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Playing inside at monstrous volume, a bass line from the Wu-Tang Clan hard-core rap track "Protect Your Neck" vibrates the black wreath nailed to the front door of Max Cavalera's north Phoenix home. The music drops sharply when a visitor knocks hard, then rises again when Cavalera swings the door open. He is polite, but not smiling.
"There is a lot of sadness in this house right now," says the lead singer and second guitarist for the Brazilian speed-metal band Sepultura. "There is a rare bond you only get with a few people in life, where you understand one another very well--music, spirituality . . . all ideas. And someone who I have that bond with is gone."
Cavalera is standing by a wall covered with masks and drums from Mexico and Brazil. His long twists of black hair are dyed with streaks of red, and three or four talismans hang around his neck. Behind him is the kitchen table where he and Dana--legally his stepson, he says, but spiritually his brother--sat together and wrote the lyrics to "Attitude," the second song on Sepultura's latest album, Roots. The recording came out in late March, entering the Billboard chart at a respectable No. 27. Dana, 21, died in a car wreck five months later. Cavalera and his wife, Gloria (Dana's mother and Sepultura's manager), had just arrived in England when the news came.
"We had flown in to do a Monsters of Rock tour in Europe with Ozzy [Osbourne] and KISS," says Cavalera, 27. "We had been in the hotel only half an hour, sleeping. Andreas [Sepultura guitarist Kisser] came in with a crazy, sick feeling on his face. He told us, and in my head it was a tornado."
Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, a longtime friend of the family, flew in the night before the funeral. He and Max went into Dana's room and made a mix tape from the albums there. It was all hard rock. A couple of old Flotsam & Jetsam tunes, a little early Metallica, and some newer stuff, like Korn and the Deftones.
Newsted bought a small boom box the next morning. They put it next to Dana's head, and buried him with the tape playing.
"It helped some, to know he had his music with him for the journey," says Cavalera.
Death has taken from Sepultura's front man before. When he was 9, his father, Italy's ambassador to Brazil, died suddenly. Until then, Max had lived with his younger brother Igor and their mother in a nice apartment in a good part of Sao Paulo. Max's mother, who was single, had little money of her own; the diplomat paid for everything. And when he died, Max's mother was forced to move her family to the impoverished Santa Teresa district of Belo Horizonte, where they all lived in a back room of her mother's house. There was an upside, however: "The ghetto hoodlums," says Cavalera, "were a lot more fun to hang out with than the rich kids."
Backstage at an Austin, Texas, nightclub during this year's South by Southwest music conference in March, Cavalera regaled a group of musicians, groupies and journalists with stories of the "death games" boys in his neighborhood used to play. First there was train surfing. "You had to duck for the tunnels and wires," Cavalera said.
The most dangerous game, however, was a sort of "Deathrace 2000" version of Soapbox Derby. Cavalera said kids would nail boxes to their skateboards and ride them down the steepest paved hill in Santa Teresa, which was about three blocks long. They had to plan their descent carefully, however, because at the bottom of the hill was a busy intersection. Time it right, and you sailed through a green light. Time it wrong, and you were road kill. "One of my friends died playing that game," said Cavalera. "Another lost his leg. Life didn't mean as much to those kids as it does in America, not even their own."
Heavy metal and hard-core punk, Max says, was the music he grew up on--"the perfect soundtrack for my lifestyle"--although when he was growing up he didn't really know there was a difference between the two.
"No one had enough money to buy actual, imported records," he says. "So the record stores just had lots of bootleg tapes the owner made from originals he kept at home. So we never saw what the bands looked like, we just heard them, and without the image I didn't notice that much difference between the Sex Pistols, Discharge, and Motsrhead. It just all sounded loud and wild to me, with lots of guitars.
"Years later I couldn't believe it when I heard that Discharge had spiked hair. When I listened to their music, I always pictured heavy-metal guys."
When Igor was 12 and Max was 13, the Cavalera brothers decided to start a band. They came up with the name first--Sepultura, Portuguese for "grave."
"In the beginning, it was just one of those school things," Max says. "You know, you make a picture of your band's name with skulls and guitars on the cover of your notebook, and you tell everyone you're in a rock band when you can't even really play."