Phoenix Metal Mainstay Max Cavalera Talks About the New Killer Be Killed Album

Killer Be Killed
Killer Be Killed Nuclear Blast

These days, music fans are searching for an escape. Live shows and many scheduled album releases have been placed on hiatus in 2020. Instead, listeners are retreating to favorite records and songs, reminiscing over old photos and videos taken at shows this time last year, and promising to never again take live music for granted.

Brazilian metal legend and long-time Arizona resident Max Cavalera has been hard at work to provide whatever musical solace he can for his fans — and himself: writing new Soulfly music, hosting live Facebook sessions, and most recently, releasing the new Killer Be Killed album, Reluctant Hero, the long-awaited follow-up to the band’s 2014 debut.

Killer Be Killed is the heavy metal supergroup composed of Converge drummer Ben Koller and three distinct powerhouse vocalists: Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan), Cavalera (Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy, Sepultura), and Troy Sanders (Mastodon).

Packed with a diverse blend of metal, thrash, hardcore, progressive, and doom, Reluctant Hero, which was released last week, has songs that will appeal to fans of Deftones or High On Fire, such as the title track, described by Puciato as “a mixture of Neurosis and Def Leppard.”

Phoenix New Times recently spoke with Cavalera about about divvying up vocals between three metal legends, his proudest moment on the album, and his dream collaborations.

Phoenix New Times: Congrats on the new album! It was written and recorded mostly prior to this year, correct?
Max Cavalera: The music was done last year, and then the vocals we did this year. It was all in different sessions, even the writing — every year almost since the debut.

Killer Be Killed’s debut was quite politically charged. Was this one influenced at all by politics?
It’s more abstract. There isn’t anything really political — it’s more “mind” lyrics. It’s more positive in general, about having a shot in life and not wasting it, making the best of it you can, living as if you’re never going to die. With three of us writing lyrics, we have three different approaches. Mine is more direct, then Troy and Greg write more abstract lyrics. But what I like about the album is that it was taking a break from what’s going on right now. The political stress, riots, pandemic — you put this record on, it’s an escape for an hour, which is a record we need right now. There’s a lot of different vibes going on in this record; it’s really diverse. It has what we love that we borrow from [different genres]. Then you put it all in a blender and the result is what you get in the album.

What do you get artistically from this band that you don’t get from your other projects?
It’s a fun project to be a part of right now. It’s that teenage excitement of making music with people you love. It’s a very pure feeling, really refreshing. Soulfly will always be the constant in my life, but Killer Be Killed is a break. I sing a little less and the final result is an involvement of all the people. Hopefully next year at this time, we'll be able to do shows with this band.

With three strong, distinct metal voices, how do you guys decide who sings on what?
It’s organized chaos, you know? Because we write all the music first. But what we try to do is a little bit more of the unexpected. So a riff that sounds more like what I would sing on, I stay away from it and go in the direction of a riff that was more unusual for me to sing.

We discovered that when we made the first record, the magic thing that happened was the vocals … almost like a wrestling tag team. One guy goes in the vocal booth, comes out, tags next guy. It’s a revolving door. We never do the vocals all at once — separately. ... It’s the secret formula of Killer Be Killed.

I love the soaring sound of “A Dream Gone Bad.” What’s your favorite track or proudest moment on the album?
I’m proud of a lot of the different stuff I got to do on this album, like not doing typical Max riffs. On that song, there was a riff I had that was very melodic that I would probably never use anywhere else. The guys fell in love with it, especially Troy. Also I like the closing track, "Reluctant Hero," which was an experimental track. It started in my backyard with acoustic guitars, then we took it to the studio and messed more with it. Originally, it was going to be a massive attack with programmed drums, but since we had a great drummer we had him just play the whole thing. It’s the most unusual song I’ve been involved with besides “Tree of Pain” from Soulfly’s 3.

What’s a collaboration you’d love to do?

The OGs of heavy metal, like Rob Halford, Ozzy Osbourne, Bruce Dickinson — those three are at top of my bucket list. If it happens, it will happen. I just love collaborations; I do them all the time. I like a lot of the underground music right now, too. If I could get really exotic with it, I’d love to do something with Peter Gabriel, if the moment ever called for that.

So what are you loving specifically about the underground music right now, or the next generation of metal?
I like the energy that they bring. It reminds me of my young days of early Sepultura when I was in contact with the underground at that time like Death, Morbid Angel, Possessed. Now, I like Creeping Death, Necrot, Gatecreeper from Arizona. My son Igor is really involved too, with Full of Hell, Chemist, Black Curse.

What I like to do is when I like a band I’ll get in touch with them and trade T-shirts. They get super excited since they’re usually big fans of the work I’ve done in the past and so I’ll help them as much as I can. People have helped me; when Sepultura started we went on tours, like Pantera took us on tour twice, Ozzy always did, Ministry, Slayer. You don’t forget those breaks and you never get there alone.

What do you hope for 2021, musically speaking?
I’m working hard on Soulfly right now with my son Zyon. We go to our jam pad three times a week and we use all this time to make a good record. I’m also working with my wife, Gloria, who's managed me for all of these years. We had a great tour booked for this year and amazing European festivals that had to be rescheduled, but we’re a true metal family in how we all work together. We have metal barbecues every Sunday. Our dream is to not work for a whole year and go travel in one of those campers. I’ll still write but not record for a year, and explore the U.S. in an RV camper. For me as a Brazilian to discover the U.S., it’d be really cool.

We’re also doing the Max Trax [internet series on Facebook Live every Tuesday and Saturday] on Facebook with Gloria.She films me playing guitar in my living room on songs I’ve written over 30 years, and there’s about 15,000 people watching all the time. I get to talk about songs, the fans love it, and it’s free. It keeps me engaged with the fan base, too.

Hopefully we get to do the D-Low show next year and tour for Killer Be Killed. I’d love to do a type of Max festival in the future with a lot of underground bands. There’s so many fans here — it’s a huge state that loves metal.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise