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Sonic Excess In It's Most Impure Form - PRIMITIVE MAN/HELL split review

Two of the heaviest bands on planet Earth join together to create the most continent shattering split in years.

Artwork by Ethan McCarthy (The Cool Ghoul)

Take a moment and think about what truly classifies a band as heavy and who would be the heaviest in your mind from your own perimeters. Does speed make a band heavy? The lyrical approach? The sheer brutality of the instrumentation? All can be great qualifiers. But when it comes to the two bands on this split, heavy is almost second nature.

Denver's PRIMITIVE MAN initially made waves with their debut album Scorn (2013). By word of mouth and the typing of computer keys, the band pretty much became an overnight sensation for their nihilistically bleak approach to sludge and doom. They brought elements of harsh noise and black metal oppressiveness to a genre that believed Eyehategod and Crowbar were the be all, end all of sludge. PRIMITIVE MAN truly lived up to their moniker through not only their debut LP, but also through a seemingly endless stream of demos, splits and EP's before they finally recorded a proper follow up to Scorn with the 2017 release of Caustic. The album is an intense and at some points a very daunting experience. With many years of being immersed in the world of noise music and applying it heavily, Caustic became another springboard for the group and they embarked on tours with many other distinguished heavy music merchants, including Bell Witch and Spectral Voice to name a few. Through most of 2018, studio work was limited only to a split with Unearthly Trance. As we begin a new year, we are being showered with another helping of pulverizing Denver sludge.

Oily Tears pretty much picks up where Caustic and the Unearthly Trance split left us, pissed off and wanting to vent. To me, this could have easily fit somewhere between Disfigured and Inevitable off of Caustic as a sort of breather in between both of those gigantic walls of impenetrable grief. There are moments where Ethan McCarthy's vocals go into the territory of his Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire project, which sounds beyond menacing and straight up tortured. This opener, much like other tracks within the PRIMITIVE MAN pantheon, feel like the auditory equivalent of a snuff film with 500 pounds of dope-sickness pervading over the proceedings. If Sleep is what a THC high is supposed to sound like, P//M are like the horrific comedown from a heroin bender and you're bleeding out in some seedy back alleyway. Following track Pitiful and Loathsome is probably my favorite of the two, mainly because the band picks up a little bit of speed with bassist Jonathan Campos and drummer Joe Linden bringing this hellish plod to a hellish trot. Imagine Noothgrush or Grief at Om speeds and that's pretty much it. It's trotting, but not in a bouncy and colorful way, hell no. The speed is basically to bring you out of the hypnotic haze of dumpster dust you've been huffing for the last six minutes and bring you back to the real garbage. But once it's over, you feel like you just got done being trampled by a herd of mechanized war rhinos. Keep in mind though, this is just Side A of a split with another band that completely defies the laws of heavy.

If you've dug deep into the American underground doom metal scene enough, chances are at one point you will have encountered Salem, Oregon's HELL. While the band name may seem unoriginal in the context of being a heavy metal band, I can assure you that this shit is definitely not for the weak. MSW, the mastermind behind HELL, has cut his teeth with some of the best in the underground, including being a part of two transcendent projects that also included Paul Riedl of Spectral Voice and Blood Incantation. The point here being is that MSW knows what heavy truly means. The Hell Trilogy, simply titled I, II and III, are among the most revered extreme doom albums of the last ten years. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if PRIMITIVE MAN looked to those releases for inspiration. With a self titled record released in 2017 and a live appearance at Migration Fest last year, chances of hearing new HELL music seemed slightly unlikely until this split was announced. This is the first split MSW has done since the 2014 split with blackened doom soothsayer Mizmor, who's own mastermind ALN performs live drums for HELL, contributed vocals on Hell I, and is also a good friend of MSW. Going into this b-side, I did not expect to be taken down memory lane a bit.

Fans of HELL know that each of the releases within the Trilogy have a distinct sound: I is very bleak and has undertones of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath while attempting the sounds of Unholy, Eyehategod, Khanate and Burning Witch. Hell II contains the essence of I but with more emphasis on the black metal of the United States (Weakling, Krallice and Ash Borer). Hell III is more focused on funeral doom in the vein of Asunder and Mournful Congregation meets Godspeed You! Black Emperor or This Will Destroy You styled post rock. But Nuumen brings me right back to Hell I with it's flattening guitar and bass tone and atmosphere. One of the things that I loved about Hell I was the very Sabbath-esque bending and note tapping, which MSW brought back on Nuumen. It borderline leaves the listener in a haze of brimstone and sulphur. One aspect of the track that also left me impressed was the fact that not a lot of vocal effects were used on MSW's voice, leaving him to bellow his words in total clarity. His voice is tortured but man is it effective. His vocal approach on this album brings me more to the track Mourn off of Hell III when he unleashes the lines, "Falling from the heavens to the hellish dirt of our hellish earth." Well spoken sir.

To return to the question of what heavy means, I think of what both of these bands have accomplished in the past and what they both brought to this split. They brought a profound sense of longing for greater happiness until the world pulled the trigger on it all. They bring lyrical themes that are downright soul crushing, but listeners are able to glean a deeper understanding that others are suffering just as much, if not, more than they are. Each project brought some of the most oppressive material they have ever penned and it worked in grand style. That to me is what makes PRIMITIVE MAN, HELL and this split so enjoyable and heavy. The dynamic that suffocation in auditory form can eventually bring enlightenment through shared sorrow. That is heavy.

Overall score: 9.5/10

Primitive Man FFO: Indian, Coffinworm, Thou, Vermin Womb, Fistula and Corrupted.

Hell FFO: Spectral Voice, Mizmor, Lycus, Asunder, Weakling and Wormphlegm.

We hate to break it to you but the vinyl copies of this massive split are SOLD OUT. However, the release is slated to arrive February 22, 2019 and you'll be able to witness its heavy glory digitally. Stream Oily Tears now on Bandcamp.


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