Immersion by Primitive ManRelease date: August 14, 2020
Label: Relapse Records
It’s hard to believe that Immersion is only the third full-length album from Primitive Man, and that the band have been around for less than a decade. The trio feel like such a mainstay of the contemporary doom, sludge and noise scene that it seems as if they should already be playing sets of classic albums from front to back on festival stages. Perhaps it’s due to always having been released on quality labels and also their slew of split records with wildly different – but all excellent – bands throughout 2014 and 2016 in particular (Hexis, Hessian, Fister and Unearthly Trance to name a few). Either way, in 2020, McCarthy, Campos and Linden return with Immersion via Relapse Records, and it is deeply, deeply troubling.
When I was first preparing to listen to Immersion, one simple thing that struck me was that there was no track named ‘Immersion’. So, the natural question emerges, why is the album called what it is? Quite simply, you are immersed – nay, plunged – headfirst into utter despair. Primitive Man’s third LP is the soundtrack to a mental breakdown; the musical accompaniment to that small flicker in someone’s eye when you know they’ve given up on a dream or hope of good news.
If you’re still reading by this point, that means this brand of sadomasochistic mayhem is in your wheel-house of sonic “pleasures”. So, moving on from the not-so-hyperbolic hyperbole, is Immersion any good? Is it a worthy successor to the band’s previous spawn, Caustic? It is. It’s better.
Immersion is the more considered relation to Caustic, with an element – dare I say it – of clear artistry being apparent, too. Before current fans of the band flinch at the idea that Primitive Man have tamed themselves, please re-read the introduction to this review.
Immersion is as unbridled in its utter disgust, fury and pain at the mere concept of existence as anything the trio have put to tape before. But, consider the best nemeses in film and literature. Sure, the unhinged, ultra-violent villain in a gore-filled slasher or pulpy novel can be scary, can shock and still absorb the audience, but aren’t the lucid, considered, slow to unveil their masterplan adversaries always, always, the more chilling – the foe that stays in your mind for their contemplative approach to evil far longer than their mindless, nameless knife-wielding kin?
Opening with the utterly wretched ‘The Lifer’, Primitive Man never remove their hands from your throat until the last wail of feedback squalls out of existence on closing track ‘Consumption’. ‘The Lifer’ is premium Primitive Man – a seismic wall of guitar, bass and drums, with Ethan bellowing his hymns of hate from some infernal corner of Hell. It is all encompassing. It quite literally immerses the listener in its pitch-black sonic tapestry. It is an extremely harsh opening to an unrelenting record that takes in all the genres we are accustomed to hearing the trio employ, be it monumental doom that verges into the ultra-drawn out notes of funeral doom, or the ear-splitting noise that permeates many of the tracks and is the sum-total of their ‘anti-breather’ interlude ‘∞’, or even infusing some of the most nihilistic elements of DSBM.
Second track ‘Entity’ begins with a buzzing of guitars, as if riffs had become a swarm of Africanised bees, while the drums beat with war-like menace, before the track splits open on the crest of an atonal riff that does its best to crawl into the ears and start eating its way to your juicy brain. It’s the sparsest track on the album, but the sheer weight, or rather density, instilled into its five-minute run-time is absolutely miraculous. It is a neutron star of a track. It’s followed by the longest ‘song’ on Immersion, and by contrast, its most complex. ‘Menacing’ is also the album’s best and yes, its name is wholly befitting. The band suddenly morph into a strange hybrid of death metal and post-metal without ever losing their own sound. The trio gallop furiously forward with a punishingly heavy riff – yes, they really do turn up the pace here – before settling into a massive groove that gets the head actually nodding. That is then quickly eschewed in a wail of feedback to some more ‘on-brand’ monolithic sludge. Unbearably heavy, this is how it must feel to be trampled underfoot. Sludge then slowly decays into doom as the tempo winds down to a lumbering bestial speed, further and further rotting under its own putrid conditions.
Post the aforementioned noise interlude come ‘Foul’ and ‘Consumption’. ‘Foul’ is another gargantuan undertaking. Riffs that serve as industrial machines as tall as skyscrapers mashing the population into pulp, McCarthy unleashes some of his most powerful guitar work on the record, down-tuned note after down-tuned note asking the listener to accept their fate and acquiesce to the inevitable horror of it all. ‘Consumption’ then has McCarthy sounding the most unhinged he’s sounded vocally on record, ever. He and the band sound desperate. As the vocals become more and more strained, the instrumentation around it continues to shift and confuse. This existential crisis is only so bad, it turns out, because the conclusions being drawn are so patently true. It ends the album as it began, in a hail of feedback and the determination that life is a curse, not a gift.
Primitive Man have once again provided us with music for the end times. Except, perhaps, this isn’t world-ending end time, but is rather the background music to the worsening mind of a deeply troubled individual. McCarthy himself says it best, in the album’s publicity notes: “Now you’re a grown man and you’re fucked.”
Immersion is a heavy record, in both meaning of the phrase, showing the trio remain at the absolute height of their disturbing, bleak powers. It’s worth noting that their new LP comes in at under forty minutes, which, compared to Caustic being nearly double that, is quite some change. The two records do have their differences stylistically, but, with hindsight, I would posit that Caustic is bloated. With such caustic – ahem – tracks, that demand so much from the listener in terms of concentration but also sheer endurance, the album length of Immersion is far better suited for their means. Their third record reaffirms and cements Primitive Man as one of the best doom bands on the planet.