In 1990, just prior to the grunge explosion ushered in by Nirvana's Nevermind, San Francisco trio Primus released two highly original albums that combined the energy of punk, the heaviness of metal, a

In 1990, just prior to the grunge explosion ushered in by Nirvana's Nevermind, San Francisco trio Primus released two highly original albums that combined the energy of punk, the heaviness of metal, and the musicianship of prog-rock. It was hardly a new concept, but it was done with a skill and virtuosity that, while not a runaway success on the charts, made the band a favorite among critics and musicians alike. Bassist Les Claypool's own Prawn Song label is now reissuing remastered digipack versions of these albums, the band's first two discs: the frenetic live debut Suck on This and the more polished studio effort Frizzle Fry. Fronted by the manic Claypool, whose incendiary bass work is in a class by itself, the band originally recorded Suck on This at the intimate Berkeley Square nightclub for $3,000. Though five of its nine songs appear on Frizzle Fry and "Tommy the Cat" reappears on 1991's Sailing the Seas of Cheese (with Tom Waits guesting on vocals), Suck on This stands on its own as a testament to the raw intensity of the band's live show. Equally competent at dazzling interplay and ferocious sonic assaults, the band rumbles through "Jellikit" with locomotive power while alternating between funk and thrash on "The Heckler." There's plenty of humor here, too, as evidenced by Claypool's hilariously absurd vocals on "Tommy the Cat." On Frizzle Fry, which, like Suck on This, begins by mimicking Rush's "YYZ," the group emphasizes songs over jamming. Not usually known for his social commentary, Claypool deftly addresses anti-consumerism on "To Defy the Laws of Tradition" and the follies of war on "Too Many Puppies" without sounding overtly political. Though Claypool's bass and nasally spoken-word delivery tower over everything else, drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander and guitarist Larry LaLonde more than hold their own. LaLonde's jagged stabs of noise fill out the sound while Alexander's no-frills pounding ties it all together. The group locks into a relentless groove on the stoner anthem "Spegetti Western," which sheds light on the band's chemically altered mind-set, and Claypool's oddball character sketches "John the Fisherman" and "Harold of the Rocks" show the singer at his yarn-spinning best. As an added bonus, Frizzle Fry contains a cover medley of the Residents' "Hello Skinny/Constantinople," a fittingly bizarre choice for this most unconventional of bands.—JDF