Primus - Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble - (8/10)
Published on October 28, 2014
Grandpa Joe approves.
While not metal in the strictest sense of the word, the Californian genre-dabbling Primus have long been adored by the metal community for their eclectic brand of silly yet freakishly rocking musical stylings.
Moreover, the band also have quite the imprint on the history of metal, with carnival leader/bass player extraordinaire Les Claypool auditioning for Metallica following the untimely death of Cliff Burton, as well as playing in the progressive thrash band Blind Illusion with guitarist and fellow Primus player Larry “Ler” LaLonde, who also has the distinction of playing in Possessed and creating what many pundits deem as the first death metal album in 1985’s Seven Churches. Drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander, having spent time with A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, can also add former Blue Man Group drummer to his resume – metal, indeed.
And with that out of the way, Claypool, LaLonde, and Alexander are all back for the group’s eighth and assuredly most ambitious outing yet, Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble, a reimagining of the soundtrack to the 1971 musical-fantasy film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, which, of course, is a movie based upon Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the classic 1964 novel by Roald Dahl.
When considering the psychedelic and off-beat charm of both Primus and the film/book, it really does seem like the perfect marriage. Over the course of their career, Primus’ discography has progressed into a multiform and intoxicating blend of rock and metal flavors, all the while catering to new, more adventurous fans and then, conversely, distancing themselves from those gone ill from their increased fondness for the quirky and unorthodox. Insofar as Primus have become an acquired taste, so always has been the Mel Stuart-directed film.
Cited as a family or children’s movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has become one of the genre’s darkest offerings, with its cast of conceited kids, slithering antagonists, and ambiguous outcomes (not to mention one ghastly boat ride), the movie has arguably fueled as many nightmares as it has rumbling bellies – of course, if the film didn’t harbor such threatening and unusual plot devices, its popularity would most definitely be far less so. And while they don’t embrace the morbid fan theory of Wonka as a child-murdering cannibal, Primus get it right by instilling a hefty dose of the weird and the uncomfortable in their musical version.
Adhering to the original soundtrack’s layout, Primus saunter about with smirk-filled enthusiasm, gleefully touching up classics like “Candy Man, “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket,” and “Pure Imagination” with equal portions of creepiness and playfulness – tricks and treats just in time for the Halloween season. Even though it falls short of Marilyn Manson’s “Prelude (The Family Trip),” the portentous “Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride” should have no problem prompting a wealth of uneasy smiles, and “I Want It Now,” sung by LaLonde, although a bit long in its execution, becomes one of the album’s more memorable tracks due to its usage of xylophone and a surf rock-inspired guitar tone. But ultimately winning the day are the four Oompa songs, each highlighted by the booming Oompa chorus and the work of Critters Buggin percussionist Mike Dillon and Frog Brigade cellist Sam Bass, the duo who comprise the Fungi Ensemble.
As successfully eerie as Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble is, it remains an homage that delimits itself to Primus and Wonka fans exclusively, but depending on which party you were first enamored with, this sweet-toothed product just might make you a believer of both. Lastly, to make matters even more saccharine, join the hunt by purchasing the album on vinyl in hopes of finding one of the five golden tickets hidden inside. Your prize: Primus concert tickets for life!