Soulfly’s self-titled 1998 debut, that paired the band on the road with the likes of Rammstein and thrust them into the Ozzfest spotlight, wasn’t born from the most comfortable of circumstances. Though leader Max Cavalera had earned himself the respect of many with Sepultura, garnering worldwide acclaim during his 15-year stay with the band, his successes did not necessarily result in peace of mind. In fact, when Soulfly first went into the studio in late 1997, Max was going through the most difficult time he had ever known. Splitting with a band that was just as much family as close friends, not to mention the crushing loss of his stepson, Dana, it’s no wonder Soulfly was such a vicious sonic outpouring. A torrent of soul-searching intensity and rhythmic cacophony, the album served as catharsis for not only Max, but his following as well. It is hard, then, to believe that the follow-up, Primitive, is probably more angry and determined than its predecessor. But it is. It’s also more diverse and far more sonically scarring. And it’s yet another step forward for Max Cavalera and crew. Soulfly, as if there was any doubt, is here for the long haul.
Soulfly was further growth from the territory that Sepultura’s Roots explored, fueled with a new enthusiasm and inspiration. Amidst several successful tours across the globe, it readily became apparent that it took something extraordinary to be a member of Soulfly. Primitive attains its hellish primal roar thanks to the jacked-up Soulfly 2000 membership. Max feels this is the chemistry he’s been searching for all along. “The rock star shit does not work for us. Some people came into this band and didn’t understand that. Soulfly still has the hardcore, feet-on-the-ground element that has been with me forever, and if the musicians don’t have that, they can’t be in Soulfly.”
The anger found on Soulfly is multiplied ten-fold on Primitive. Tracks like “Back To The Primitive,” “Bring It,” “Terrorist” and “Prophet” seethe and scream like a band with frustration to burn. You’d think Max’s demons had been exorcised with the last album, but the man is still fighting inner wars. In addition to the internal, Primitive turns to the external, dealing with the state of the world in general. “With this album, it’s about turning anger into something positive. The world is in a weird place. There’s a lot of chaos. You can hear that in the music of today, the music we create. Everybody’s got this natural anger. Peace of mind is not something you can find overnight. It takes years. And sometimes you never find it. The average Soulfly fan deals with a lot of shit every day, and I think my music helps. When they hear those songs, they connect with me, like, ‘I hear Max, I hear what he’s saying, I’m down with that shit.’ That’s why there’s a big bond between me and the people that listen to my music. There’s a magical bond.”
The ‘magical bond’ that Max speaks of is akin to that of another legendary musician and his fans… Max has been called the “Bob Marley of Metal” for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that he has risen from the Third World and brought his fans together like family through his rich, homeland-inspired music. The influence of Brazil aside, Max is likened to Marley also by virtue of the design of Primitive’s cover art. Marley’s longtime designer, Neville Garrick, designed the cover art for this sophomore effort.
Primitive is the sound of unbelievable global tension being worked through by four guys who feel it just as strongly as the average Joe on the street. But Max has another side, a side that likes to experiment and explore the boundaries of heavy sound. Whether it’s the hypnotic percussion of “Boom,” the uplifting soul of “Fly High,” the in-your-face ferocity of “Jump Da Fuck Up”, the Dead Can Dance-like aura of “Soulfly 2,” or the urban/rap basis of “In Memory Of…,” Primitive is an album of stunning depth and intelligence. It’s a record by a band not afraid of growth. “We’re transcending into a whole new world that we haven’t gone to yet. You’re hearing different instruments and voices. ‘Soulfly 2′ is the spiritual part of the album. And it’s all brutally honest.”
“In Memory Of…” is indeed the textbook definition of brutal honesty. Not only does it deal with the death of Dana, but also the death of the brother of Tunday from underground Arizona rap band Cutthroat Logic, who appear on the track. “Fly High” features Tunday’s sister, Asha, in a beautiful, soaring vocal performance that directly contrasts the throbbing pulse of the song’s rhythmic attack. “She’s just got a beautiful gospel voice,” admits Max. “It fit what was meant for that song, which is spiritual, about what Soulfly really means. Her voice just jumps right off the track. It’s really wild.”
Like the debut, Primitive features a wealth of well-known guest musicians. There’s Cory/#8 from Platinum-selling new Metal phenoms, Slipknot, throat-sparring with Max on “Jump Da Fuck Up”; there’s Grady from Will Haven and Chino from Deftones on the subsonic bass-driven boom-doom of “Pain”; and the inimitable Tom Araya of Slayer appears on the album’s most aggressive track (of course!), “Terrorist.” But the most surprising guest this time out is none other than Sean Lennon, son of the beyond-famous John. Appropriately, Sean lends his talents to “Son Song,” a song about living without a father from a young age, something Max and Sean have in common. Max reveals, however, that the song’s message wasn’t the main reason for Sean’s appearance: “It was more just because of the contrast of voices and sound. Two different world combining together.”
With all of the guest stars, it’s to the credit of the core members that the album has an intensely unified vibe to it. It’s not so much a guest star album as it is a total band presentation with massive depth and variety. Guitars are wider and deeper thanks to new-man Mikey, and Joe’s percussive flexibility might just win him rookie-of-the-year on the drum kit. The guest stars’ appearances are entirely entertaining, but it seems the full-time members could’ve made just as engaging an album without outside contributions. “There was a conscious effort to make sure each guest’s trademark comes in, but not to change the Soulfly sound. The music was all there already, it’s Soulfly music, and you cannot change that. If it happened that the sound changed by using these other guys, that would’ve hurt us and hurt the album. It would’ve become this big guest album that doesn’t really have a face.”
No worries there. Primitive is solid. It not only has its own face, it has its own head, its own heart, its own body, mind, and soul. It’s spiritual and spiteful all at once, and no matter where it goes and what it does, the music remains true. It remains real.