Black Sabbath are, for the most part, un-fuck-with-able. There's a timeless aura to every Sabbath track, and an air of almost too-cool effortlessness by which every song passes through your eardrums. Case in point, "Sweet Leaf". It's been a favorite song of mine for years upon years now, and it fits the bill for "classic Sabbath" in every way possible – a tremendously groovy blues crunch, a paean to that most holiest of herbs, a quick midsection freakout and a return to minor pentatonic glory, all topped off with Ozzy's signature vocals. Here's the thing though – it's all ups and no downs. I'm not just speaking to Iommi's riff. I'm talking about the general tone: weed as an indispensable element to the Sabbath image. Even the non-metalheads out there can conjure the image of the basement stoner, pleasantly and unobtrusively enlightened, using his dad's "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" LP as a joint-rolling surface. It's all ups, man.
Enter Primitive Man. Primitive Man give us the downs to Sabbath's ups. Their take on "Sweet Leaf" reflects an experience similar to my own with marijuana. It's unrelenting, misanthropic, and oppressive. The classic bluesy stomp is drawn out, off-kilter, and full of warped menace. The vocals, instead of the Ozzfather's trademark wail, are indecipherable, orchestrated chaos contained within walls that shift and sway in accordance with a deranged beat. Primitive Man feel too big for the room, each element straining against the boundaries between metal and noise. Instead of fuzzed-out stoner metal, we get viscous sludge. Instead of a danceable middle section, we get a raw blastbeat and a glimpse at clarity, only for everything to slide back down into a pitch-black void. When some semblance of that glorious riff emerges from the gloom, it's a relief from the murk, but not from the song itself. It still sits there in the back of my head, replaying itself over and over, a reflection of twisted paranoia and schizophrenic terror. This is not a happy song anymore, and there are two sides to every coin.
Primitive Man's cover of "Sweet Leaf" is availble only on cassette via Tartarus Records (unfortunately, they are currently sold out). You can listen via bandcamp.
Thanks for reading,