Released: 2014, JawBone Press
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the debut EP by Sepultura, I have reviewed two Sepultura related books; the Max Cavalera autobiography and the Sepultura biography now finally translated into English. Feel free to enjoy both books in this spotlight on the long running and respected Brazilian act. By a total coincidence I am writing this review on Dec 4th, 2014, the 30th anniversary of exact date of their first show, Dec 4th, 1984.
Disclaimer: I’m not a long time, hardcore Sepultura fan. I haven’t followed them for over two decades. As an old school death and thrash fan I absolutely loved the first three albums. I was disappointed in ARISE but I thought they could recover. Sadly, it was not to happen. I was horrified at the complete sell out of CHAOS A.D. and ROOTS was so fundamentally bad I still don’t own a copy (I refuse too) and I gave up on the band at that point. I still hold the unholy trinity of Phil Anselmo, James Hetfield and Max Cavalera personally responsible for the dumbening down of Metal for the American redneck-jock crowd in the early 90’s. See what I mean? ‘Dumbening’ isn’t even a word! So reader beware, my opinions of Sepultura, Max and all his horrible spinoffs are not favourable. A reader might question why I would even bother reviewing not one, but two books about bands I don’t really like. Well, Sepultura and Max’s post Sep output are just too big, too influential, too well respected and too popular to ignore. Just because I may not like the music anymore (many hundreds of thousands do) I still keep an eye on what these Metal titans are doing. 30th years in Metal is an accomplishment certainly worth celebrating even if I think they suck now. Besides, I will always have and hold those first three albums in high regard. Please note: There are some spoilers in this review.
UK based author Joel McIver is no stranger to interviewing the upper echelons of the Gods Of Metal. His books about Metallica, Slayer, Black Sabbath and more have all been well regarded by fans and critics alike. It is not surprising that he got the call to help Max Cavalera tell his tale. Cavalera is one of the more recognizable and popular figures in Heavy Metal. Due to the extensive bootlegging of early Sepultura tapes in third world nations such as Indonesia, that band has had widespread global popularity that would make most other bands that have sold more records, jealous. For many years Max was the face of the band and in essence a bit of an ambassador (unwilling or not) to legions of Metalheads beyond the traditional markets of North America and Europe. Just as the British are proud that Tony Iommi and Steve Harris hail from England, countless Brazilians have the same feeling for Sepultura and Max Cavalera specifically.
MY BLOODY ROOTS is a very nice package, Jawbone Press affording Cavalera a nice cover, good layout and presentation and of course many previously unseen colour photos on glossy plates anchored in the middle of the 225 page book. Some of the biggest revelations came very early in the book. The whole myth that Sepultura grew up poor in the slums of Belo-Horizonte and their hardships fueled their music was shattered very early on. Max explains that they actually were very well off with a diplomat father, a working model for a mother, two homes and cars and international holidays. During the times of the dictatorship, compared to the vast majority of the population, the Cavalera family was extremely well off and among the elite in society. A more well-known fact is that as soon as Max had enough money he left his country and moved to the US to make it. In the book I admire Cavalera talking openly and freely about these things. In his career he never actually hid these facts but he never really publicized the fact that as soon as the opportunity arose, he left home and that Sepultura was not that popular until they changed styles and signed to an Dutch/American label (that was not even a decade old at that point!) and eventually took off. Other major revelations are that as he was just becoming a teenager, Max’s father died in his arms from a sudden and unexpected heart attack and the resulting emotional confusion and anguish sent him into several years of crime, drugs and alcohol. This fondness for drinking eventually led him years later into rehab, another revelation.
I really appreciated that Cavalera did not exclusively dwell on his past in Sepultura. A large part of the book is talking about his various solo projects, collaborations (Nailbomb, Probot etc) and so on. It has a very contemporary feel unlike many rock books that focus on ‘the glory days’. Perhaps this willingness to move forward and evolve has afforded Max a long and prolific career. He did bring out the usual old stories, the homemade bullet-belts made out of batteries, the stolen gear, flying to America with nothing and nothing to lose. He covered the fight that led to his separation from his brother for the better part of a decade and other Sepultura lore. I knew all those stories and therefore I found it more interesting to learn about the later years of his career because he was basically off my radar for so long. I learned a ton of info as I had not really followed his other projects and bands. He discussed, in considerable detail his exit from Sepultura and it was at this point I gained a new level of respect for him. He basically said it came down to choosing his wife or his band. He choose his wife. I admire that. This is not the first time that a woman has broken up a band (and it won’t be the last) but if someone came up to the average person and said, ‘Choose between your job and your wife’ I would hope most people would choose their marriage over their career. He is still married today. However! There are two sides to every story and if you read Jason Korolenkos excellent Sepultura biography, RELENTLESS, (which I also review this month) you get a different perspective of the exit of Max from the band.
Reading MY BLOODY ROOTS I got the sense that Max never really was that pure of a Metalhead. I know that sounds odd and negative to suggest such a thing, but he is more of a musician in the purest sense. He experiments, he collaborates, he plays for the love of creation of music and it is not always Metal. He freely admits he likes other forms of music and is open to change, which explains his musical evolution about from the confines of death and thrash. His openness explains why he would get a guy like Dave Grohl to write the foreword, who is by a large clueless by stating Max, …’never sold out’, (p. 8) which is hilarious because Sepultura is widely regarded in the Metal community as the text book definition of selling out. On several occasions he shows his lack of understanding of the broader Brazilian Metal scene. He claims on a few occasions that they were the first big band out of Brazil, which is ludicrous. For example Viper (later Angra) was releasing albums, with major label distribution around the world and touring in Europe and Japan well before Sepultura was. Either he didn’t know about Viper or conveniently ignored that fact for bragging rights. Yes, Sepultura was huge but they were not by far the first nor the only active international Brazilian Metal band with record deals as he asserts.
Despite my somewhat negative tone in this book review, I really, really enjoyed MY BLOODY ROOTS. It gave me a new and better understanding of the life and situation of Max Cavalera and as I said before, I gained respect. Before my opinions were based solely on if I liked his music or not and while as an original fan, I still harbour a lingering resentment and sense of betrayal but, at least now I get it. Cavalera is sincere and charismatic and that makes for a good read about one of the most iconic Metal personalities.