Banner photo courtesy of photographer Luca Passerotti. Full gallery here.
Max Cavalera has definitely had a storied career. His early years with Sepultura saw him releasing extremely influential thrash albums, but then he left and made his own band Soulfly, where he released a constant stream of solid groove metal albums that slowly turned into thrash over time. He also had a stint with Nailbomb, got his hand in many projects, formed the great Killer Be Killed with members of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, and The Mars Volta, and reunited with his brother who he used to be together with in Sepultura to form Cavalera Conspiracy.
He’s had 21 studio albums where he’s had a significant amount of creative control, and his distinctive sound is apparent in each. Six with Sepultura, ten under Soulfly, one as Nailbomb, three Cavalera Conspiracy albums, and one as the Killer Be Killed supergroup. That’s a ridiculous amount of music from just one man! With Archangel, the tenth Soulfly album, releasing today, why not rank his entire body of work? His lyrics might often be cheesy, and sometimes he writes simple bouncy riffs, but they’re some of the best riffs to groove to. He’s pretty much the king of it.
Without further ado, here is the list of Max Cavalera’s 21 albums over 31 years of music making, ranked from worst to best. Keep in mind that it’s just one opinion and these can be viewed differently by others!
This project unfortunately represents the weakest of Max’s material. While it was an interesting premise with hyper-political themes and had the famed Alex Newport working with Max, the songs just lack the heart and focus that a lot of Max’s career has had. Still overall a solid ride, but not really worth returning to.
3 is pretty unanimously the weakest Soulfly album. It’s way too long, has a bunch of weird filler songs that are incongruent, only two truly worthwhile songs, and marks the end of an era for Soulfly. This is before they got their new guitarist and Max’s now-staple bandmember Marc Rizzo, and the band was clearly losing their direction. Thankfully, as one can tell by the position of this album, they recovered!
Soulfly’s second-most-recent album Savages was a disappointment. The ridiculously talented drummer David Kinkade retired after elevating the band with Enslaved, and was replaced by Max’s son Zyon, who at the time wasn’t proficient enough to fill the hole. Combine that with a general lack of motivation in the songs, Savages was a rather weak effort, even though there was nothing offensively bad about it like 3.
Sepultura’s debut album Morbid Visions is actually pretty cool. It features a significant black metal influence and is pretty good and interesting for its time (1986!). However the production is terrible, Max himself admits that they didn’t even bother to tune their guitars while recording the album, and the vocal delivery is off because Max didn’t know a single word of English at the time. Even then, it’s still fascinating in an endearing way and the beginning of an extremely storied career.
Soulfly’s debut album comes right after in the list. While it has some good tracks that make up a portion of the classic Soulfly repertoire, there’s also a bunch of unmemorable songs that didn’t really need to exist. This album is full of pain and anger, following Max’s non-amicable separation from his previous band and brother and the death of his son, and it shows in the more noteworthy tracks. It’s just that the rest of the songs don’t follow up on that emotion. It still set a strong foundation for the band’s future.
This album being featured so low is probably a controversial choice for some, but it’s not without reason. Sepultura were originally known for their death metal tinged thrash sound, then they turned into thrashy groove metal. Arise is the middle point between the two sounds, and it feels like that. It has some great classics, but the rest is just lacking. By no means a bad album, but when you have so many albums some of them will just have to lose out.
This is perhaps the band’s most iconic album for many, especially for the groove metal crowd. It has the classic metal anthem “Roots Bloody Roots,” but the rest of the album also features a slew of classic tracks. It basically introduced the “tribal” sound that highlighted a significant portion of Max’s career. Unfortunately it also overstays its welcome a bit, hence its relatively lower position, but it’s still an absolute classic.
Soulfly’s sophomore album Primitive is where the band really kicks into gear. The tribal influence in the sound is really strong, almost every track is a classic and it all still feels fresh 15 years after its release. If one’s looking for the pinnacle of “tribal groove metal”, this is it (sorry Ektomorf)! Like every Soulfly album, there’s a ridiculous list of guests on Primitive, but the standout track here, and perhaps the most well-utilized guest spot of the band’s career, is “Jumpdafuckup” with Slipknot‘s Corey Taylor. That the album came out around the height of Slipknot’s popularity also helped. Overall, Primitive is a great album that’s a must-listen for Max fans.
Max’s sophomore album after his reuniting with his brother is a great mix of groove metal and thrash. It’s not as memorable as the debut as it focuses on heaviness instead, and it pays off in that regard, but Cavalera Conspiracy shine better with their anthemic songs. There’s still some ridiculously catchy tunes here, and no weak songs, so it’s overall a good album, just not as good as the rest.
This album marks former Borknagar drummer David Kinkade’s last musical effort before his retirement. His introduction to the band sparked something special within, as he’s ridiculously fast with his drumming, and guitarist Marc Rizzo took that sound and added more of a death metal flavor to his writing. The album was the heaviest Soulfly album at the time, and “World Scum” featuring Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation is one of the band’s best tracks ever. The rest of the album doesn’t exactly reach the height of that track, hence it being at the top end of the bottom half of Max’s career, but it’s still an extremely solid album and noteworthy for the fact that it accentuated a turn to the heavier in Max’s career.
This album is just classic thrash. It’s Sepultura’s sophomore album, so it still retains a very slight tinge of their blackened sound, but it’s mostly thrash metal that borders on death. This is fast, angry and raw. While it’s an album that’s generally underrepresented in terms of songs they play live, the album was a defining moment for Sepultura and it was quite heavy at its time. Its influence is still heard in some of Max’s newest material, and his trademark vocal delivery style first started taking shape here. Overall, a historic moment for Max.
