Primus: Sailing the Seas of Surround

Primus does 5.1 proud. And what better way to inaugurate the ever-adventurous Bay Area band’s foray into the surround-sound audio arena than by wrassling the burbling energy of their 1991 major-label breakthrough, Sailing the Seas of Cheese, into a Deluxe Edition (4 1/2 stars; Interscope/UMe)? Thankfully, this Deluxe Cheese has been properly fermented on Blu-ray Audio in 96-kHz/24-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1.

In the accompanying liner notes (which can also be accessed onscreen), prime Primus visionary, vocalist/bassist Les Claypool, states in no uncertain terms that he wanted to achieve a mix that went “all around the room,” and he’s succeeded in spectacular fashion. Claypool and his co-5.1 mixer and co-engineer Josh Mills weren’t shy about playing up the band’s strengths in every channel, and often. They positively take charge of all corners during “Sgt. Baker.” Claypool’s tiptoeing bass lines walk the fronts as his repeated shouts of “Right!” and “Left!” get localized to their respective, name-checked rear channels — at first, that is; then they move around the room at will. When guitarist Larry LaLonde’s skittery howitzer of a solo takes over, it squeals and veers from the right front to the right rear to the left rear, and then the barrage is retraced in reverse order.

In “American Life,” Claypool’s hypnotic, driving, round-robin lead bass is an inveterate channel-seeker, but his lead vocal roots in the rears during the later verses. The “ahhh” sections of “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” flank the rears, but when Claypool sneers, “Dog will hunt,” everything drops out and only the center channel is deployed.

Muscular drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander takes the spotlight at the outset of “Eleven,” with his percussion and cymbal work dominating the rears; then it returns to the frontline. And when LaLonde’s Zappa-esque noodling takes residence out back, the Claypool/Alexander rhythm section holds the line up front. On “Tommy the Cat,” guest vocalist Tom Waits’s signature growl is reverently centered while the “say baby” cat-call sections seduce all quadrants.

One can only hope that, after conquering the high Seas, Primus will chart another 5.1 voyage into its catalog ASAP.

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