I grew up in central Texas in a household of three generations that included an old-time folk fiddler and a square-dance pianist. Sometimes other musicians would drop in for rehearsals or impromptu performances for friends and family. I’d sprawl on the floor with my brother, mesmerized by the sometimes fiery sometimes forlorn bluegrass and mountain music they made.
This was long before black metal (or really any kind of extreme metal) existed. I mention it because it may help explain how thoroughly my mind was blown when I first heard Primeval Well‘s self-titled debut album two years ago, though that was probably evident from the run-away words that spilled out of me at the time:
“Primeval Well make you understand what black metal would have sounded like if it had originated along the Mason-Dixon line in America or in the Appalachian mountains, instead of Norway. It swirls and spins, it dances and cavorts, it soars to grandiose heights of sheer ebullience, it takes us under sodden wisteria beneath crescent moons. It unleashes hellfire and black magic, lunacy and seizures, the savage delight found by lean, hard-living people who were given nothing by anyone and found their own pleasures in the devil’s dream, and the woozy somnambulance brought about by corn liquor from the still.”
All this comes back to me because I’ve had my mind blown again, this time by Primeval Well‘s second album, Talkin’ in Tongues with Mountain Spirits, which is set for release on October 20th by Moonlight Cypress Archetypes, and which you will now have a chance to hear for yourselves.
There’s a lot of music on the new record, roughly an hour’s worth, and a lot of sensations as well, creating an extraordinary musical pageant unlike anything else out there.
The first three tracks alone, and the ways in which they change, are enough to leave most people pop-eyed and drop-jawed. The absolutely well-named “Psilocybin Psychosis by the Mountain Top Cross” features extravagant backwoods singing amidst a morphing mass of harrowing, abrasive sound, with the ripple of banjo picking and maybe a steel guitar surfacing here and there from the background.
Even that relatively brief opening track tells you right up-front that you’re in for something strikingly different from the norms, but it still doesn’t really prepare you for what comes next. As the album’s longest track, “Raising Up Antlers to Our Mountain Gods” is a multi-faceted trip, and a stunning one. There’s acoustic strumming and pedal steel (or maybe a resonator guitar), shrouded with abrasion again — and then the song explodes in hailstorm drumming, firestorm riffing, and rabid screaming vocals that are almost submerged beneath the scarring impact of the surrounding sounds, and fiercely fighting to get through.
It’s a ferocious yet bleak gale of sound, intense enough to suck the wind from your lungs, but pierced by the mad, electrifying whirl of dual lead guitars. There’s an interlude of sorrowful strings and plaintive picking, which forms the bridge to a less tumultuous but more crestfallen movement, a kind of ruinous lament in which a fiddle (at least I think it’s a fiddle) and a transfixing guitar solo extravagantly wail above a dense and abrading backdrop.
And then in “She Flies Undead“, old country guitar harmonies ripple and ring over leg-bouncing rhythms, and old-time country singing flies high — everything still doused with a healthy helping of distortion, and the song spins up into boiling black metal madness as well, like the tornado has come down, scattering the congregation like splintered trees. And yet as frightening as the experience is, the extravagant guitar work still makes it utterly enthralling, lifting the listener off the ground and sending them flying too.
The band’s formidable talent for interweaving so many musical textures and exploring so many moods comes through again and again over the balance of the album. Over and over, they make the most of dynamic drumming and deft basswork, and they plant piercing, skirling melodies in the head, using both a wonderful array of different folk and metal instruments and varying tonal alterations to maintain the rare, mind-blowing quality of this adventure, an adventure in which we experience wistfulness and wonder, danger and derangement, chilling visitations of supernatural spirits, harrowing possession, fierce ecstasy, and heart-breaking loss (on the latter point, do not miss the Appalachian country singing (that’s how I think of it) that carries the opening minutes of “Where All Things Are Forgotten“).
In doing all of this Primeval Well have created an authentic, if highly unusual, piece of Americana. I’ll say again: it makes you understand what black metal might have sounded like if it had originated along the Mason-Dixon line in America or in the Appalachian mountains, instead of Norway. One can easily predict, even now, that it’s the kind of record which will outlast the coming and going of trends, without losing the power of its ability to entrance, unnerve, and exhilarate, no matter how often you hear it.
Seriously, don’t sleep on this one. It’s available for pre-order now.