On the heels of their sophomore release Caustic, Denver’s Primitive Man returns to Toronto, proving why they’re often heralded as one of the heaviest bands in the modern doom scene. Abrasive and unapologetic, Primitive Man is the brainchild of Ethan Lee McCarthy (formerly of Clinging To The Trees of a Forest Fire) and they originally set the sludge-metal world on fire with their 2013 debut Scorn. Their newest full-length, released in December 2017, brings an air of maturity to their oppressive brand of metal and has been followed by a month-long tour with fellow Colorado shredders Spectral Voice.
The night kicked off with a lively set from Windsor, Ontario’s Minors, a band whose sound stems more from hardcore punk than the gloom-laden headliners. As with their recent EP Atrophy, they brought a sharp and poignant energy to the stage, impressing us with the intensity of their short songs blurred together by a wall of looped guitar feedback. While Lee’s Palace tends to be a loud venue in general, these guys delivered their Every Time I Die-esque rawness at stage volumes usually reserved for arena shows. It was a fitting introduction to an inevitably noisy evening.
Toronto locals IRN follow with their ever-plodding sludge tendencies, wading slowly into their set with the seventeen-minute epic “Swamp Burial.” They seethed and festered from one grinding breakdown riff to the next, matching ominous guitar textures with the bleakest of vocals. Despite my impatience with their subdued pace, the growing crowd seemed enamored by their stark delivery, nodding along to every word.
By the time that Spectral Voice took the stage, the venue was packed and brimming with expectation. Candles were lit onstage and the house lights dimmed as if to signal a change in direction. The four-piece launched into a frenetic, churning set filled with melodic guitar leads and pounding drum beats – somewhere between Children of Bodom and Amon Amarth. They tore through their songs with keen immediacy and technical bravado. While the band tuned their instruments, someone in the crowd yelled, “Fucking doom!”, spurring them back into their closing track, which climaxed with a chorus of high-note guitar riffing and a final, syncopated downbeat. They left the stage to hearty applause.
Between the changeover, the crowd grew more and more impatient. Finally, it was time for Primitive Man, and not a moment too soon.
The sheer, physical size of Ethan and bassist Jonathan Campos is both fitting and intimidating; their instruments looked like toys strung around their necks as they stepped onto the stage. They radiated heaviness. You just knew that these guys were going to bring it.
They ripped through inspired versions of “My Will” and “Victim,” balancing their set between older and current material. Ethan’s vocals are hellishly aggressive, and sometimes caused the PA to sag under the weight of his voice. Drummer Joe Linden does an admirable job of anchoring the madness and keeping the band on track; they’re tight, intense, and completely captivating.
They played for 45 minutes and never let up for a second. The crowd stirred with every tempo change, breaking into hardcore mosh at the drop of a hat. I struggled to stay just outside the pit. Their sound is raw, deliberate and violent, and it powered the crowd response and drove up the energy. It’s easy to see why this band has garnered the attention that they have.
Closing out their set, Primitive Man droned on open chords and elicited encore chants from the receptive audience. They made it clear that there will be no encore as they turned off their amps and exited, like stoic cowboys, from the limelight. These dudes wear their professionalism on their sleeves and show a careful consideration for how their live show is received. They are the masters of their image and I totally respect them for it.
I checked the time; making the last train home was going to be tight. With a 10km walk ahead of me, I was grateful for the down-tempo doom riffs that were stuck in my head. Next time Primitive Man comes to town, I’ll be glad to take the same, lonely walk home.
Written by Mickey Ellsworth
*edited by Kate Erickson