Coming after some of the band’s best albums is perhaps the only mistake that Omen commits. That, and the fact that this album also marks the end of the significant tribal presence in Soulfly’s sound. Its influences are still heard, but not as strongly. This album also is the tail end of the heavy influence of Marc Rizzo on the band’s sound that started with Prophecy. Overall, it’s a great album full of the classic mid-era Soulfly sound, but it’s not as good as the other albums of that nature, not every track is a classic anthem (a high standard!). Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan)’s guest spot on this album is what inspired Killer Be Killed to happen though, and there are still some really strong memorable tracks in here.
And this is the album that marked a huge change for Max’s career. With Marc Rizzo joining the band, the sound of the band was completely reinvigorated and redefined. Max’s thrashier side slowly started coming back as a counterweight to Marc’s insane shredding capabilities. This potential wasn’t fully reached on Prophecy, hence its position in this list, but it’s noteworthy for defining the next 11 years of Max’s career with both Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy (as Marc joined that band as well). The album is chock full of memorable classics that are also heavier than what the band had done up to that point. A turning point for the band, and one of their best efforts ever.
This is the culmination point of where Sepultura was going for years, where the thrashy elements converged into groove metal with some of the most recognizable metal songs of all time. It’s one of the band’s best albums, arguably the best by a significant amount of the fan base. It just came out at the right time and had the right sound, and was extremely influential. It can easily be considered one of the defining moments of Max’s career. Political lyrics, thrashy riffs accentuated by aggressively nod-inducing grooves that you feel compelled to yell along to. Definitely a “metal hall of fame” album.
This album is the pinnacle of the thrashy Sepultura sound. It’s also one of the best old-school thrash albums out there. Full of anger, great production and iconic song writing, Beneath the Remains is an absolute classic that still holds up very well, unlike some other Sepultura albums. Every song can be considered a classic and it’s definitely the best Sepultura album with how ridiculously pissed off it is while managing to be memorable. Chaos A.D. is arguably the more important and memorable album, but Beneath the Remains is so much more ferocious, punchier and raw. If you’re looking for the general Sepultura sound, go for Chaos A.D., if you’re looking for pure thrash come here.
This album is so freaking heavy. After Savages being an utter flop, Archangel was walking on thin ice, but what a reversal it turned out to be. Definitely one of Max’s heaviest albums, and it even hearkens back to the Prophecy-era sound with some slight tribal tinges. Also worth noting how much Zyon Cavalera has improved as a drummer in just one album! Max’s 21st album, his tenth Soulfly album is one of the best of his career, and after 31 years of making metal that’s an incredible feat to achieve. Listeners who thought he was done for musically at any point of his career should take note of how incredible this album is.
This album is ridiculously heavy. Crushing guitars, blazing fast drumming, and on top of it all, extremely memorable riffing from Marc and Max make this album one of Max’s absolute best, and his heaviest release in decades, if not ever. It’s actually crazy how good this album is, as at the time Cavalera Conspiracy’s previous album was a bit of a step down from their debut, and Soulfly was taking a turn for the worse, but something must have happened that lit a fire in Max’s soul as Archangel and this are just ridiculous. The fact that Max’s most recent releases are right at the top of his list of achievements is very impressive, and this album is a force to be reckoned with. The logical next step of the sound that started with Inflikted, Pandemonium is really freaking good.
The collaboration with Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Troy Sanders of Mastodon and Dave Elitch (formerly) of The Mars Volta is an odd one for sure, but it’s definitely a great one. Orchestrated by Max, each member brought in aspects of their own sound and the end result was something no one could have expected. It was like each band, but unlike all of them at the same time. Yet another album chock full of great earworms, Killer Be Killed is a really exciting and great album that definitely deserves a follow-up.
The reunion of Max and Igor Cavalera since the former’s departure from Sepultura had been a long-coming moment. It was bound to happen after Igor left Sepultura, but most thought it would have been with him joining Soulfly. When it was announced that they’re forming a new band with Marc Rizzo on guitars, expectations were high, and they absolutely delivered. Inflikted is an incredible album that is just punch after punch of heavy, catchy tunes. Max’s enthusiasm from getting back together oozes from it, and Marc Rizzo is at the top of his game as well. Some of their absolute best songs are on this album, and it’s also rather varied in terms of the range of the songs. Inflikted is one of Max’s crowning achievements.
And now we’re at the top of the top. Conquer is from the best year of Soulfly, where the tribal elements converged seamlessly with the thrashier side. Every song is extremely distinctive and is full of trademark Soulfly riffs. What’s also impressive is that this album came out the same year as Inflikted and shares a majority of its writing staff with that album, yet manages to sound distinct thanks to the tribal grooves. Absolutely no filler, memorable, tight riffing and singing and just the perfect mix of everything makes for one of the best albums that perfectly highlight Max’s career.
Here we are. At the top of the list. Dark Ages is hands down the best Soulfly album. Extremely strong tribal sound combined with some of the best riffs of Max’s career, Rizzo’s shredding and flamenco influence, extremely recognizable and catchy songs, absolutely no filler. Every single track is great, full of emotion and energy, every member is at the top of their game. “Frontlines” is arguably the heaviest Max song ever, “Babylon” is the epitome of the groove sound, the ambient leads and instrumentation just culminating in an amazing experience and one of my favorite albums of all time, and Max’s best work by far. Even “Riotstarter” with its weird electronic and ethnic instrumentation just fits perfectly into the album. There are so many ways I can say “Dark Ages is an incredible album”, but you get the point.
It’s worth noting that Max’s most recent album with each of his active projects is among his best work to date, and except for a misstep or two, his music has been in an upwards trend for quite a while. He is often not given enough credit for writing music that is relatively simplistic, but the man has been in the game for 31 years, has been consistently putting out good albums, and has made some of the most influential albums in the genre. Here’s to hoping for many more years of Max as he continues this upwards trend in his career.