The world will crush your soul, your will, and your life if you let it. Not just in 2020. Always. It’s difficult to argue against an existent sickness in the heart of man that corrupts nearly everything we touch. Pernicious violence pervades our collective history, and civilization only serves in many ways to mask the malformity that has always existed in our species. Forward progress is always the goal for those who wish to improve upon or transcend our failed state, but it’s nearly impossible to achieve any level of movement without a full realization of our corruptible, depraved, and violent nature.
Denver’s Primitive Man operate in a sonic dynamic that places this inescapable dynamic of human existence front and center, delivering thoroughly brutalizing music that is perhaps more emblematic of the times we live in than the hellish noise conjured by any other collective in extreme metal. Their records are diabolical exercises in audio punishment that operate on a scorched earth policy that demands both your complete attention and full submission. You can’t half-ass a listen to Caustic. You’re either hooked immediately and bathed in the blood of abject sonic hopelessness or you don’t make it past the first few minutes. Music this inherently punishing exists in its own dimension, and if there were a monarchy in this world Primitive Man would certainly be emperor. Their latest effort, Immersion, does nothing to uncrown them.
While an enormous achievement in sludge/doom metal, the band’s above-mentioned opus Caustic was an unequivocally brutal listen. Not just sonically, but in its titanic length. Clocking in at 77 minutes, Caustic is a harrowing listen that due to its enormity has, to be frank, minimized the amount of time I’ve spent with the album. Like Scorn before it, Immersion cuts down the fat considerably, providing listeners with the leanest Primitive Man offering to date. But what’s so extraordinary about this songwriting trim is the level of violent menace that the band is able to present in a much more truncated span of time. This is just as fundamentally crushing a work as anything that came before it, and its concision only elevates its most destructive moments.
Opener “The Lifer” details the pain of those compelled to make art in mesmerizingly heavy fashion. The feedback squeal that opens the track (and has served as a unifying factor of the band’s music since its inception) provides a shrieking, abrasive introduction to the riff-heavy punishment to follow, which builds in intensity with each passing moment. Ethan Lee McCarthy’s guitar work here and throughout the record is thoroughly excellent, vacillating between elongated, slow burn riffs and tremolo salvos that give the whole endeavor a hallucinatory feel. His vocals have also never sounded so utterly disgusted, giving Immersion an immediately enraged vibe that persists throughout the record. But all of this feels inherently Primitive Man, and while excellent it doesn’t deviate too far from their previously established model. It’s in the album’s next two tracks that the elements that make Immersion the band’s best album yet come to full fruition.
“Entity”, more than its predecessor, highlights the unique aspects of Primitive Man’s songwriting in Immersion. Instead of kicking off with a standard ear-splitting dose of feedback, it begins with a single drum strike and a blackened, tremolo sequence that eventually builds to sound like a hive of swarming hornets, holding its pitch and velocity with an expert level of consistency that only a band as talented and seasoned as Primitive Man could manage. Joseph Linden’s drumming here is particularly powerful, using a page from the Bell Witch playbook by maintaining power while spacing out his delivery to add the greatest possible doom flavor.
It’s a short (in comparison to the rest of the band’s material), concise, unique track in the band’s discography that serves as a disgusting appetizer to the album’s main course, “Menacing”. It’s here where Primitive Man’s faithful are able to witness the full extent of the band’s power as musicians with (I shit you not) full-fledged, perfectly executed blast beats that give the band its darkest blackened edge yet. It may be a brief foray into oddly uptempo territory, but damn does it sound terrific. It’s also here where bassist Jonathan Campos gets to shine, delivering a mercilessly heavy low end that fits the slower portions of the track perfectly. Similar to Conan’s extremely fun foray into grindy blasting in “Paincantation”, but with a much more deliberate and focused edge, “Menacing” is one of the best tracks the band has ever written, balancing the band’s signature aggression with excessively violent speed that feels utterly invigorating.
All of these developments in the band’s sound are made all the more glorious by a production aesthetic that expertly balances clarity and overwhelming sonic punishment. This decision allows the band to remain thoroughly violent in sound while creating a level of detail-orientation that feels more robust than in their previous outings. The band’s penchant for noisy sonic segues is still intact as well, with “∞” delivering a quick slab of abrasive noise that serves as a great launchpad into the album’s last two tracks, which do nothing to minimize the accomplishments of Immersion’s first half. “Foul” in particular sways with all the pendular menace of a hanged man, while finale “Consumption” closes the album with some of its loudest and most front-and-center drum work (including some further blasting from Linden). It’s a fitting, clamorous end to a sludge/doom metal album that will go down as one of the very best on the year.
The world is a horrific place, and albums like Immersion exemplify that madness and destitution in a way that most art cannot. Through peddling a brand of sound that is on its face intentionally repulsive, abrasive, and unrelentingly punishing, Primitive Man have constructed a work of musical extremity that not only serves as a fiery soundtrack to the utter human disaster that is 2020, but speaks boldly to the broader historical failures of our species as a whole. Coupled with McCarthy’s bare and harrowing lyrics and the entire band’s invigorated performative and songwriting chops, Immersion is without question one of the most singular listening experiences of the year, and will no doubt find its way onto many year-end lists. It most certainly has a place on mine. It’s Primitive Man’s best record yet, and a horrifying herald of the end times we are currently attempting to survive.
Immersion drops August 14 through Relapse Records.