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When Sepultura parted ways with Max Cavalera, what followed was the arrival of Derrick Green in the former and the formation of an all new band for the latter. That band is Soulfly. The final albums that Max did with Sepultura, Chaos A.D. and Roots, marked a departure in sound from their initial death/thrash metal output, turning their attention to slower groove metal songs, and later bringing in nu metal elements with Roots. Whereas the Derrick Green fronted Sepultura worked their way back towards straight groove metal and later back to their death metal roots, Max Cavalera fully embraced the nu metal style with Soulfly for a few albums, before finally turning away from that style starting with Prophecy.
Primitive is rich in nu metal songs, and full of angst and hatred. Whilst this factor alone is enough to put some listeners completely off from the album, it is consistently strong musically, as, in all fairness, the band play this style of music well, which compensates for the sometimes repetitive negativity in the lyrics. Also, like Roots and all of the Soulfly releases that came before and after, there is an emphasis on tribal elements, as heard in interludes between songs and especially in "Soulfly II", part of a series of self titled songs the band would release that shied away from the loud guitars in favour of melodic pieces that utilized acoustics. For Primitive, especially, it's a welcome change of pace from Max and co. seemingly cursing everything and everyone that dominates much of the rest of the album.
Lyrically, there are some areas that are better than others. Max encourages independence and non-conformity, which, by itself, is fine, and we also hear chants in Portuguese and intriguing philosophical quotes from time to time. As for the weak spots... I get that this album is mostly nu metal, but even by nu metal standards, it's difficult to take Max seriously sometimes. Take songs such as "Jumpdafuckup" and "Terrorist" for example, in which Max talks about how you don't understand all his hate and that you shouldn't fuck with him because he's full of hate and he sees a lot of shit while walking down the streets, and then he encourages you to bring the pain/rage/shit to the motherfucking pit and rise above the bullshit. Well, he's right about one thing. I don't really understand his hate, because he often does not elaborate beyond "bullshit" when he is angry, though occasionally he'll call out political stuff as part of the reason for his anger, which is, however, nothing new, as Sepultura had a number of songs with a similar message. Max just seems more vague about it here than he did before.
Early Soulfly albums featured a number of guest appearances, and this album features Chino Moreno, Corey Taylor, Tom Araya, and Sean Lennon among its ranks. The guest appearances enhance many of the album's songs and add some depth to Max's anger, which, on its own, sometimes falls flat, and I find that the tracks I generally skip repeat listens of are the ones that Max and the core band handle on their own. The two tracks I mentioned above in reference to weak lyrics feature Taylor and Araya respectively, and if it wasn't for those two appearing on the songs, I most likely wouldn't consider them tracks worth going back to. Max's growling vocal style when combined with angsty lyrics can become a chore to listen to after a while, and so the other vocalists help to keep your interest during a sitting through the entire album.
Primitive showcases Max Cavalera still working to find a true musical path for Soulfly. Whilst there are unconventional instruments and tribal elements in the mix, much of the album stays within the margins of nu metal. Soulfly's later albums would put more focus on faster, heavier songs that would sometimes hearken back to Max's death metal roots, and these are the albums that are more highly regarded by fans today. However, for all of Primitive's shortcomings, there is an intriguing musical section or a guest appearance that compensates for it, and that is why this album is still worth checking out. Of course, if you do happen to want a decent nu metal album, this will most likely satisfy you anyway.
The album opens with Back to the Primitive, that musically isn't too bad for a nu-metal song. Continuing the tribal+nu-metal groove of their debut, this song speaks a message of going back to the state of politics where society was organized in local tribes, rather than an overarching government. Anarcho-primitivism? Unfortunately it quickly goes down hill from here with Pain and Bring it which are two boring nu-metal songs. Though there is some tribal elements in these songs, it's just aggro caveman metal with an attitude problem. Bring it does have a latter half reggae jam that I found enjoyable. A good break from the aggro nu-metal I just had to endure, perhaps it is an apology in advance for what is coming next... FUCK IT I'm skipping it!
Mulambo's a good song. It's got a diverse array of sounds, quite tribal, the guitars do work in providing a degree of atmosphere to the song aside from the palm-muted groove. The extra tribal percussion melds perfectly with the standard drums, both of them driving the song along with a steady beat.
Son Song was a pleasant surprise, sure it has downtuned heavy guitars and may be somewhat nu-metal but this has Sean, the son of John Lennon doing vocals and he gives an excellent performance!
Then more nu-metal. Boom is substandard aggro-metal, while Terrorist starts off nu-metal but has a vocal guest that is quite familiar - Tom Araya of Slayer. The end of the song picks up in speed, almost like thrash. Nu-metal thrash? It doesn't work here, and Araya's vocals sound like what they were on God Hates Us All. The Prophet has an almost decent sludgy riff for the chorus, and it's not too bad.
The sequel to Soulfly starts off with the same calm congo drums, but here there are much more elements that come together to form a near perfect harmony with the diverse array of sounds here - I cannot for the life of me name all of the instruments I am hearing, and there is so many... but it is mixed perfectly and wonderfully. There is a backing melody of a piano that accentuates the piece, a soothing voice coming from various wind instruments, an enticing melody from what I think is a sitar. A twang that sort of sounds like a jaw-harp, the moroccas rattle in the background. Nothing is out of place. Why hasn't Max recorded a whole album of this yet?! In a way, he has, assuming Soulfly III through Soulfly VIII are in a similar calm style to this. Just not directly. Perhaps I'll listen to all of these Soulfly instrumentals in sequential order.
In Memory Of... is a tribal/hip hop/nu-metal song. Sounds like it should be the worst thing ever created but it's not. The lyrics are deeper than what one would expect from rap, although it definitely has a Christian slant toward it. Still not sure if I like it or not, but I don't see myself listening to this on a regular basis. I commend Cutthroat Logic for a rap-performance that I didn't outright hate. Flyhigh closes the album with a beautiful vocal performance by Asha Rabouin, who is related to one of the guys in Cutthroat Logic, and overall the song is one of the solid ones of the bunch.
Similar to the first record, this album has a first half that is mostly crap nu-metal, with a latter half that is more diverse and less crap. The songwriting overall is better to a degree, but it's inconsistent - there are flashes of pure genius, and farts of pure stinker. Highlights - Soulfly II, Son Song, Flyhigh and Mulambo.
Oh, I did skip Jumpdafuckup... sorry Jumpdafuckup, you should go sitdafuckdown in the dunce corner next to Bleed.