Denver, Colorado’s death/sludge trio, Primitive Man, have been fusing black metal, funeral doom, and noise music into their own brand of sonic madness since 2012. With two full-length albums and dozens of singles, split-singles, and EPs under their belt, they’re now poised to release their latest long player, Immersion, on Friday (August 14th) via Relapse Records.
The unsettling and merciless six-track album contains all the elements Primitive Man fans have come to expect. The slow dirge of suffering, manifested in screams, blast-beats, and minor chords, creates an album that is at times impenetrable, but ultimately rewarding. The howling winds of feedback, the agony of the vocals, and the ceaseless drones of bass guitar contribute to a dense listening experience that will either pull you in or push you away depending on your willingness to embrace the bleak and suffocating sound. Indeed, this isn’t just a casual listen, but one that requires your attention to be fully appreciated.
We caught up with vocalist/guitarist Ethan McCarthy to learn more about the album, how the COVID pandemic played a part in the writing and recording of the album, and what the band does now in a world where they are unable to tour to support its release. You can pre-order Immersion direct from Relapse Records or via Bandcamp.
It’s been three years since the last album. What’s the band been up to and when did you start writing the songs for this new album?
Ethan McCarthy: A lot of touring and writing songs. So, a few months after Caustic came out, we were doing a lot of touring and all that around that [album]. And whenever we would be home in between tours, we’d get together and write songs and all that shit. And kind of the same pattern for the three years in between the records, but Immersion was written end of 2018, 2019…and then the beginning of 2020.
Recording for Immersion took place in early March of this year – which was pretty extreme circumstances. We had COVID spreading globally and the world panicking. Did that affect the recording process at all?
Ethan McCarthy: I mean, it definitely made it harder to…like emotionally, it took the party out of the situation a little bit, you know? But we got it done, and I think you can hear how bad of a vibe there was in the record.
Did you change any lyrics or compositions to align with current events?
Ethan McCarthy: I wrote the lyrics to “Consumption” in the studio. And that song is about the state of the country at the time that the pandemic had started and people were panic buying and it was all crazy in the streets and shit.
Did the band give any thought to delaying the album release so you could tour to support it?
Ethan McCarthy: With working with Relapse [Records], there’s a timeline. So, they needed the record by a specific time and we’d already picked out before the pandemic had happened. And we were already in the studio when the pandemic was starting. And after we recorded it and did it…when it comes out is really up to Relapse. And they just stayed on their schedule.
I’d mentioned something to them about delaying it, because I felt like it wasn’t a good idea to try to promote a record now. It felt bad to do it, but they wanted to go through with it. And then some bands that I like had put some things out during this time. It’s been real nice to have new music. So, I feel less bad about it because hopefully, we can provide the same kind of thing for other people. It does suck not being able to tour on it because it’s always what we’ve done. We’ve always hit the road really hard. And especially when we put out new records. But, we’ll tour again. It’ll be all right.
When you said “feeling bad” about putting the record out. Are you saying that, just in the grand scheme of things, maybe promoting a record…doesn’t seem important?
Ethan McCarthy: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that’s what I was saying, it just seems like there’s a lot more important things going on right now. But, people need music and an escape and they need entertainment along with all the bullshit we’re putting up with.
A lot of bands right now are leveraging technology to connect with their fans, like doing virtual concerts. Have you guys thought about doing anything along those lines?
Ethan McCarthy: I think the thing about Primitive Man is that it doesn’t have the same experience. To get the full experience, you need to see it live and in person and us doing anything less than that is a disservice.
Well, it’s definitely harder to experience the loudness of Primitive Man show if you’re just streaming it on your TV or your phone or something. I’ll agree with that.
Ethan McCarthy: Yeah. It’s just not the same. We want you to feel it in your bones. You’re not going to get that from the TV or your phone.
In the press release for the album, you are quoted discussing the track, “The Lifer.” And you said it was “about being cursed with and unable to shed the desire to create.” Do you really feel like there’s a curse behind being a creative person or what can you tell me about your own relationship with the creative process?
Ethan McCarthy: I think it just depends on the level of dedication that you want to give it. So, for me, I don’t have a lot of other skills. I don’t like doing anything else, no matter what the job is or whatever. I only like playing music, this is what it is for me. So, it’s a curse for me because everything else doesn’t seem necessarily like an option, you know? Not held a job, I taught children for 13 years and…actually 15 years. But, music always informed everything around me. So, even when I was working with kids, I got summer and spring and winter off, so I could hit the road.
This is all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a kid. This is all I want to do and I don’t think that is ever going to change. I’m almost 40 years old, 36, and I still feel the same. And I’ve seen a lot of guys give up and shit.
What were you teaching?
Ethan McCarthy: I worked with kids with developmental disabilities. So, I was a teacher’s assistant, not a full teacher, but I did it for a real long time. So, severe…profound kind of stuff, Down Syndrome and things like that. It’s a cool job. And so that song kind of deals with the uncertainty of that, stepping away from education and a regular paycheck…and trying to see the ship through to the max.
The band just put out a video for the song “Entity,” which is the third one for this album. How important is the imagery, or the cinematic aspects of music videos, to the individual song or just as an extension of the band’s art?
Ethan McCarthy: It’s pretty important. So, every video we’ve had up until the last month, we’ve been in the room with the actors and the directors and really helping form things. These last few, we haven’t been able to do that because the pandemic came on and all that. So, it’s really important to Primitive Man to put out good art.
I don’t like to just watch videos of people playing in the room or whatever. Because that’s usually what you get. It’s kind of shit. We try to make them visually appealing, so that you want to watch it. Like, “what is going on with this shit?” kind of thing.
The album comes out Friday. Obviously you’re not gearing up for a tour. What’s the immediate future for the band after the album comes out?
Ethan McCarthy: We’re just going to be writing more songs and waiting for the pandemic to be over so that we can tour again.
Have you thought about maybe doing an EP or something? Something that the band could mount as part of a tour effort, or do you just want to stay focused on the album?
Ethan McCarthy: I think what will probably happen is…let’s say another year goes by and we’ve been writing all these songs the whole time. And then another six months goes by and it looks like people are able to safely tour and things are the way that they were, we’ll probably tour on two releases or something like that. I definitely want to give the new album the proper live send off, I guess. But, if we have something new we’ll probably do them both.
One of the emerging trends in – let’s call it “metal merchandising” – is branded face masks. What are the odds we’re going to get a Primitive Man face mask?
Ethan McCarthy: Probably a big zero percent. I just feel like it’s…I have conflicted feelings about it. I think it’s taking advantage of a really fucking bad situation. And I don’t like to see it getting normalized at all. And I wear them and all that when I go in public, I’m not saying you shouldn’t wear a mask, but I just don’t…I’m going to keep sticking with regular apparel and music. I don’t need to make face masks. It just feels kind of dirty or something, just for me. I don’t want to do that. I’m not trying to knock anybody and everybody needs money now, too. I get it. I get why people are doing it. I just don’t want to do that.
We wanted to wrap up with a couple of non-album questions. If you could collaborate, or write a split single, with any artist – who you haven’t already partnered with – who would it be?
Ethan McCarthy: That’s a hard question. (After some serious deliberation) Sunn O)))…and Justin Broadrick (Godflesh).
When you’re not listening to metal, what do you enjoy listening to?
Ethan McCarthy: I listen to a ton of stuff. A lot of rap, a lot of experimental stuff, and soul music, funk, and jazz. A little bit of anything and everything.