Caustic by Primitive ManRelease date: October 6, 2017
Label: Relapse Records
The Denver, Colorado three-piece Primitive Man are, by now, already a bastion of the worldwide contemporary sludge metal community. Their discography reads like a ‘who’s who to release with for top cred’, yet in reality, and in all probability, it is the other bands wishing to be paired with Primitive Man that is closer to the truth. Split releases with Hexis, Hessian, Sea Bastard, Northless and Fister not only show their unflinching heaviness, uncontested quality, but also an impressive adaptability. All those bands are heavy, but each are a very different beast in their own right. Those that have managed to pick up or at least listen to those splits will note, with the right amount of awe, that Primitive Man always sound like Primitive Man, but have also made the split a cohesive whole rather than a random mash up of quality acts, doing so by writing tracks that complement the other bands, if not in style, then in tone. It is a ineffable quality reserved of a rarefied few, and one that signalled their sheer brilliance right from the offset.
Caustic is Primitive Man’s third full-length and second for Relapse Records, and it is a trial by fire for those uninitiated and for fans alike. At seventy-seven minutes long, Caustic is a test of the temperament of any listener. It is, in short, brutal. This is what dying alone from shrapnel to the liver in some backwards broken barn snowdrift hellhole must feel like. Oh, and a volcano just erupted about a mile south. The humanity!
On an initial glance of the track-listing the first thing that hit me was the fact Caustic is twelve tracks long. This is, however, slightly misleading as the album’s namesake, ‘Ash’ and ‘The Weight’ are all short segues, creating a denser atmosphere yes, but obviously not songs in their own right. With the number of tracks down to nine and that running length, you suddenly get the picture that this is a Primitive Man album simply subjecting you to more firepower and dread than either of the two previous albums. This could have backfired – I love this type of heavy as much as any other clinically deranged person, but at the hour mark you typically want, or rather, need it to stop. Even aural sadomasochists have our limits, you know?! I can state here, however, that Primitive Man show all the quality and experience aforementioned and have delivered an album of incredibly clever, nuanced pacing. Seventy-seven minutes don’t exactly ‘fly by’, but they drag themselves over broken glass and used syringes to their inevitable, horrible death in a manner befitting a doomed hero.
Caustic explodes into life with ‘My Will’, already a fan favourite from a brief perusal online. It and second track ‘Victim’ are wretched in the best possible way. They kick off the onslaught of the album and set the tone perfectly. After the interlude of ‘Caustic’, ‘Commerce’ introduces the central body of the album. At twelve minutes it lurches and contorts, creating a bludgeoning effect on the listener. Primitive Man only use blunt weapons – their method of assault and battery is not quick and painless. For such heaviness and attention to subtlety at the same time to come from a three piece is simply incredible. At this point they must, of course, have a creative shorthand and an implicit trust of one another’s musical skill and innovation, letting them focus on smarter songwriting and an attention to detail on smaller ingenious, sophisticated nuances in the studio.
There are so many layers to each track, each riff; yet also a beguiling simplicity. It’s hard to communicate, and it’s the mark of true artistry – to write creatively but without clutter, to capture a moment… There’s a purity to Caustic’s recording, and yet this in itself has somehow added depth. So much sludge metal sounds like sludge in its’ very recording – there’s always a hiss or a grumbling noise in there that isn’t part of the track and is anybody’s guess whether it’s there in a meaningful sense, or it’s been missed, or it adds to the ‘cool vibe’ aesthetic the band believes they’re trying to paint. Primitive Man are one of few who, through trial and tribulation have perhaps become enlightened to the positive results of having a cleaner recording of their hellish soundscapes. In this Caustic reminds me a lot of Thou’s Heathen.
‘Tepid’ is thrashing and dangerous, like a shark caught in a fisherman’s net. It wants to be free and unencumbered, but pity the man who in attempting to help, wagers his hands. ‘Sterility’ is similarly punishing. Caustic is genuinely unrelenting. Long track, short(er) track? Both stretch you over the rack before kicking your head down under the guillotine’s blade. ‘Sugar Hole’ is the track with some of the greatest dynamic changes, getting positively frantic at points – perhaps the point the body realises a foreign agent or poison is suddenly attacking… Coming back to the question of pacing, ‘Sugar Hole’ and instrumental ‘The Weight’ are prime examples. The former ramps up the pace and then feedback-strewn latter almost acts as palette cleanser. Sludge sorbet, anyone? The purpose of this soon becomes clear; the last three tracks – ‘Disfigured’, ‘Inevitable’ and ‘Absolutes’ – run at half an hour combined. The end of the album is going to bring about even more punishment.
‘Disfigured’ rolls out with unmitigated yet thoughtful fury – at this point Primitive Man are slowing things down, and their brand of sludge is certainly moving toward a molasses consistency. It rumbles but never blunders; it is indeed caustic, yet never loses direction or focus. It is quite remarkable that throughout its running length Caustic never has a minute’s period where one could say “cut” or “that was a bit by the numbers” or “that was pretty dull and uninspired”. Longest track ‘Inevitable’ similarly crushes and is utterly essential. Having listened to an hour of impenetrable aural harm, it is astonishing to still welcome this twelve and half minute missal. ‘Absolutes’ bookends the album, and showcases and band with supreme confidence. Nine minutes of carefully constructed feedback and ambience would in the hands of a lesser band be at worst boring and at best self-indulgent. Here it is simply the only way one can imagine Caustic closing. It’s a nigh-on perfect album.