Photo of Max Cavalera live at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ, on 09.26.23 by Melinda Oswandel Photo, www.melindaoswandel.com
w/ Exhumed and Incite
Although heavy metal has undergone many stylistic transformations during its more than half a century of existence, for many, the aggression, technicality, and sheer speed of mid-’80s thrash metal will always be its creative pinnacle. It was during this time that Scandinavian bands like Hellhammer and Bathory were pushing the intensity of metal to its logical extremes, introducing the blast beats, tremolo riffs, and harsh vocals that have become the backbone of black and death metal in years to come. São Paulo, Brazil was another epicenter for this sea change in metal, with its local scene giving birth to seminal bands like Vulcano, Sarcófago, and most famous of all, Sepultura, whose founding members Max and Iggor Cavalera went on to become some of the most recognizable names in metal.
The Cavaleras are currently touring in support of their re-recordings of Sepultura’s earliest material, 1985’s Bestial Devastation and 1986’s Morbid Visions, which were released through Nuclear Blast earlier this summer. With the original Devastation demo being the blueprint for the band’s first full-length album, stylistically, both releases follow the same sonic template—barraging the listener with breakneck riffing, blast beats, and ferocious ravings about necromancers, the Antichrist, and related topics—so revisiting these releases simultaneously makes perfect sense.
Although legendary metal artists revisiting past material is something I always approach with a healthy dose of skepticism (especially after being burned by In Flames’ rather lifeless 2020 revisiting of songs from their classic album Clayman), I was incredibly impressed with the Cavalera re-recordings, which I felt added much-needed depth and polish to their early works. Although the rawness and youthful aggression of the originals still hold their appeal, I consider the re-recordings the definitive versions of both albums almost by default, remaining faithful to the source material while sounding every bit like how a modern blackened thrash metal project should.
Naturally, my expectations were high going into their show at Delmar Hall. I was doubly excited that they were touring with Exhumed, probably the quintessential American “gore metal” band. I mean c’mon, vintage Brazilian speed metal with California deathgrind, all in the Delmar Loop on a Sunday night? Our fuckin’ troubles are over, dude.
The night kicked off in fine fashion with a set from Incite, a groove metal band based in Phoenix, AZ. With their downtuned slams and double bass drum kicks, the band definitely brought to mind Roots-era Sepultura and Soulfly—which should come as no surprise given that their vocalist, Richie Cavalera, is Max Cavalera’s stepson. (Metal has long been a family tradition for the Cavaleras—more on that later). Although Incite clearly pays homage to the style of rhythmic and energetic metal that Max and Iggor helped to pioneer, Richie Cavalera’s vocal style and lyrics about self-determination also brought to mind Hatebreed vocalist and eternal optimist Jamey Jasta. This band had a tremendous amount of heart and energy, and was a great opener for the tour—I would wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone looking to expand their “Cavalera groove metal” diet.
The tone of the evening switched from “motivational” to “pathological” with the next act of the night, Exhumed. Formed in San Jose, CA in 1991, this long-running band is recognized as one of the early pioneers of “goregrind,” an extremely fast style of death metal with a lyrical fixation on gore and the grotesque. Exhumed has undergone several lineup changes over the years, but the core of the group has always been vocalist and guitarist Matt Harvey.
In keeping with the “VHS horror” aesthetic that has been the group’s stock-and-trade for many years, Exhumed’s stage props included stacks of TV monitors playing loops of black-and-white horror and exploitation movies—I think I spotted clips of Les yeux sans visage and Reefer Madness,among many others. At one point, a stagehand dressed as the chainsaw-wielding surgeon from the cover of their 2019 album Horror took to the stage to challenge lead guitarist Sebastian Phillips to a pantomimed “guitar duel.” Phillips, a relatively new addition to this long-running band, was particularly impressive with his very tasteful and melodic soloing—he even played a snippet of Van Halen’s “Eruption” during his “duel,” showing that the band’s appreciation for the ’80s extends beyond slasher movies. In an era when death metal is often turgid and self-serious, the sheer amount of fun on display was greatly appreciated.
And finally, transitioning from “pathological” to “diabolical,” we had the main attraction of the evening, Cavalera Conspiracy (or simply Cavalera for short). Although the Cavaleras have played St. Louis several times over the years (Max’s main project, Soulfly, played Red Flag as recently as August 2021), this was my first time seeing them. With the added historical context of the Cavalera’s revisiting Sepultura’s earliest material, it felt like a rare opportunity to see metal royalty in the flesh.
The band’s set consisted of the entirety of Bestial Devastation—which is about 20 minutes long in total—followed by all of Morbid Visions, with both sets ending with a medley of classic Sepultura songs from later on in their career: “Refuse/Resist” and “Territory” from Chaos A.D., “Cut-Throat” from Roots, and a few songs from their sophomore album Schizophrenia. Other than a brief “intermission” between sets, the performance was a non-stop barrage of mosh-able moments from start to finish, with a very eager audience that was clearly delighted to see these iconic musicians up-close at the relatively small and intimate Delmar Hall.
As noted previously, metal is a family business for the Cavaleras—Max has involved several of his children in his projects throughout the years, including his son, Igor Amadeus Cavalera Jr., who is playing bass on the current tour. The sheer delight that this father and son duo took in sharing the stage together was immensely inspiring, as was the incredible chemistry between Max and Iggor. The knowing grins that the brothers exchanged whenever a particularly ripping section was coming up showed the delight they have in being able to continue sharing a stage together after many years. There were also many scene-stealing solos from lead guitarist Travis Stone, who in addition to playing in a band with Igor Jr. (Healing Magic) is also the current bassist for grindcore band Pig Destroyer.
As a lifelong fan of the Cavaleras, it was incredibly satisfying to see all of the enthusiasm and love from their fans that these musicians continue to generate after nearly four decades of performing. I am excited to see whether the re-recordings and subsequent tour lead will lead to in the future—possibly an entirely new death-thrash release in the mold of early Sepultura?—but I will be equally content to groove to the irresistible Cavalera sound at the next Soulfly show as well. Viva o metal! | David Von Nordheim
10.05.23 Des Moines, IA @ Wooly’s
10.06.23 Omaha, NE @ Waiting Room
10.07.23 Denver, CO @ Oriental Theater
10.08.23 Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex
10.10.23 Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
10.11.23 Boise, ID @ Treefort Music Hall
10.12.23 Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
10.14.23 Sacramento, CA @ Ace of Spades
10.15.23 San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
10.17.23 Las Vegas, NV @ House of Blues
10.18.23 Los Angeles, CA @ The Wiltern