KILL SCREEN 025: Joe Linden of PRIMITIVE MAN Has a Horrifying Need for Speed

The trio of Primitive Man conjures the stuff of nightmares. The prolific contemporaries of the Colorado metal scene have blended sludgy doom, abrasive noise and misanthropic nihilism throughout their decade of existence to craft a sound that is able to extinguish any hope in a room at a glacial pace—in the best possible way. Having taken part in two Metal & Beer Pre-Fests, once in 2019 for Los Angeles and most recently headlining Philadelphia in 2022, they’re primed and ready to take the main stage at our new home away from home at Metal & Beer Fest: Denver 2023 on December 2. When it comes to Joe Linden, drummer for the outfit and today’s player character, the dichotomy between the man and the music couldn’t be more stark.

Enthusiastic, witty and an all-around pleasure to talk to, Linden and his life-long devotion to games is a lesson in positivity. He is a diehard disciple of gaming’s mid- to late-90’s explosive creative output, with classics such as Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil 2 and Final Fantasy VII having captured his imagination. Linden found himself growing tired of the mainstays that he had already so thoroughly completed and, with an abundance of time during the COVID lockdowns, he sought a new way to approach his most cherished titles. What he came across was the world of speedrunning: Playing games to beat them as quickly as possible, often times exploiting glitches within the software to bypass large chunks of the story. The notion that the rhythmic backbone of a punishingly slow band becoming infatuated with high speed gameplay was certainly not lost on us. Now an active participant in the community, Linden has flexed his newfound talents to the benefit of charity while falling in love with the medium all over again. With some of his favorite franchises seeing remasters and remakes in recent years as well and the underground modding community bringing its modern vision to the generation of gaming he holds so dear, video games look to remain a substantial component of his life for the foreseeable future, though with a caveat: “I don’t want to see fucking Silent Hill: Ascension ever again.”

What was your first gaming experience?
My dad has always worked in the tech industry. When I was a young kid, we had computers, like, those old, ancient pieces of furniture back in the day. But when he was done working, I would always sneak on there. I was always interested by it, and then I found out that there were games on there and it kind of blew my mind. They were real archaic games. You want to move north, you type in, “You want to move north,” those kinds of games. I think I was too young to grasp it so I was just throwing shit at the wall, seeing what would happen. But I think when I was really intrigued by games is by the time the Super Nintendo came out. That was my first system that my brother and I got.

It came with this cartridge—I believe it was Super Mario World and Super Mario All-Stars. It had the remastered version of the original games. I played the shit out of that. But then, when we got Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Country 2, with the 3D-rendered graphics on the Super Nintendo, I was just like, [mimics head exploding] I didn’t know you could do that! They did something really original and I think it holds up in a weird kind of way—not to mention David Wise on the soundtrack. I love it. I’ll go down a YouTube hole and I’ll watch mini-docs about them just composing and using the software to make that music back then. It just blows my mind how creative they were.

What have you been playing lately?
I’m bad with new titles and everything coming out now. I don’t venture out of my comfort zone a whole lot. I really stick to the classic titles that I grew up with. I try to go back and play my favorite games once a year, at least. Final Fantasy VII, that’s one of my all-time favorites. I’ll play that once a year. I did venture out recently because I wanted to check out a FromSoft game. I checked out that new Armored Core game and that was fun. It’s a little above my skill set. Those games are fun and challenging, but it is very frustrating. I just find myself going back to my old favorites, [like] Metal Gear Solid. I know they just did that new release with Metal Gear, Metal Gear 2, Metal Gear Solid 1, 2, and 3. I don’t think that I will be purchasing that though, because I like the PC versions that I’m running right now.

What’s the comfort zone?
Honestly, the fifth generation, that’s my meat and potatoes. That’s what I like the most. Your Super Nintendos, your PlayStation 1s, a little bit of PlayStation 2. Survival horror was really big growing up. I love being scared. I think it goes hand in hand, how we ended up in the metal spectrum [laughs] because those games are cool. The ambiance, the vibe, the music is incredible. I loved the static, pre-rendered backgrounds, but with the tank controls. When I was trying to go back and play Resident Evil 2 recently—I was trying to learn a speedrun for it—I was relearning the tank controls and I was like, This is a little dated. But with a little bit of effort [and] elbow grease put into it, I fell back in love with it. I love those games. They started introducing the more free controls, like when they ported out the Resident Evil 1 remake—that really beautiful remake of it—it wasn’t just the tank controls. You could also use the analog stick to go directly to places, but I didn’t feel like that control style was very intuitive with the static backgrounds. You’d be running one direction, then you’d have a scene change and you holding a direction doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where you want to go. The tank controls are consistent. They’ll keep you going in a direction. If you can get over that hurdle, I think that’s the optimum way of playing those games.

And the very cinematic aspect of a fixed camera and getting those almost Hitchcock-esque angles to a room. I know Silent Hill 2 isn’t strictly fixed-camera, but when you walk into certain rooms and it’s highlighting a very specific point, it really captures that drama.
You took the words out of my mouth. I was literally just about to bring up the Silent Hill franchise because I feel like they took that idea and were able to add those cinematic elements where a camera would follow you in a creepy way around a corner. It would just scare the shit out of me and my friends, to the point where none of my friends would play and I was the one that had to take on the burden and play the games. [Laughs]

I love that aspect about that generation growing up gaming together. It was you and your friends—or whoever, family, partners—it was you guys on a couch together, experiencing it together. I really like that. That’s a feeling I can’t really recreate. I’m not super big into online gaming for that reason. It just doesn’t feel as organic to me. So, I guess I’m just chasing that dragon all the time. [Laughs]

Speaking of survival horror, we’re seeing a lot of critically-lauded remakes and remasters. I’m gathering that you’re much more fond of the originals. Do you get the same sense of enjoyment from these remakes or is there something missing from that?
Tell you what: I’m always going to buy them as they come out. There’s no question about it. Those are the titles that will come out that I look forward to throughout the years. I’m happy they’re doing it. I think they’re super fun. I just always go back to the classics. I just play the shit out of the new ones until I get to a point where I’m like, Okay, I feel like I got all I wanted out of it. It’s scratched this nostalgia thing and the graphics are incredible, the cinematics are incredible, the little bits of new things are really neat. But at the end of the day, I always just go back to the old ones.

