What is the problem with Early Man?
This is dude metal that evokes rock's dark ancestry. There's nothing wrong with that—if it walks like metal and talks like metal, it's metal, right? Well, not necessarily. It might be a duck in a Slayer T-shirt.
Early Man offer a primitive (get it? "Early Man"?) take on metal created by Mike Conte (vocals/guitars) and Adam Bennati (drums), two New York transplants originally hailing from Ohio. Their album Closing In rumbled out of Matador Records' gates last year with its consistently heavy, stoner metal and the kind of repetitiveness that speaks to a steadfast auditory dedication—or to being a one-trick pony. The album is a somewhat gratuitous remodel of back-to-basics Black Sabbath with some speedier Metallica-esque tempos and complexities that add dimension. Along with the obvious Sabbath likeness, Conte's vocals are dead-on Ozzy, but with occasional moments recalling early Anthrax. Harmonic six-string flourishes—reminiscent of Iron Maiden's dual guitar leads—expand the work to reflect more of heavy metal's forefathers.
As usual, the devil is in the details. For instance, while Early Man are presented as a two-man band, they actually are not. Ask Conte about this and he says, "Never my intent. In fact, when—boom—the opportunity to open for Mastodon came up last fall, we made a mad rush to try to involve one of our friends to play bass for us. Nobody with the skill level was able to work. So out of necessity we had to do that tour as a two-piece, and I think that's when the big buzz started that there's like two guys doing a 'metal White Stripes thing.' Which to us was the most horrifying thing ever." Early Man currently operate as a four-piece, featuring Alex Conley on bass and Pete Macy on second guitar.
For obscure reasons, Early Man green-lighted a press bio hyping their sheltered upbringings as Pentecostals who, inspired by heavy metal's power, bolted from Ohio to New York to form their own heavy metal band. Sounds awesome, but little of it's true.
Further fueling skepticism about Early Man among knowledgeable music fans and metal heads is Closing In's appearance on standard-bearing indie-rock label Matador, an observation Conte shrugs off. "Matador was coming to shows and was really gung ho about everything we were doing, and was also telling us that they had been looking to sign something much, much heavier than anything they had ever dealt with in the last 10 years—which interested us on many different levels."
It can be hard to get ahold of Conte for an interview, but once you do, he's happy to be frank and specific about his band, his history, and his dislike of jaded rock fucks. He candidly offers his excuses for flaking—psycho partying with Mastodon after Early Man's recent tour stop in Atlanta. "We knew when we showed up at the club to load in, and [guitarist Brent Hinds] was already there, it was ON." Way to go, dudes, just when the metal purists were really wondering, there's some insane tour story about them hanging hard with Mastodon, this century's critically acclaimed metal maniac revolutionaries. Aligning yourself with the crown princes of metal is a raging good (and perilous) time, and hardly a bad idea if you're looking for your own place in the metal echelon.
Basically, Conte and company are Ohio hillbilly metalheads that fell in with hyper-hip Manhattan company which afforded them a career. No bad guys here. Conte is a sharp, talented guy—and doing a decent job with the lion's share of heavy lifting for a heavy product. They've been well received, in opening slots with the likes of Turbo Negro and Mastodon, as well as their headlining gigs. Early Man are busy earning "metal cred" points with an unarguably dense rock release, touring frequently, staying up all night, and surviving the Mastodon merry-go-round. If the core is solid, the support is there, the feeling indeed genuine, and they're paying their dues, Early Man may evolve into something above vaguely troubling revivalism and suspicious metal posturing into their own ferocious and unique animal. And then, for real, there won't be any problem.
Public service announcement: There may be some problems with Early Man's upcoming Seattle show, as word has it that Mastodon will also be in town recording, and it's (un)safe to assume they'll be in the house. In which case, it may be ON all over again.