Massimiliano “Max” Cavalera spent a full 15 years delivering the good word about evil music with Brazilian underground legends Sepultura, leading some astute scene observers to dub the singer-guitarist “The Bob Marley of Metal” in honor of his third world roots and populist appeal with the people. Pretty high praise, and a pretty tough row for Cavalera to continuing hoeing alone since walking out on Sepultura in 1996 — leaving his own brother (drummer Igor Cavalera) behind in the process.
Sibling Max didn’t escape from Belo Horizonte’s slums by being a dummy, though, and he surrounded himself with a bracing collective of modern metal musicians, some known, some unknown, all delivering the goods as they needed to be delivered on his new group’s eponymous debut album, Soulfly — which finally found him moving beyond stock death metal concerns for good, mining instead some topical lyrical turf worthy of all those old Marley comparisons.
Soulfly’s second record, Primitive, embraced those Marley references even more warmly, dressed as it was in a colorful cover by artist Neville Garrick — the genius beyond the Wailers’ always-distinctive ’70s record sleeves. The record also featured yet another star-go-round, as members of Slipknot, the Deftones, Slayer and even Sean Lennon stopped by the studio to throw down with Cavalera and company on another set of happenin’ world-metal tunes.
But the studio’s the studio, and a concert hall’s a concert hall — and the former can hide or enhance a lot of things that pop up or disappear in the latter, particularly when the famous folks don’t go out on the road with the not-so-famous folks. But based on the Soulfly show last Wednesday at the reborn Saratoga Winners, Max Cavalera’s taken care of that account and expectation just as well as he’s taken care of all the others in his post-Sepultura career: with aplomb.
Backed by former Snot guitarist Mikey Doling and the rumbling rhythm section of bassist Marcello Dias and drummer Joe Nunez, Cavalera ripped through a collection of downright primal tunes that flavored metal riffmongery with a hint of Brazilian drum band stomp and a whiff of the sorts of soul that’s generally never spotted within a mile of a concert as loud as this one. And while most metal performers can arguably claim intensity as a calling card component of their live performances, few can actually claim to tap their music — or themselves — deeply enough to reach the point where that intensity actually becomes passion, and that passion then allows them to transcend the concert hall, the sound system, even the songs themselves, taking their audience to a place where something as superficially stoopid as spiritually uplifting death metal makes sense, somehow, somewhere.
Max Cavalera and friends got to that place on Wednesday — and they were nice enough to take the gathered Soulfly Tribe with them when they went. Even Bob Marley would have been impressed.