My Bloody Roots: Max Cavalera’s Autobiography

Posted: October 7, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Fittingly, now that I have arrived in Brazil, my first book in Portuguese is the autobiography of former Sepultura vocalist Max Cavalera. This entry isn’t necessarily intended as a review of the book; though I will comment on a few aspects of it up front since I’m here and, more importantly, you’re already reading.

While it’s good filling in the long-mysterious “why did Max leave Sepultura?” gaps, which his version of the story provides to a degree in this written volume, I can’t say that I’m particularly interested in knowing about the Soulfly years following his departure from arguably the most promising metal band of the 1990s. The book is divided roughly in half, with the latter portion focusing exclusively on Soulfly and Max’s other post-Sepultura projects; all of which are too nu-metal for my tastes, and none of which even remotely equates to the grandeur and might of Sepultura when the band was still punching its weight. It’s Max’s life and his book, so obviously he’s free to delve into whatever subject matter suits him and the audience he intends to reach; and obviously Soulfly has its share of fans who are intrigued by that band’s history and, particularly, that of its frontman. But I’m willing to wager that most of the people purchasing this book, whether in Brazil or abroad, are primarily disposed to hear more about the Sepultura years and the now-classic speed metal recordings the band produced, not to mention the marathon world tours, in which the band engaged in the early-to-mid 1990s.

Additionally, though perhaps it was penned with contemporary short attention spans in mind, the book is quite thin. It’s only slightly over 200 pages in length, and that with a larger-than-12-point font and a middle section thick with photos of Max’s life. Considering that Max himself has boasted in interviews that the book is the definitive story of his entire life, AND took nearly three years to write it’s hard to imagine how he only came up with 200 pages of material.

Having said all that, which I realize may come off as negative, I was pleased with the book. It still left me knowing more about Max (like the fact that his father was a Brazilian diplomat and Max himself was baptized Catholic in the Vatican) and the formation and musical/professional development of Sepultura than I’d have otherwise known, which is golden for a metal trivia junkie.

Now, some background on my own history with the group… I first read about Sepultura in 1989 – I was 12 years young and an already-discriminating extreme metal fan in every sense of the term – in an issue of the mighty (though now long-defunt) RIP Magazine. I first listened to the group in 1991, at my boy Dan Brill’s house when he pressed play on his CD deck and out came barreling the sonic chainsaw of their seminal “Beneath the Remains” CD. At the time, Max’s vocals were so extreme they were harder to decipher than even those of Testament’s Chuck Billy, which was really saying something in those days. I celebrated the next summer, in 1992, with the arrival of the “Arise” album, another landmark for a young metal fan hoping his praying would not disappoint him with waning extremity in a musical landscape that seemed to be going increasingly commercial; the band did not disappoint, and continued achieving global acclaim doing things their own way, almost a contradiction in terms during the hey-day of made-for-TV alternative bands. I began to realize, in early 1994, that Sepultura was achieving something close to global metal stardom when RIP magazine published a special edition on death metal and put the band on the cover. I’d never abandon a group for not being huge, but even as a kid I never liked to saddle my wagon to the horse of a loser, and it was reassuring to see that extreme metal’s fortunes were apparently rising, as this portended well for my own group, Witch Hunt, which I was perennially trying to take to that mystical and elusive “next level” in those days. I first saw Sepultura live on June 29, 1994 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland when they and Biohazard opened for Pantera, and Sepultura were touring to support the “Chaos AD” album.

The classic lineup lasted but a few more short years, and by the time they broke up after releasing “Roots” in 1996, I had already begun growing apart from the group, at the time displeased with the musical direction they were taking as it reeked too heavily of nu-metal for my tastes. Still, the classic period had been more than a wonderful ride for me, and I counted myself fortunate to have been, at least for a short time and in a very marginal manner, part of Sepultura’s glory years.

It will be eternally earmarked as one of the minor miracles of heavy metal how a group of dirty, tattooed kids from Belo Horizonte, Brazil could insinuate their unlikely speed metal project into a household name in a majority Roman Catholic nation that on its surface would never in a gazillion years embrace what Sepultura represents. This bizarre twist of history illustrates not only how hard the band strived, but the generally superior musical tastes of Brazilians, who likewise held a key role in catapulting Iron Maiden to fame in the Southern Hemisphere.

 

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