Music considered “psychedelic” tends to fall, loosely, into two categories. The first camp includes weird, off-kilter compositions, lots of trippy vocal effects and weird keyboard/synth flourishes (Animal Collective, Black Moth Super Rainbow, The Flaming Lips). The second camp tends to be defined by long instrumental passages, mostly partially or totally improvised jams (Earthless, Kyuss, Sleep, Phish, Grateful Dead). Billed as a “psychedelic stab of death infused metal,” Skeleton of God’s Primordial Dominion is the rare animal that combines both camps in a heady crockpot of healthy extreme metal.
The album was self-released by the band in 2008 and has now been picked up for a re-release, available in both vinyl and CD editions (plus digital, obviously). Unfortunately, bassist Joel DiPietro has passed away since the record’s initial release, though this album serves as a solid legacy. The album opens with one its strongest moments, perhaps best described as the cover art set to music. “Dawn Of Dominion” clocks in at a brief 1:33, and alternates between bruising death metal and a weird, Primus-esque, bass-driven interlude. In addition, an eerie water and bubbling effect is haunting the nether regions behind the track; imagine being on a boat, sailing the bong water featured on the cover, when a sudden massive storm blows in.
It’s an unsettling moment that prompts a careful look at the listener’s peripheral surroundings to verify that it is, indeed, an audio effect built into the music. Despite the song’s brief length, it essentially front loads the record as a whole, easily being the album’s best moment; this speaks to the strength of Primordial Dominion as a whole, rather than being a drawback. It is really only effective with headphones and doesn’t translate well to speakers, for whatever reason. In fact, though most pronounced in “Dawn,” Primordial Dominion is an album best experienced with a good set of headphones.
Of course, the relative strength of the intro means something has to be weaker, and the first half of Primordial Dominion is the weaker of the two—again, a relative flaw. “Cerebral Vipers” contains some killer, bass-driven riffage as well some very low-end bass guitar bombs. “Dark Energy” lives up to its title, combining a wet, raspy throat scratcher with a slow-and-slower approach that approximates the feeling of what it might be like to be sucked into a black hole.
The album’s first half then is a mix of the standard Sleep/Black Sabbath concrete slabs of riffage, which alternate with bursts of blast beat-infused death metal. The death metal body slams are effective, as they are sparing enough to really pack a punch. The vocals on the album combine a deep, guttural growl with a higher end shriek at times invoking the passionate desperation of hardcore. Sometimes both voices are present in unison, again producing an unsettling feeling similar to the dread invoked by the intro. Jeff Kahn, the band’s guitarist/vocalist, turns in some solid leads, often learning on slow burn feedback-laden long holds, though at times presenting some fast leads, as well. While there is, obviously, nothing wrong with a full-album length assault of pounding death metal, a good contrast can be effective and striking. The second track, “Tentacle Guns,” is a good example of the band playing to its collective strengths, as it uses the death metal/stoner contrast and contains the first extended instrumental interlude.
The second half of Primordial Dominion , however, is when the promised space trip really unfurls its sails. “Spiral Domain” uses a marching riff that is unique to the song and gets outside of the deep Sabbath vibe. It also contains the first appearance of a spacey synth sound that reappears several times on side two. “Divinorum,” an instrumental with a Wino-esque main riff, introduces the album’s best section, complete with several epic gong strikes. “Eyeland” combines a propulsive, tricky riff that is one of the album’s best. The riff is varied as the track roars out of the gate, almost like a file copying itself but becoming truncated in the process. Naturally, the band falls into the low-end growl and Sabbath riffing before segueing into another headfuck instrumental, “Shepardess.” The album winds down with “Tribunal,” a fairly standard burner with a Jimi Hendrix-style freakout. It ends with “Journey’s Twilight,” the title ending the voyage promised by the intro. Towards the end, there is a vaguely new age melody that hints towards a dawn and sounds almost hopeful, before falling into more lead brick riffage.
The old school vibe of the album is enhanced by the recording quality, in which virtually every instrument is distorted, presumably pushed into the red by extreme volume. As a whole, the contrast between styles is the main takeaway from Primordial Dominion. The lumbering, doom-y riffs do battle with the blast beats, conjuring an image of an approaching kaiju which citizens try desperately to stop with bursts of automatic weapons fire. Spoiler alert: there’s no stopping this beast.