When push came to shove, few metal fans ever had any doubts that Max Cavalera would do just fine on his own after his acrimonious split from Brazilian death metal heroes Sepultura. In fact, the guitarist/singer/songwriter quickly proved himself the better of the two parties with the release of his new band Soulfly's eponymous debut in 1998. But, whereas that record maintained a rather linear progression from Sepultura's often underappreciated, at times groundbreaking work, clearly the singer's more adventurous work was now behind him. Primitive, Soulfly's sophomore "solo" project, introduces the listener to yet another slew of "new" musical styles, experiments, and collaborations. Frustratingly, where albums like Arise and especially Roots broke through standard metal clichés by reinventing its aesthetic with often startling results, a record like Primitive just seems like a haphazardly thrown-together melange of styles, with few cuts really managing to inspire or even gel. In fact, most of Cavalera's ideas sound half-baked here -- teetering on the cusp of something great, but never fulfilling that promise. With its mishmash of moods and irreverent sense of experimentation, Primitive teases but mostly plays it safe with its facile over-the-top posturing. Maybe it's the fact that Cavalera's lyrics have become something of an embarrassing mess these days, with the singer (and we use the term loosely) abusing every overwrought rap-metal cliché imaginable. Ignore the words (and let's not kid ourselves, a lot of folks will) and one is left with a solid, somewhat predictable metal release, which almost redeems itself thanks in part to a punchy production courtesy of Korn and Alice in Chains producer/engineer Toby Wright. As for the individual tracks themselves, opener "Back to the Primitive" is perfectly interchangeable with any other of the opening cuts on all the previous Soulfly and Sepultura albums (something Metallica once mastered to perfection back in its heyday). However, at the end of the day, Cavalera is no Hetfield and "Back to the Primitive" is no "Fight Fire With Fire" or "Battery" for that matter. Primitive then succumbs to a cluster-f**k of guest appearances including Slayer's Tom Araya, the Deftones' Chino Moreno, and the entire Mulambo Tribe (huh?) from Brazil -- yielding as many "ooh, that was neat" reactions as it does "what the hell was that for?" confusion. Of the aforementioned lyrical calamities, the otherwise satisfying "Bring It" and "Jump the F**k Up" are especially laughable for their sheer stupidity. "Mulambo," as one has come to expect, is the album's meaningless, supposed tribal chant (and no, it doesn't mean anything in Portuguese either), while "In Memory of..." is simply a blatantly shortsighted attempt at hip-hop. Two offerings, however, are pretty much beyond reproach: there's "Son Song," a surprising lucid collaboration with Sean Lennon that succeeds because it is so downright catchy and off the wall, and the closing "Flyhigh," truly surprising with its female lead co-vocal and bludgeoning detuned guitar groove. Ultimately, Primitive finds Cavalera in a reluctant holding pattern, and begs the question: "Where do we go from here?"
AllMusic Review by John Franck