Doom metal has a long history with all things dark and evil, but from the maniacal laughs of Ozzy Osbourne to the theatrical drama of Candlemass, it often comes with a campy sense of fun. Caustic, the second full-length from Denver trio Primitive Man, is anything but fun. From the first few moments to the last, the focus here is on a visceral but uncompromisingly austere form of noise-ridden, feedback-laden sludge. Even on interlude ‘The Weight’, where thunderous guitars are nowhere to be found, they are replaced with bouts of indistinguishable noise and the distorted screams of unknown victims – Caustic is not a welcoming record.
The disconcerting racket of ‘The Weight’ is but one example of the hardships Caustic presents the listener, though. Primitive Man held nothing back here, and as a release that spends more than 75 minutes dripping in the thickest black tar imaginable, patience is needed to truly appreciate the release’s subtleties as well as its cathartic moments of all-out bedlam, led by agitated blastbeats and menacing minor chords. There’s an unwavering rawness here that’s to be admired, and it makes for an intense listening experience that seldom takes its foot off the gas.
This unfaltering commitment to their abrasive mix of sludge, noise and doom wrapped in all manner of audible misery is nothing fans haven’t heard before, of course, but there’s enough refinement of their sound here to ensure Caustic stands as the best realisation of their horrific vision. For one, it is undoubtedly their most consistently downhearted album.
The band, especially bassist Jon Campos, occasionally break into more rhythmic grooves, but never tarry too long on them, preferring to keep things audibly challenging by reverting back to noisy feedback as often as possible. As such, a thick gritty bleakness surrounds every second of Caustic, keeping things suspenseful and discomforting even when the three-piece exercise restraint in order to build tension. Lengthy periods of noise-infused sludge add to the claustrophobic suspense, most notably on the mid-section of ‘Commerce’, where it helps build anticipation for the incoming salvo of unsettlingly distorted guitars and booming percussion, with the latter coming from new sticksman Joe Linden.
Caustic lives up the Primitive Man’s morose vision more consistently than one could have imagined, but it is not a narrow-minded album. Though deafening feedback follows you wherever you go, the album is a multi-faceted affair. The band are just as comfortable providing stifling feedback-heavy noise as they are launching into steamrolling blastbeats (‘Sterility’), creepy ambient tones (‘Absolutes’) and blackened sludge (‘Sugar Hole’). This is perhaps Primitive Man’s most commendable feat, the ability to flaunt rich amounts of creativity despite an unfaltering commitment to such a staunch, stifling sound. The heaviest album of the decade? Quite possibly.
Words: George Parr