heavy Metal’s Spirit Animal

When Max Cavalera hung up his BURIAL boots to Brixton Academy on December 16, 1996, he entered the great unknown. Mourning the death of his stepson, he feared the end of his career. To channel his pain into catharsis, at least he formed SOULFLY. But did he really think it would be as impactful or as influential as BURIAL turned out to be?

“I just wanted to survive that first record, the main goal was like ‘let it be okay, oh please let it be okay so I can keep doing what I love’. Max humbly reflects from his home in Arizona. “There’s a mix of fear and excitement that exists on this record that I don’t think I’ve encountered since or ever before.”

Considering Max is the man who wrote the likes of Bloody Roots Roots, refuse resist and Territory in the history of heavy metal, the late 90s was a minefield of self-doubt and impostor syndrome. “I just wanted to survive by leaving BURIAL and start a new chapter. I knew how hard it was and I know a lot of other people have failed trying this so it was a huge task but I just knew SOULFLY was going to be different, from the members changing all the time to the music changing from record to record,” he says. “But as long as my heart is in it and I feel joy about what I’m playing, I’m okay with that and that’s been the case on all SOULFLY discs, even the ones that I don’t think are as strong as the others Presage Where 3 that I feel are less inspired, I still think that all SOULFLY records are incredibly important.

Press the fast forward button 25 years and SOULFLY are very much alive. Not only have they survived their self-titled album, they also now have 12 albums to their name, with a new album Totem yet another step into a brave new sonic world. After four decades of revolutionizing what metal means again and again, Max searched for the sounds that started it all to take the next bold step. But it wasn’t by chance, it was by universal design. Following the tragic death of BURIEDit is LG Petrov, Max punctuated his days in the studio with their music.

“I remember the day he died, I just listened to all their records, and it was sad, but I wanted to celebrate LG Petrov in a special way, so I listened to everything. Totem really reminds me dark times because when we did that, dime bag [Darrell] died, that’s why he was called dark times.”

From there it ran down an old school death metal rabbit hole. MORBID ANGEL, CARCASS, GODFLESH, OBITUARY and DECIDE were the driving forces behind SOULFLYin a progressive version of death-thrash on Totem. “I’m in love with the raw, old-school two-minute tracks from albums like reign in blood and Under the remains so side A of Totem is my homage to the time, and I get credit for doing it because I come from that scene, and I think after the pandemic, people are ready to embrace something brutal like that.

Totem isn’t just old-school death metal. It draws its venom from the breakneck rhythm and groove of new school thrash. Ironically, it’s another deceased musician whose music inspired Maxand he has producer Arthur Rize thank for that. “One of my favorite things arthurit is done Nightmarish logic by POWER TRIGGER – he created a thrash record that sounded like it was straight out of 1987, incredibly old school sounding but with a whole new energy and power,” Max enthuses admiringly, clearly carried away by a new way of teaching old dogs tricks. But don’t worry, it’s not just about ripping your face off. There are plenty of things to get your teeth into Totem.

SOULFLYgot heavier and heavier over the years, and there’s still plenty of groovy drumming stuff throughout Totem and there’s even some experimental stuff on the B-side – there’s songs like Soulfly XII which is gothic rock, like THE TREATMENT Where SISTERS OF MERCY kind of instrumental, and spirit animal is a 10 minute journey with different passages, time signatures and tempo changes.

Max do not see Totem like your typical one-and-done record. It’s a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde vibe, showcasing both sides of the same SOULFLY piece of money. “I was thinking more of an old school approach to In front of and B-side; In front of is one of the most raw, savage powers; the first five songs when we play live, we have to play all five of them straight. B-side has The ancestors and ecstasy Golden which have all these experiential passages and outros, and then there’s spirit animal and I was totally out of my comfort zone, and maybe I’m out of my depth, but I went anyway – hope people like it because it’s so unusual and different.

Being unusual and different meant breaking tradition. For the first time since 2004it is Prophecy, SOULFLY having made a record without a guitarist Marc Rizo. For Max, Mark blocked the way to push SOULFLY to the future. “I leave Marc Rizo to go was an opportunity to do SOULFLY different in the future with different ideas. On the record, I had the opportunity to have those old school heavy metal solos that aren’t normally heard on a SOULFLY record, because some of the older players like lucio and Logan and Mike Dolan weren’t for it, so I saw it as an opportunity to bring some new blood and excitement to SOUFLYand we succeeded.

As SOULFLY flew into heavier territory, as did their themes, celebrating heavy metal’s connection with mother nature. “Tome, Totem is a very metal name; when you go to see a gig, the backdrop is always the totem of that band, and the symbolism in the metal is so important,” he says. “I noticed that a lot of the songs were about nature and the spirits of the forest, like Superstition talk about this mountain here in Arizona called mountains of superstition and they are very mysterious; golden ecstasy talks about the man’s quest for gold that drives you crazy and The ancestors talks about the colonial brutalization of countries like Brazil and South America in general, and then I read about Totem, and I thought that connection was amazing.

It’s these little connections that Totem is built around. That you rage in the mosh pit for rot in pain or gliding through the cosmos on spirit animal, you are expected to ditch your devices and discover the world. that you join Max for his walks in the Arizona desert or his brother igor for New Year’s Eve celebrations at Stone Henge, it’s metal’s connection to nature that SOULFLY want you to find.

“What I wanted to convey with this record is that metal and nature are linked, maybe in an unconscious way, but it’s linked. I like the power of nature, and it’s more linked more metal than we think; I’ve traveled a lot around the world, I’ve seen all these cool forests in Norway, the fjords in Iceland and the deserts in Egypt; the world is a big and amazing place and I wanted Totem to celebrate this spiritual power that comes from nature.

With 25 years of SOUFLY under his belt, and his survival well and truly assured, it is the spiritual power of the world around us that fuels this heavy metal legend’s mission to share this discovery. It’s what connects the dots between their past, present and future. “In the age of technology, I think we need to get as close to nature as possible, and Totem is a good starting point for all of this.

Totem is available now through Nuclear Blast Records.

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