JTF’s HS Jams Review — 4) Soulfly “Primitive”

Released September 26, 2000 ; Produced by Toby Right

A couple of weeks ago I talked about how I’m a sucker for physical music formats — cassettes, CDs, records, etc. I’ve even been considering finding an old deck that would allow me to play 8-track tapes. But even though I love the antiquated technology and the ritual involved with spinning an LP or pressing play on a tape deck, I do also enjoy digital music and utilize it daily. 

I try to keep as much of my personal music collection as I can on my second-gen iPod Touch (2008) that I keep plugged into my car, which is to say, music that I’ve ripped from my CD collection. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that I was beyond angry when I purchased my last iMac a few years ago and found out CD drives are no longer included on Apple computers. Not to be deterred, I bought an add-on USB-driven CD drive for my iMac so my CD ripping could continue and I pray that no matter what computer I buy in the future that hardware like that will always be available to me for this purpose. 

It’s funny how irritated I get with the lack of CD drives because I have admittedly taken for granted how all computers came with a CD read/write drive for so long (but not long enough). Being a person who was the last generation to remember music videos on MTV, I’m also maybe a part of the last generation who had a computer that couldn’t burn CDs by default. When I was in high school, music-sharing sites were in their infancy but the concept of completely copying a CD with a CD burner was starting to gain traction. 

I knew my friends had great taste in music and had stacks of CDs I’d never be able to get my hands on otherwise … So why not save up the money, buy a CD burner and live my life in rock-and-roll bliss? I had a lawn-mowing job every summer as a teenager and it only took me a few weeks to save up the $200-ish required to buy a CD burner. And even then it wasn’t a sleek external drive like what’s hooked up to my iMac currently — it was a brick-like device that had to be installed inside the tower of your PC the hardcore way. I’d never done anything like it before but I’ve always welcomed a challenge when it comes to computers! 

I sat on the floor of my parents’ den with my Paps taking their giant HP computer apart to find the bay where the drive would live. I connected everything the right way, re-assembled the computer and booted it up, so excited about my CD-burning future. The first CD I burned in its entirety was Metallica’s Black Album and … 

… it took nearly eight hours to complete. And even then, the quality of the digital music was garbage. I had the album now, of course, but each song sounded like it was being played back on an old record player with a fuzzy needle and warped wax. Did I mention it took EIGHT HOURS!? 

It wasn’t long, though, before the concept of direct CD burning gave way to file-sharing, custom burned “mix” CDs and the early phases of what we’d later call the MP3 player. The first iPod had a 5GB hard drive but wouldn’t be released until October, 2001 (and cost $399), but the concept had been around for quite some time before that. The MPMan F10 is considered the first MP3 player and was released in 1998. The F10 had 16, 32, 64 and 128MB options and cost between $350-$550 based on which model you bought. I didn’t even know about the MPMan F10 when it came out and my first iPod was a 20GB 4th-Generation iPod with the Click Wheel ($300). My first MP3 player, however, came somewhere in-between those two.

The Rio 600 was the third-generation MP3 player released by S3 Inc. and it was … something. I bought my device off eBay in 2001 for $170. I was so hyped to get it in the mail only to find out the hard drive on it was a measly 32MB and that it didn’t have an off feature. 32MB was enough for about 4-6 MP3 files (less if the songs were longer than 3 minutes) and the lack of an off feature meant the battery would die every day regardless of whether or not you were using it. 

I bring up this ancient relic of digital music history because I didn’t have it long before it was taken away from me. My parents were interested, though a little skeptical, about modern technology at the time, so they were understandably intrigued by this tiny blue device I had plugged into my ears all the time. While I was at school one day, my mother decided to listen to some music on it and came across a horribly rowdy song that was incredibly foul and would ultimately lead to me losing my MP3 player for a little while. The song was called JUMPDAFUCKUP and it was by a band called Soulfly.

4 — Soulfly — Primitive

Three guesses who hooked me up with Soulfly’s 2000 record Primitive. If you guessed it was the same guy that turned me onto Slipknot and hooked me up with that Limp Bizkit CD, you’d be correct. As a fan of Slipknot’s 1999 self-titled release, Matt and I were suddenly big Corey Taylor fans and when he learned that he had a guest part on Soulfly’s second record, Matt bought it without asking any questions. The next step, obviously, was letting me hear it in our Desktop Publishing class.

The lineup performing on this record includes Max Cavalera, Mikey Doling, Marcello D. Rapp and Joe Nunez. And despite the fact that this was merely Soulfly’s second record, it was also the band’s second lineup as the original lineup no more than three years prior consisted of Max, Lucio Maia, Cello Dias and Roy Mayorga. It’s rather evident that Max Cavalera, founder and former member of Brazillian thrash metal band Sepultura, was using Soufly as the Max Show, or a way to continue using his Brazillian-tribal-meets-thrash-metal music while mourning the loss of his step-son (the death of which indirectly led to his departure from Sepultura). The band has been able to achieve a moderately successful career despite the constant revolving door of musicians backing Max throughout the years, and I think that’s kind of cool.

Soulfly’s sound immediately gave me something I needed and never had before. It was heavy — like, HEAVY heavy — with elements of traditional Brazillian tribal music that includes a variety of percussion and Max’s infamous berimbau. Soulfly’s first record — their eponymous record from two years prior — was 80% thrash and 20% tribal, but Primitive took them in another unique direction that brought in elements of NuMetal, reggae, grunge and even hip-hop. 

