Mad Max

"Destroy 'em down! Destroy 'em all! Downstroy!"

It's a chilly Easter Sunday night in Vancouver. Max Cavalera and his band Soulfly are onstage churning out a massive wall of heavy metal thunder that, if not exactly powerful enough to raise the dead, is certainly packing enough punch to roll away a few stones.

Head-banging in time to the gut-busting thrash of songs like "Bleed," "Eye for an Eye" and "Seek 'N Strike," the 33-year-old Brazilian-born guitarist, who many hard-rock fans consider the top player right now in what's being dubbed "nu-metal," whips his long, dreadlocked braids up and down as if a torrent of serpents have taken hold of his head.

As the last wail of feedback fades beneath the thunderous applause of the frenzied crowd, Cavalera and his band -- bassist Marcelo Dias, guitarist Mikey Doling and drummer Roy Mayorga -- stomp off the stage while a sea of suspended Bics beg the beloved metal beasts for one more encore.

But Cavalera already has something more pressing on his mind than rocking the crowd one more time or even partying with the attendant groupies, fans and celebrity friends jostling for his attention. Rushing to the arms of his ever-present wife and manager Gloria, Cavalera grabs the cell phone and leans in to hear the news Gloria's been dying to tell him since she first flashed Max a concerned look midway through his set.

The fans, the stars, the press and the record company honchos can wait, Cavalera motions, as he waves them all away and searches frantically for a relatively quiet space to talk on the phone. Cavalera's 8-year-old son Igor has fallen off the monkey bars.

"Max always calls Igor and [10-year-old] Zyon after the shows, if it's not too late," Gloria says. "But that night, he was so worried because we heard during the show that Igor had fallen off the monkey bars at Roadrunner Park and had broken his arm. So he told Igor to save a space on his cast for Max to draw a picture on. He's a really good artist -- he's always drawing these really scary monsters and things with the kids. They call it picture time.' And we flew the kids in to meet us in Minneapolis a few days later and Max drew this big, flailing monster on Igor's cast, with flames coming out and everything. The whole cast was bright orange when he got done with it. And Igor loved it!"

To millions of metalheads worldwide, Cavalera may be Mad Max, the hardest man in nu-metal. But to his and Gloria's tight-knit brood of six kids in north Phoenix, he's just a big, dreadlocked Dick Van Patten.

All the kids love the Cavaleras," smiles Tom Huffman, assistant principal at Shadow Mountain High School. "It's just some of the teachers and parents who've had a difficult time adjusting to them."

It's an early Thursday morning at the busy north Phoenix high school, and Huffman has just emerged from a meeting with the second assistant principal about a certain disciplinary incident he seems eager to clear his mind of. With 1,900 students to keep tabs on, Huffman admits it's not easy getting to know all of the families in this primarily upscale, off-Paradise Valley community. "We have a lot of attorney-type parents in this area," he says. "I don't know if there's a club that they all belong to or what, but whenever I get to meet new parents and ask them what they do, attorney' always seems to be the occupation."

But Gloria and Max Cavalera are one couple who definitely stand out at the PTA meetings. Max, who's lived in this area for 10 years, is the guitarist who founded Sepultura, one of the biggest names in the international thrash-metal scene, and who now fronts Soulfly, another equally bludgeoning quartet but with a more eclectic, world-music approach. His wife, the former Gloria Bujnowski, is a diehard metal fan who began managing and promoting bands around the Valley more than 20 years ago and now manages Soulfly.

Together, the two project an image of head-banging hedonism that school officials traditionally try to keep locked outside the gates. "It's been an adjustment," Huffman says, "because when you're trying to run a school and be responsible, you're always kind of wary of anything having to do with the heavy metal scene. It's a different influence than what we're normally trying to provide to the kids."

Nevertheless, the Cavaleras have been two of the more involved -- and most popular -- parents in the school community for more than a decade. Two of the couple's four boys currently attend Shadow Mountain, a daughter, Roxanne, graduated last year, and Gloria's oldest son Dana, who died tragically in a car accident in 1996, has become a kind of local legend. A commemorative brick on one of the school's walls -- the largest plaque in a group of dedications -- reads simply, "In Loving Memory of Our Son, Dana Wells -- Max, Gloria and Family." In recent years, Max has also donated some of his own guitars to the music department, and Gloria has spoken on career day to aspiring metal managers. In the liner notes of the latest Soulfly CD, Shadow Mountain, the neighboring Shea Middle School and the nearby Larkspur Elementary -- schools that have all seen the Cavaleras' children ascend through their grades -- are each given a shout-out on the same page with Slipknot, Motörhead, and Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne.

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Jimmy Magahern
Contact: Jimmy Magahern