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Primitive Man Conjures Death Alive

Primitive Man. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund
Primitive Man. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund

The darker the era grows, the greater that art — both its consumption and production — functions as emotional purgation. The natural gravity of art’s subjects helps drive the process of subject selection. This impacts a piece’s interpretative meaning, at least to the extent that the subject itself has something to say underneath the artist’s interpretation. It’s important to think of art as a process of invocation rather than demonstration. This logic is predicated on an established range of emotions (spirits, even) which can be ink-blotted among into various formulations and intermixtures. Each expression is entirely unique and self-contained, and therefore totally equal; artwork cannot, in this rubric at least, exist in opposition to other artwork. Relativity precedes itself, always. To me, this is the most humanizing aspect of it all: art can only be us at our purest — maybe us at our most primitive — and not a thing more.

Denver-based trio Primitive Man have not only figured out how to summon demons on stage, but how to voodoo puppet them in gut-wrenching positions for maximum impact. Their tools: undulating waves of jet-engine guitar noise, bass earthquakes, maniacal drumming, and hurled-into-the-distance shrieking. Their intensities: vivid viciousness, frantic fury, and devastating despair. Their aesthetic: the bloodiest red on the blackest night. Their names: Jonathan Campos, Ethan McCarthy, and Joe Linden. The three were backlit by crimson spotlight, mere silhouettes of themselves, unyieldingly stoic against the certain movement of death, using gigawatts of electricity to stall it for merely an hour or so. The crowd felt sinister — collective anticipation turned sadistic lust, hope turned sacrifice; the saturated air stagnated alongside our souls. Outside, the Tuesday evening in Chicago was blustery and brisk but uncaring all the same.

Primitive Man. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund
Primitive Man. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund

Primitive Man’s live performance challenges the delineation between pleasure and pain, joy and suffering. Witnessing the conjuring of such hellish, ashen noise from unspeakable depths inspires awe: the magnitude, the power, the volume. It also incites profound fear, the core of every negative or painful emotion, the fear of death, specifically. Externally, we have it burned onto our retinas and cortexes; internally, we never cease fighting against its determined will to define all aspects of life. Primitive Man rubs the resultant emotional burns with lighter fluid, scoring them with sharpened forks before finally setting them newly alight. They discover no joy inflicting pain, though; they never appear to derive pleasure from performing. At key moments, the aggressive dirge of doom — methodical, well-paced chugs amid arm-breaking snare and tom hits — gives way to explosions of violence: cosmic blast beats structuring walls of abstract guitar fuzz. These transitions impart a noticeable weight upon the band — stern, grimaced looks behind beads of sweat — as they struggle to keep up with the beast of their own conjuration. We’re all just bystanders.

Primitive Man doesn’t play to be loud; rather, the artistic exploitation of their subject — death, ultimately — demands extreme noise at extreme levels. Nothing is more extreme than death, nothing should be louder. Bass guitar, here, plays a key role, both crisply distorted and thundering. Along with the kick drum, it plays pacemaker, freeing the guitarwork to scream and soar toward bleak and ever-gyrating atmospheres. Primitive Man’s arsenal is chock full of blunt-force weapons, each designed specifically for one task only: heavy noise. Despite their sole-purpose nature, though, there’s nuance and texture to the resulting sonic tidal wave — pedals upon pedals, amps upon amps, and a glut of speaker cabinets all functioning to shape the sound in distinct ways. Primitive Man takes fidelity seriously: the picture they paint depicts their subject with utmost detail for maximum impact.

Primitive Man. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund
Primitive Man. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund

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