LIVE: Bongripper / Primitive Man @ The Underworld, London

By Jay Hampshire

Even among the metal underground, a community that thrives on exclusivity, selective appeal and obscurity, there’s something surrounding Chicago doom crew Bongripper that screams ‘cult’, especially on these shores. Whether it’s their lengthy, crushing instrumental odysseys or their scarcity on stages this side of the pond (understandable considering the increasing incumbent costs of bandhood), for the faithful that have decamped to the Underworld, there’s a sense of excitement and kinship that only comes from shared appreciation of something enigmatic and the bond of selective taste.

After poor transport links cause us to miss Apey & The Pea, any sort of transitional regret is banished by the absolute sonic barbarity of Denverites Primitive Man. Tectonic shifts would sound less massive, less lumbering than the trio’s gravity amplifying pull. There’s a thick, caustic vein of bleak nihilism running through the band’s sound, a sucking mire of guttural bellows and bowel-churning riffs. Swollen, over-muscled chords and tribal drumming do battle with lowing feedback, pierced by surprising turns of frantic, rabid speed. At once, the sound of the death throes of something ancient drowning in the La Brea pits and the score to a cave wall tale of unspeakable violence scrawled in blood. It’s ritualistic, magnetic, and some of the heaviest shit that will ever befall you.

Many bands would have been cowed by such a show of force, but not so Bongripper. Stepping onstage amid a tempest of droning feedback, they quickly lay into their huge, grinding trademark chords. Call and response guitar work is atypical, the band preferring to act in perfect, shuddering synchronicity, almost as one body. You’re buffeted by rolling waves of tonal force, a meditative and hypnotic state descending over the crowd. Drums briefly skitter and crawl away before reuniting with the riffs, the room quickly heating up under the strain of the amps that buzz and protest. It’s draining stuff, but endlessly captivating, to watch the band throw down punishing chugs that are almost too big to have been channelled by the four men onstage.

Riffs groan and swell like the hull of a submarine, the immense pressure and squealing tritones seeming to distort time itself – things seem to slow yet also edge towards infinity. Brief gasps of trippy lightness gloss into sumptuous layers, breaking apart into frantic, cascading falls. The pulsing of a gigantic universal heartbeat, waves of undeniable rhythmic groove, Bongripper summon them all with ease, and the word ‘spiritual’ would not seem too lofty or esoteric a descriptor. As the crowd stagger out, the early finish seems like a welcome reprieve. Exhilarating.