Primitive Man is a band whose name embodies the music’s quality. This three-piece from Denver, Colorado in the United States has a monstrous sound, the music is so fucking heavy—oppressively so. The sound of the music seems to have actual weight and bears down on you like an impending armageddon; trees set on fire spontaneously, as massive holes form in the ground swallowing entire cities: the screams, the endless screams. This is the imagery rising up in my head while listening to Insurmountable. The ruthless, drudging texture of the music is morose, the tempos slow and the tone disgusting. Vocals are mere primal shouts, like some ancient human roaring a victory shout after beating his opponent’s head in with a rock to claim the prize, a trickle of water.
I do love this style of doom immensely; the heaviness that can be imbued into slower music is somehow so much more effective to me than high-tempo technical music (although it has its own special place in my heart). The music physically hits me in my stomach, almost present in the air. There are some faster sections that end up sounding like raw death metal, which is a good contrast to the grave-like quality of the rest of the album, but the sections are few and far between. Although I have heaped praise on this album thus far, I must admit it took me a while to start writing this review because, although I enjoy listening to the music, I find it to get a bit samey, especially after many listens. As someone who has listened to a lot of doom, I am not one to balk at repetitive songs as that is the nature of most doom, but I think the problem with Insurmountable for me is it sounds like all of their prior albums. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it makes it harder to write an in-depth commentary on songs that tend to blend into each other. Listening to the album on Spotify, even with the ending song of the album being a cover, I often struggled to figure out if it had gone onto a new album or not, and that to me is not a good thing.
I have to say this criticism isn’t a big one. What Primitive Man do is a bit one-dimensional but they are one of the only, if not the only, bands that play this unique brand of primeval doom metal, and for that, they will always be considered a groundbreaking act in the genre.
This review is going to primarily only cover two songs on the album, this is because track two “Boiling” is a drone track, the equivalent of a filler, and track four is a cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Quiet”. While I can talk briefly and compare the original and the cover, not much has been done to it other than copying it into Primitive Man style doom. Although I like the idea, as the song does already have a doom/stoner quality to it, the result is a bit boring and lacks the charm of the original song.
Kicking off with “This Life”, its introduction is perfect. Appallingly dissonant chords, the feedback, and the slow beat of the drums sow a mood of despair. As the vocals enter, you recoil in fear from the titanic man-monster who is shouting at you, but only for a moment, as shortly after you enter into a disturbed trance that matches the inexorable pace of the music. At 4:21 the music picks up speed and the hats go double-time. The music becomes more aggressive, somehow. The energy is that that brews before a bar fight. Before two minutes have passed the song slows back down again, and then decays further to become downright lethargic. The pulse is imperceptible to anyone but the drummer, who has got to have a click right? Also, no matter how much I try, I cannot make out a single word of the lyrics. I have no problem with this, but as someone who is used to listening to heavy music it’s unusual and a little bit funny too. The piece does have some lead parts that are simple yet alluring nonetheless, but it trudges on slowly to its ultimate conclusion… a short solo and a fade-out. I’ve never been a fan of the fade-out ending and try to avoid it most of the time, as it is a little anti-climactic—especially for such a long, epic piece of music.
Track two, “Boiling”, as mentioned, is an ambient-/drone-type track. It’s cool. Nothing wrong with it, but it is a bit of a time pad, especially on an EP that’s about 30 minutes without it. Maybe it’s more well-suited as an intro or midway track on a full-length album, but in an EP it’s basically become an auto skip after the second time I listened through it.
I do wish there were lyrics released for the music, as although I don’t mind not hearing the lyrics, it always adds a layer to the music when you know the lyrical content and I couldn’t seem to locate the lyrics anywhere.
Track three, “Cage Intimacy”, is much like the first track. A slow start picks up to a faster tempo section not too long into the track’s runtime. This faster bit is even faster than the other faster bit, so that’s some variation perhaps? The song then has a long, ambient/drone section about two-thirds of the way into the song that often threw me off. I thought I was back in track two or the EP had gone on to another track, but this ambient part leads into another dark and doomy section that closes off the song.
As you can tell, I have some conflicting feelings about Insurmountable. While I love the sound this band manifests, I feel compositionally it lacks staying power. I say this as someone who has listened to this EP more times than I can count, and instead of finding it grow on me, I find it grows old. I hope I can say this without it being an indictment of the band; I do genuinely love what they do, but I also can’t lie when I say, it gets a bit tedious at times.
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