On 2017’s Caustic, Primitive Man sought to push the sludge metal genre to its absolute limits. At 77 minutes the Denver trio’s second full-length was an absolute beast, stacking corrosive sludge up against abrasive noise and distorted drone, in the process creating something bleaker and gnarlier than perhaps anything the subgenre had previously seen. Such a move was always likely to be divisive – to some the album is a masterpiece, showcasing everything that makes sludge the punishing and depraved style that it is, whilst to others the band’s intense music is more effective when they stick to leaner runtimes. Regardless of your thoughts, it was a sonic experiment seemingly designed to test the resolve of both the band and their listeners. Follow-up LP Immersion still seeks to ask questions of the listener by confronting them with pummelling hammer-blows and pulverising harsh noise, but at under 40 minutes it’s not the endurance test that was its predecessor.
Which isn’t to say, however, that the band have adopted a less laboured approach (though the frantic bursts of ‘Menacing’ would have you believe otherwise), merely that Immersion’s less time-consuming length means the band’s ruthless sound seems more focused. The band may have seen fit to use prolonged runtimes on Caustic, but they were never Primitive Man’s sole USP. The band’s real strength lies in their ability to drag you into the gutter and hold your face down in the dirt whilst proving themselves as remarkably dynamic and creative songwriters in the process. On Caustic, this meant approaching sludge the way a noise artist would, all distressing tones and drawn-out deafening feedback, but Immersion sees a more dynamic blending of the band’s ingredients.
Yes, there’s grinding, industrial sludge that’s exhausting in its incessance, but there’s also ear-piercing noise that ensures tracks like ‘Entity’ and ‘∞’ ratchet up the tension by never truly finding a groove. And at times, as on ‘Menacing’ and ‘Consumption’, the band break up this carefully cultivated tension by leaping out of the murk at the drop of a hat to take a more rabid and frenzied approach.
If Caustic saw the band taking us along as they wallowed in an abject misery that many of us could relate to in 2018, Immersion’s fractured composition is frightfully fitting for the even more dire times in which we now find ourselves, though the lyrics are always filtered through the band’s own experiences. The album is a sobering exploration of the human psyche’s darker recesses, and the way in which the modern world seems to foster existential crises. “Why did God make me to scream out of my fucking soul?” frontman Ethan McCarthy asks on ‘Menacing’, whilst lead-single ‘The Lifer’ is not, as its name might suggest, a celebration of those who dedicate their lives to music. Rather it is an exploration of how the desire to create is punished by the modern world’s insistence that every person’s worth be measured by their contribution to the capitalist machine.
McCarthy took the time to explore similar topics in a more abstract way with his recent album under the Many Blessings moniker (interview here), but with Immersion he and his bandmates have stayed true to Primitive Man’s bleak ethos. Caustic’s defining trait was its epic, overwhelming scope, but despite being half the length Immersion is no less confrontational or abrasive. Its forebearer remains a masterpiece, but with their latest LP the trio have crafted a hectic slab of devastating extremity – and retained their title of being the heaviest metal band going.
Immersion is out 14th August on Relapse Records. Order here.
Words: George Parr