Totem

Soulfly

Totem

“This one took a turn into nature, spirit animals, and native cultures,” Max Cavalera tells Apple Music. “My tribal obsession continues.” He’s talking about the 12th album from Soulfly, the heavily tribal-influenced metal band he formed in 1997 after splitting with Brazilian thrash legends Sepultura. Produced by Arthur Rizk (Power Trip, Kreator),Totem sees Cavalera and his bandmates—bassist Mike Leon and drummer Zyon Cavalera (Max’s son)—returning to his late-’80s/early-’90s heyday. The lyrics, meanwhile, focus mostly on the increasingly fragile world outside of our smartphones. “Technology is great—the internet and all that stuff—but sometimes we need to put the phone down and feel the power of nature around us because that’s a huge part of us as humans,” he tells Apple Music. “If you don’t have that, there’s a void in your soul. That’s the message I’m trying to pass on with this record.” Below, he details each track. “Superstition” “This song was inspired by the Superstition Mountains, which is like an hour from where I live in Arizona. I’ve been there many times—there’s a lake nearby, and we go there as a family on the weekends. I did a lot of reading about it, and it’s a really mysterious place. There’s the old story about the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. Supposedly, there’s even Aztec gold buried there somewhere. There’s a dark presence to it, but it’s also beautiful. As far as the music, it’s old-school death-thrash in the vein of [Sepultura’s] Arise and Beneath the Remains, with a very cool tribal ending.” “Scouring the Vile” “‘Scouring the Vile’ is my fuck-you letter to cancer for taking so many great people away from us. When I was recording the album, LG Petrov from Entombed passed away. I was really sad, and it was kind of a shock. I kind of felt like when I was doing Dark Ages and [former Pantera guitarist] Dimebag passed away. I wanted to celebrate my friend by saying ‘fuck you’ to cancer. The lyrics are about how cancer invades your body without permission. On the chorus, we’ve got John Tardy from Obituary. We’re old friends—he sang backing vocals on ‘Stronger Than Hate’ from Beneath the Remains, too. He’s got such a unique voice.” “Filth Upon Filth” “This is the first song I wrote for the album. We actually played it live last year with [Fear Factory guitarist] Dino [Cazares], when he joined Soulfly for the US tour. It’s tuned to drop-C, and I don’t do a lot of writing with that. But I was messing with the tuning and came out with this old-school riff that reminded me of, like, a Red Bull version of Judas Priest. I don’t have many riffs like that. And the groove section has a Hell Awaits vibe in it. The lyrics are about us right now as a society—we keep piling the filth upon the filth, and the madness doesn’t stop.” “Rot in Pain” “This is the old-school song of the record. It’s as death metal as it gets, with some Entombed and an homage to Morbid Angel in the beginning. The vocals are really inspired by [Entombed’s] Left Hand Path, and it’s just a pissed-off, angry song. It’s about having an enemy and wishing that he would rot in pain—not just die but die in pain. It’s as angry as it gets. I love the chorus that me and Arthur came up with. On the very last part, there’s a very cool triplet thrash riff that reminds me of old Prong mixed with Pantera, with super-fast drumming over it. This song could’ve been on Schizophrenia.” “The Damage Done” “We built this entire song in the studio, and it became one of the most unpredictable tracks because of that. I just asked Zyon for a rock drumbeat, and we started putting guitars on it. I think it’s tuned to A, a very low tuning, like old-school Cannibal Corpse. The inspiration for the riff came from things like Exodus’ ‘And Then There Were None’ or even some Exhorder. The lyrics are about the environment, how we’re burning the rainforest and melting the polar ice caps. Our children are going to inherit a pile of shit because of the way we treat the planet.” “Totem” “This was originally called ‘Totem Obscurum’—a bit more black metal. That was the original name of the record, even. But the song has a really strong early Soulfly vibe throughout, like an ‘Eye For an Eye’ type of groove. I think this is the closest to a nu-metal song that I can do, especially the opening riff. I asked Zyon to do a drum solo in the middle section, which reminds me of old Entombed or Dismember records. People don’t do shit like that anymore. Lyrically, it’s connected to the native beliefs of what a totem represents. We’re doing a video for it, all filmed in Navajo Nation.” “Ancestors” “This is the hidden jam on the record that I love. The opening riff has a very Celtic Frost vibe, and I love what Arthur did with the percussion on this one. There’re timbales on the verse right when I say ‘refuse,’ and it’s killer like that. As far as the lyrics, it’s about feeling the presence of your ancestors around you when you’re making music, but also telling a little bit of a story about colonization and all that went down in South America with all the missionaries coming and forcing religion down the throats of the Indians. It’s like, ‘You have a new god—choke on it.’” “Ecstasy of Gold” “I know this is a title of a famous Ennio Morricone piece—I couldn’t help it. I tried other names, but they didn’t really click. This just felt right for the song. This one talks about human greed and what gold fever does to a person’s psyche. Countries were built by gold fever. There’re crazy stories about the Portuguese going to Brazil and totally raping the whole side of a mountain for gold. It’s in all the cathedrals in Portugal right now. This one also has an old-school death-metal vibe that reminds me a bit of Death’s Scream Bloody Gore.” “Soulfly XII” “We always do a Soulfly instrumental, and this one comes from my passion for the gothic rock of the ’80s. There’re old pictures of me wearing Sisters of Mercy shirts at Sepultura concerts. I’ve always loved that whole vibe—Fields of the Nephilim, all those bands—so I wanted to create something that was an homage to that. There’s clean guitars with flanger, and you get distorted bass with a cool drumbeat. The original idea was to try to get Andrew Eldritch, the singer of Sisters of Mercy, on the song, but that ended up not happening. It’s definitely on my bucket list, though.” “Spirit Animal” “I was watching this documentary about a music psychologist who was talking about how, for songs to put people in a trance, like a lot of tribal songs can, it has to be more than six minutes. Shorter songs don’t do it. I was very intrigued by this idea, so I decided to make a 10-minute song. My two-year-old granddaughter does a little animal scream at the beginning. There’s a real heavy intro that reminds me of old Bad Brains, and then I’m sharing the vocals with my stepson Richie from Incite. There’s also a killer solo from Chris [Ulsh] of Power Trip and Mammoth Grinder, and then our friend Coyote from Serbia is doing some clean vocals. The outro is like world music, and I think it really gives the record closure.”

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