By Michael Harrington
Humans like to be comfortable. If the temperature is not to our liking, we use climate control. If our chair is hard, we add a pillow. If we are hungry, we snack. If we do not like the radio station, we change it. But why be comfortable? You do not grow as a person without at least a little discomfort. You must be challenged in order to change.
Primus has been around for a while; they released their first studio album, “Frizzle Fry,” in 1990 alongside the single “John the Fisherman.” Anybody who played Guitar Hero II growing up should recognize the name “John the Fisherman,” a tale about a man who wants to grow up to be one of the harvesters of the sea. While this fishy tale was the first Primus single, the group would follow up with other such singles as “Tommy the Cat,” “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” and “My Name Is Mud,” all of which tell silly stories.
At its core, Primus is a metal band, but they have gone out of their way to create a sort of progressive funk-metal sound so that they stand out in an otherwise aggressive-sounding genre. What makes Primus especially unique, aside from their funky storytelling capabilities, is how disconcerting they make their songs. Being only three members large means each member has to be a top-tier player as well as creative so as to sonically fill every track. They do this with musical tension with little resolution.
So what is this weird metal band doing in 2017? On Sept. 29, Primus released their first entirely original album featuring the original lineup of bassist/vocalist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim Alexander since 1995. “The Desaturating Seven” is a protest/concept album based on the children’s book “The Rainbow Goblins” by Ul de Rico. There are seven goblins, one named for each color of the rainbow, and they all love to eat color. Primus keeps the theme of seven by limiting the album to seven songs. However, these seven songs are masterfully crafted to mirror the tale of “The Rainbow Goblins.”
Opening the album is “The Valley,” which features Tool’s Justin Chancellor as the narrating Goblin Master setting the stage for the story of these goblins. The Goblin Master’s voice is grand and booming, giving him a mystique enhanced by clean-guitar arpeggios. An ominous, almost tribal movement follows the narration. After the introduction, the album moves into “The Seven,” a marching roll call for the goblins. “The Trek,” our next song, is the longest on the album, reflecting the journey that the goblins need to go on in order for them to find the colors they desperately wish to eat. “The Scheme” flows into “The Dream,” which flows into “The Storm,” making the second half of the album feel like a hypnotic, refined and meticulously constructed symphony. “The Ends?” features the same musical themes of “The Valley,” giving an ominous feeling that these seven goblins have met their demise, yet the world continues on without them.
It is no surprise that Primus would release this album at this point in the world’s political situation. Claypool’s lyrics denounce the goblins as greedy, abusive and defamatory. So described in “The Seven,” these goblins plan to turn the world dark and gray simply because that is what these goblins do by nature. This claim would not be unfitting to describe some of the world’s leaders and political decisions in recent history. By comparing these high-profile individuals to goblins who want nothing more than to create a colorless and boring world, Primus turns “The Desaturating Seven” into a musical allegory.
If I had to recommend a single Primus album, it would be “The Desaturating Seven.” The simple complexity of the music holds your attention for the entire duration of the album. Goofy yet multi-layered lyrics add substance to the storytelling, but the movements in each song are what truly push the tale forward. Despite being weird, uncomfortable and tense, this album is much easier to listen to compared to Primus’s older albums without sacrificing any of the talent that Primus fans have come to adore. I implore you to suspend your disbelief about what music should sound like and check out this truly odd and endearing work of art.