Primal Rite | ‘Dirge of Escapism’
There have been culture wars, these last number of years.
They will be looked back uponas a moment in Western culture where the population decided that traditional politics and beliefs about social issues and the individual were outdated, and that focusing on the rights of minorities superseded all previous beliefs.
Of course, it’s much more complex than this (arguably the origins of the ideology stretches back to the civil rights movement in 60’s America, and there’s no doubt that the passing of anti hate laws to protect the LGBT community as well as ethnic minorities are very much necessary) but I personally find it strange how people, who traditionally would have been working alongside side by side, have now been encouraged to think of themselves and each other in terms of “privilege” and “unconscious bias.”
Unsurprisingly, this thinking has extended to the punk/hardcore scene.
While the scene has, traditionally, been friendly and accommodating to outsiders (the early UK punks hung out in gay bars, USHC pioneers like MDC, Dicks and Husker Du had openly gay members) there was a moment around 1984 whenever hardcore seemingly became (to some) more about brotherhood and mosh pits than ideas and openness.
Hence why you had bands like Bikini Kill asking guys to move to the back of the hall, so the women could get up front.
Of course, it’s great that the script was flipped in such a manner but this divide continues to a degree.
But in recent years, bands like G.L.O.S.S, Lowest Priority and Dame have emerged and been doing their bit to extend the discussion into identity politics, all while writing brilliant tunes (Lowest Priority’s demo is killer).
And while Primal Rite aren’t necessarily a band who set out to deal directly with such issues, it is embedded in the DNA of the band.
Singer Lucy Xavier has been quoted as saying “I’ve always been different, but wearing nail polish or makeup is…expressing that, ‘I’m queer, I’m trans and it causes me much struggle and I need to talk about it and be seen.’
“Hardcore has a way of bringing voices that are just hard and real…And that [in itself] is relatable and empowering. Even what some consider ‘bro’ hardcore has a striking honesty and emotionality that is a glimpse of another world.”
And while I’m sure Xavier would rather I focus on the music (which I’ll get to in a second), the fact that they (Xavier’s preferred pronoun) are so open about this in interviews and to a lesser degree on stage will inform the public perception of the band to a certain degree.
Maybe even bring a certain baggage when listening to a record.
I’m intrigued by the title.
Escapism is generally regarded as a positive thing by many. The chance to recuperate and regroup our thoughts and energies.
Are Primal Rite saying that, in the Age of Trump, such actions are pointless? Is it just a way of catching attention?
I’m not sure, but what I am sure of is that this is the first stand out album of 2018.
The first fifteen seconds of opener ‘Chapter Zero’ consist of blowing wind.
Pretty standard stuff until the thump of the snare and bass drum come into the mix, followed by the extra thump of the bass guitar and some feedback.
Immediately, judging by the tone, you can tell this is going to be a record that DEMANDS attention. After all, there are three guitarists in the band.
I Am Titanium
Around the 33 second mark, these distorted, thrashy chords start and all bets are off. This is going to be a monster of a record.
When the whammy bar is hit and the band go into a breakdown, the force on display wipes out any preconceived notions you have.
Primal Rite may not be pushing musical boundaries, but instead they remake them with titanium strength and insist that you marvel at this power.
Taking its name from the Japanese name of the Castlevania game series ‘Akumajo (Blood)’ is a frenzied, crunchy crossover song very much in the vein of Power Trip.
The production emphasises the weight of the instruments, so the listener feels every riff and chord change. Echo and reverb is also used (mainly on the vocals) and the combination of the two certainly creates this carnivorous, monolithic sound.
Not only is the song a beast, but it also demonstrates just how tight Primal Rite are as a band.
Listen to how they segueway into the breakdown.
What most bands do would be to stop altogether (save for some feedback) before going in and out. Here, it’s all too casual, especially the moment when they speed back up.
It’s like they’ve just got fed up playing slow and decided on the spur of the moment to speed up again. And it doesn’t sound awkward or contrived.
Thug Like Force
‘Antivenom’ doesn’t fuck about and comes out all guns blazing.
Lyrically, it’s an attack on those who seek to befriend certain people, only to use them as a punching bag and outlet for their own issues.
The gang vocals have the echo effect on them, making it sound like they’re chanting at the bottom of an alleyway.
Xavier genuinely sounds deranged throughout the second verse, venting the necessary anger and frustration at the subject of the song, but still trying to retain a sense of reason.
Either paying homage to (or taking the piss out of) Black Sabbath, ‘Persona’ opens with a sample of rain and a bell toiling away.
The Iron Maiden style licks suggest a pisstake, but then the band go into a riff that could be best described as “bouncy.”
The reverb and echo make it a bit of a disorientating listen at first but, once you get into it, you forget about the odd beginning and jump around the room.
Closing with ‘Immutable Law’, which Xavier has described as being about “marginalized people and those who oppose them. Those swimming against the current will die faster” (bit of Social Darwinism in that statement), the album ends on an incredibly high note.
A monolithic beast of a track, its constant tempo changes, thug like force and (at times) anthemic quality will make this a highpoint in Primal Rite’s live set.
The Right Art?
Much like their former tour mates Power Trip, Primal Rite straddle the line between hardcore and thrash, absorbing the energies of both without ever feeling the need to declare themselves one or the other.
Throughout, the production does a sterling job of not only capturing the strengths of the band, but also exaggerating them into something much mightier and meatier.
However, I’m not convinced the cover is the best one for this LP.
Yes, it’s well designed and I like the image of the person lacking flesh and existing in a world where demons surround, ready to corrupt at any second (despite existing in a supposed tranquil surrounding).
Maybe it’s an allusion to the chorus of ‘Waterfalls’ by TLC, which is cool as well. But the whole thing, especially with the logo, looks like a second rate death metal album.
It’s a strange contradiction: all the individual pieces on their own are good but, when assembled as the visual focus for a specific LP, it is not an inspired piece.
But, leaving that aside, ‘Dirge of Escapism’ is a truly 2018 album. Made by people influenced by identity politics, being neither truly hardcore or truly thrash and destroying all around them. This will be their year. And quite rightly so.
4.5 / 5 –Christopher Owens ::: 03/02/18