Summertime in Montreal is a wonderful thing. The city emerges from six to eight months of frozen hibernation to wring as much fun as possible out of the short time we can be outside with exposed skin. This joy can take many forms; beers on a terrace, tossing around a Frisbee at Mont-Royal park, or stealing balloon animals from tourist children in the Old Port while screaming “THIS BEAST MUST DIE!” The increased temperature give us free reign to do whatever floats our particular boats.
However there is a period of time, usually between late July and early August, when the lovely heat takes a sinister turn and the humidity rises to a point where it feels as if each breath you take is comprised solely of hot cheese, and when taking the metro is akin to riding in a sauna fueled by damp farts. Sweating becomes the de facto state; pit stains get pit stains. While there is little good that can be said about humidity, its oppressive nature was the perfect atmosphere in which to take a sonic pummeling from Denver sludge mongers Primitive Man, who were doling out their brand of aural punishment with support from Opium Lord, Powercup, and Basalte at Le Ritz PDB last Saturday night.
The first band to take the stage was Montreal group Basalte. I was truly bummed that the venue was still relatively empty when these guys started. To be clear, while I was bummed for the band, I was more bummed for the people who missed such a great set from this relatively new group, whose blend of frosty black metal and heavy as fuck, ISIS-style post-metal created an epic, grandiose atmosphere permeated with deft musical intricacies. Basalte’s songs are serious long-plays; the band appeared to play only two or three individual pieces of music, presumably tracks from their three-song EP Vestiges, over the course of their half hour min set. While some long-form metal can suffer from repetitive riff exhaustion, these songs were rich with detail and complexity, including some incredibly abrupt changes in tempo and tone. If you like a splash of nuance in your steaming cup of blackness, keep an eye out for these dudes.
Up next were Montreal grind freaks Powercup . In hilarious contrast to the preceding act’s brooding, contemplative atmosphere, this two-piece grindcore act’s breakneck fury is so in your face, it’s lodged somewhere behind your nose. The volume and tone of singer/guitarist Nick Pappagiorgio’s guitar could have been accurately described as hazardous to human health, and while having the volume jacked to six places past maximum and coupled with some seriously deranged distortion effects did sound pretty fucking gnarly, it tended to drown out anything that drummer Frank Apache did that wasn’t straight blasting. Nick’s vocals oscillated between a traditional gore grind / DM-style guttural emanation and a higher pitched scream, a perfect fit for Powercup’s flavor of grind that was reminiscent of Chris Barnes-era Cannibal Corpse. The band ripped through a tonne of material, including a number of ultra-short, ten-second songs as well as what I believe was a cover of Napalm Death‘s “You Suffer,” officially the shortest song in the world. Overall, a solid set from the masters of renovation.
U.K. sludge outfit Opium Lord started their set as the crowd at Le Ritz began to swell. Prior to this show, I was completely unaware of Opium Lord and, based on their name alone, I assumed I was in store for some form of drug-fueled stoner doom in the vein of Bongripper or Dopethrone. While there are parallels between them and the aforementioned bands, Opium Lord’s music seems far more informed by misery than by marijuana. Layered on top of the plodding riffs were these high pitched, discordant, reverb-heavy, minimalist guitar parts that gave the tunes a wonderfully unsettling quality. I know I’ve beaten the word to death, but good sludge/doom is all about creating atmosphere and Opium Lord really excel here, especially on tracks such as “Pink Mass” from their latest record The Calendrical Cycle: Eye of Earth. Lead singer Nathan James Coyle demonstrated excellent range, uncommon for sludge and reminiscent of Full of Hell‘s Dylan Walker, or of Tim McClary from Seven Sisters of Sleep. If Opium Lord plan future sojourns across the pond, I entreat you to get your ass to one of their shows.
Rounding out the bill were headliners Primitive Man, a group whose psychosis-inducing brand of misanthropic, funeral dirge-esque sludge seems born out of a puritanical hatred for mankind. Unlike Opium Lord or Basalte, there is no bright spot or melodic reprieve here; Primitive Man deal in unrelenting human suffering, and business is very good. As mentioned previously, atmosphere is everything with this style of music. Primitive Man achieve their aforementioned grimness through a combination of infinitely heavy guitar and bass tones, and a low tuning that gives the audience the feeling that their skull may cave in at any moment. Lead vocalist Ethan Lee McCarthy’s blackened growl, which occasionally pitches upward into a throaty cackle that sounds as if he’s choking on his own bile, greatly adds to the unsettling nature of Primitive Man’s music, especially on tracks like “Antietnam” from 2013’s Scorn. The tunes were lent additional weight from drummer Isidro “Spy” Soto’s rock-solid performance. While there is certainly a minimalist nature to Soto’s work by nature of the style of music being performed, his playing always felt incredibly present throughout the show, with fill and groove choices that made the drums sound massive. The crowd methodically headbanged along to tracks from 2015’s Home Is Where The Hatred Is as if entranced, only to occasionally pop back to awareness during the infrequent and therefore jarring, fast-paced grind sections of certain songs.
I am unsure if it is healthy to be so happy about music that is so brutally nihilistic, but Primitive Man’s performance certainly left a huge goddamn smile on my face.
Written by Jesse Gainer
Photography by Stacy Basque
*edited by Kate Erickson