With the various elements and tribal influences aforementioned, the opening track Back to the Primitive is an incredibly strong start to both the record’s sonic quality as well as its overall theme. Within the first 30 seconds you’re treated to a berimbau solo, Max counting in Portuguese and those sweet, sweet tribal drums that quickly came to define Soulfly’s sound. The song’s message that encourages the listener to go back to their primal roots and remember who they are accurately reflects what I think is the very heart and soul of rock-and-roll music, but more specifically extreme heavy metal. 

Strong points on the record include Pain, Boom, Terrorist and In Memory Of … Pain features Will Haven singer Grady Avenell and previous Soulfly collaborator (and famous frontman of the Deftones) Chino Moreno. A song that seems to be about the death of Max’s father at the hands of the Brazillian mafia, I love how all three vocalists not only share very different-styled verses but also share sentence fragments within the chorus to create what feels like how I’d imagine the chaotic mind of someone who lost their father to organized crime would sound like. 

Boom has a killer effect on what I think is the bass guitar and a funky groove throughout. I’m a huge fan of the simple chorus of Boom whatchu got? Whatchu whatchu got? Watchu got? Boom! As well as the use of the term bumbklaatt (the strongest insult in the Portuguese language). The song’s clear references to “fake” friends, however, is reminiscent of all the Limp Bizkit songs that are about the same thing and all the other crybaby songs about the same topic. Bland, boring and easy, but whatever.

Terrorist not only features Slayer frontman Tom Araya but it also includes a direct reference to Slayer tune Criminally Insane. The song itself has a lot of Slayer vibes running throughout with its thrash elements but the tribal drums that pop up occasionally are one of the strongest parts — second only behind both vocalists screaming Confront and destroy!

In Memory Of … is mostly a hip-hop song that features Cutthroat Logic artists Babatunde Rabouin, Deonte Perry and Justus Olbert. This hip-hop element comes out of nowhere but for some reason it still works on this record and with the overall Soulfly sound. The rappers run their verses over heavy grooves that are still somehow metal. The chorus part Musical contrast, sound clash, bomb blast is a line I frequently used on my social platforms (and sometimes still do.) 

My personal favorite tracks are Jumpdafuckup, Mulambo, Son Song and Flyhigh. Jumpdafuckup, the previously mentioned track that got me in big trouble with my mother, again features Slipknot lead vocalist Corey Taylor and takes the listener on a jarring ride that goes between mellow bars that feature Corey’s (gasp!) clean vocals with Max’s angry verse and insistence that Motherfucker you don’t understand all my rage. Corey’s vocals get more emotional toward the close of the song which I think gives it even more depth — a song about how we can all agree that the world is messed up but it’s up to us to get off our asses and do something to fix it instead of taking a passive approach to life.

Mulambo is probably my favorite song on the entire record. The term in Portugese has a variety of possible meanings but in this instance I believe it’s referring to a ragged and worn street person — or simply a hardcore individual — and the song is saying we are all somehow those people yet we’re capable of making big changes in the world. It’s easily one of the hardest and fastest songs on the record with a churning guitar part, an aggressive bassline and the tribal-style drums I’ve brought up several times now. The breakdown at the end of the song is easily the best part of the entire album.

Son Song had to grow on me initially but I quickly learned that the song is a collaboration Soulfly did with Sean Lennon and I fell in love. The song goes between Sean (then 25 years old) and Max each expressing their feelings and emotions in regard to how their fathers died violent deaths. The song has grunge elements in the vocal style and breakdown and even brings back the berimbau for the finish.

Finally, album closer Flyhigh is another favorite of mine with its catchy riffage that runs throughout and its juxtaposition of Soulfly’s aggressive sound with the soothing voice of guest vocalist Asha Rabouin — a singer who would come back on Soulfly’s next record on the track Tree of Pain. The song is about using spirituality to conquer life’s many fears and the fast-paced, chaotic outro to the song lends itself to the feeling that the narrator’s wish to have their soul fly free has been granted.

With the release of Primitive, I was immediately addicted to Soulfly — probably even more than Slipknot or Limp Bizkit or System of a Down or any other band at the time. I would venture to say that even though this record has a lot of NuMetal elements, Primitive took me by the hand and led me away from the NuMetal scene and into more extreme versions of metal. Learning their Portuguese lyrics also helped me with the vowel sounds in my Spanish classes in high school so nobody can say that heavy metal isn’t for smart people or rots your brain.

I’d go on to buy Soulfly’s freshman effort Soulfly and be equally obsessed with it, then when Primitive’s followup 3 came out, I did the same thing with it. And while I love both Soulfly and 3, Primitive is the record that has a special place in my heart and did the most for me with regard to growth in musical taste. 

Primitive is by far not Soulfly’s highest-selling record as it only sold half as many copies in the United States as their previous record, but it is to date their best-performing album, peaking at number 32 on the US charts. 

The good thing about metal is it doesn’t have to be popular or even a commercial success to be considered good. And Soulfly’s Primitive is very, very good.

Until next time.

JTF’S HS Jams Review — 2) Slipknot’s Self Titled

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