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Live Report: Bell Witch And Primitive Man

Primitive Man by Jenna DePasquale
Primitive Man by Jenna DePasquale

As pretentious as it may sound, the paradox is true — there are artists who are worthy of all of the glory, but whose live performances can only be done justice in some god-forsaken dungeon masquerading as a dive. Tales of misanthropy and melancholy are best conveyed in a world not so brightly lit, and heavily rich acoustics best fill cavernous spaces. That is why anyone who has been able to catch Bell Witch and Primitive Man’s current co-headlining leg should consider themselves fortunate. This past Wednesday at Santos Bar in New Orleans, Invisible Oranges had the opportunity to bear witness to two of the most influential outfits in US doom in proper form as they teeter on the brink of mainstream success.

In a test of true musicianship, Bell Witch unceremoniously took each audience member’s hand and led them through the looking glass of October 20 release Mirror Reaper. If pupil dilation was any indication, some were more prepared than others as the set diverged from the expected generic sludge show. For a whole hour, the room managed, to (metaphorically) sit down, shut up, and receive a seamless rendition of the single-track album.

In a recent interview with Noisey, bassist and vocalist Dylan Desmond describes Mirror Reaper as “a gray area between death and life” — a working thesis revived into a life of its own on stage. The anchoring of Desmond alongside drummer and fellow vocalist Jesse Shreibman served as a pendulum; an ethereal chant by Desmond was met with a low and full bellow by Shreibman. Yet, it was a dull blade being cast through the oubliette, working more as a needle mending the mutual feelings of hope and despair. Darkness and light subsequently gave way to gray as Desmond stepped forward through the smoke, dulled by warm illumination, to unleash the two-piece’s first venture into organ work.

While Bell Witch and Primitive Man share a common thread of deliberate drumming, Shreibman’s contributions are offset by rest, which took form in symbol ringing and contemplative pauses — perhaps symptoms of sitting in the eye of emotional reverb. There is a hyperconsciousness elicited by the style, but anxiety is ironed out by atmospherics rooted in the smooth and somber mastery of Desmond’s fretboard-based vibrato. In every sense, Bell Witch lives the dichotomy that they are.

Overall, Bell Witch may have had the brick and mortar on lock, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t facing an uphill battle. To put it bluntly, selling an atmospheric performance to a bunch of Modelo-slinging crusties while hand grenade-clutching moms ironically yell “spring break” outside of the doors is no easy feat. It’s one that two sweet Seattle boys managed to accomplish nevertheless.

In a bleak but brutal regression in human progression, matters took a turn from the existential to the survivalist as the dyad gave way to the triad — Primitive Man.

Sparing no time, guitarist and vocalist Ethan McCarthy bellowed tracks from October 6th release Caustic into the mic stand, dreads flying and eyes ablaze with pent up rage better screamed than spoken. Wedged into the corner of the triangle, McCarthy’s position personified humankind’s complex relationship with its environment; the I yearns to assert itself as king, yet it’s only a piece of the earth to which it owes its very existence.

Sitting as master of the drum circle, Joe Linden claims his own unique dominance.
Unconscious decisiveness seems like an oxymoron, but it makes perfect stylistic sense within Primitive Man’s context. To the beat of a pulsing drive, Linden plays line leader in one of doom’s most diverse pacing structures. While the caveman may feel compelled to run to a sprint, he ultimately must stop to catch his breath — offering new contributions to the sub genre while still retaining some of its essential elements. The crowd, too, was able to adapt to the zig-zagging direction, forming a horde of battling bodies, as bassist Jonathan Campos kept watch with roots planted in silent wisdom.

Transcending their obvious musical contributions, Bell Witch and Primitive Man converged to form a modern memento mori — one that tugs at our desire to meaning-make, muddled by our primal urges. We may never know what’s on the other side of the mirror, but we can derive sense from the lessons we learn from our experiences. Even on the most dismal of days, exposure to this kind of art can give the cro-magnon enough motivation to leave the cave and give that other one down the block a shot at exploration.

Follow Bell Witch on Facebook and Bandcamp.

Follow Primitive Man on Facebook and Bandcamp.

—Jenna DePasquale

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