The Resident Evil 2 remake was the one that I was the most excited about because RE2 is probably my favorite of the series. It was the first game that I got to speedrunning because it was conducive with beating it as fast as possible, as optimally as possible. I found that these new ones kind of frustrate me in ways that the old ones don’t. I don’t know what it is, but I just turn on the old ones and I just have fun. It’s not as much of a chore.

You mentioned that there was a PC port that you prefer. Do you have a preference between PC and console?
The long-winded answer is that during COVID, I was waiting for PS5 to come out. I was always a console guy growing up. I didn’t have money or time for the fancy computers and to build them, all that. And then I made the jump during then because nobody could get a PS5. I was like, All right, fuck it. I’m going to see what this PC thing is all about. And I really haven’t looked back since. With emulators and stuff for the old systems, I still think that a classic piece of hardware is the way to go. But I love PC ports of old games like Metal Gear Solid and RE2. There’s a lot of really cool people out there that have modded them enough to make them work on modern systems. And even with the case of Silent Hill 2, they’ve done HD releases for it. It’s cool, I dig it. It makes it easier to speedrun. It makes it more convenient. I have everything in one space. I don’t have a million consoles laying around anymore.

I feel like since I’ve been home from tour, I have been busting out my old systems. I’m playing the whole game again—the up-scalers and all that junk—and just trying to bring them back to life. I think it’s fun just to experiment with technology and learn.

Some of the community mods are pretty spectacular. I [James] know that they did a fan-made project that worked with Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3—the original ones—to do some upscaling wizardry to make it look as fresh and crisp as it can in modern times.
Yeah. The ones that I have [Classic REbirth], they’re rad. They’re super crisp and clean. They’re very compatible with your machines and all the mods that come out with it are really cool. You get randomizers and things that breathe life into these old titles that you’ve played a million times. You want to keep playing them, but you want to have that excitement that you had at some point in time. And I think that they’re able to accomplish that. And also through that, they were able to release Resident Evil 2.5. It was this release of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis before it became what it was supposed to become. I don’t think we ever would have seen that without these people putting out these mods. It’s pretty exciting.

You’ve touched on this a couple of times already: You do speedruns. When did you pick that up?
COVID, probably. Resident Evil 3 Remake had been released and I got all the achievements on it and just beat the shit out of it. I was like, What else is there really to do with it? I guess just try and beat it as quickly as possible. And then through that, I was looking up videos and I was like, Oh, this is a thing that people do that is very, very popular. I got hooked right out the gate. I got really interested in it. I remember as a kid playing Super Mario World and there were these alternate routes you could take to get to the end of the game even faster—in 11 exits instead of 96. I think that underlying time attack idea had always been in me, but I don’t think it was until I found the community and the capital “S” speedrun. The tools you use, the communities, the resources, the events, the fundraisers, the whole culture is insane to me. And I just was blown away by it. Going back and playing those games every year, I was like, This is more of a chore now. I want to play these games, but I’m just not enjoying it the way that I was before. Speedrunning for me was a breath of fresh air into all that. “Beat game fast”—it’s pretty simple, but it is a whole thing.

You make these little goals for yourself and you move those goalposts as other things evolve and you learn more about it. You get even deeper into it in a way that you hadn’t before. It’s very strange. Things like glitches and clips and skips and all [this] funny vocabulary that community uses, these aspects of it almost become mechanics of the game itself. In Metal Gear Solid, there is a clip where you get out of bounds and you can skip probably 80 percent of the game, which—from an outsider looking in—sounds like, “Why the fuck would you want to do that? I want to play a game, right?” But in a weird way, it becomes part of that game. It’s part of that run.

It totally sounds insane to the outside world, doing this constantly just to perfect that speedrun. But honestly, to us nerds, it is fascinating.
It’s bonkers. You nailed it on the head. It sounds so silly saying it out loud, but it is a big part of my life. This “silly thing” we’re doing is raising tens of millions of dollars for really important causes. GDQ [Games Done Quick] is like the Olympics of speedrunning, where people come out from all over the world and everybody comes together to do this wonderful thing to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, cancer prevention and research [Prevent Cancer Foundation], all this great stuff. That is the top tier; that is the Super Bowl of speedrunning. But there are so many communities that tier down from there that anybody can be a part of that raise money for instruments for kids in inner cities or the Trevor Project, helping people in the LGBTQ community have resources [for] mental health and physical health. It does such good.

Having said that, like any other corner of the internet or gaming, there’s some very toxic bullshit out there. But I would say 98 percent of it really comes from the heart. And it’s really cool. People are passionate about this shit.

“It sounds so silly saying it out loud, but it is a big part of my life. This ‘silly thing’ we’re doing is raising tens of millions of dollars for really important causes… It does such good.”

You said that you participate in charities with speedrunning as well. What are the events that you partake in?
I’ve done a few. I did one called Midwest Speedfest, which was defunct for a bit. It actually came back this year. I like them. I think they do it out of Minneapolis. The one that I participated in, I did Metal Gear Solid and I helped raise money for Save the Music, which provides school kids with music instruments and resources to play music, lessons, all that. I did a European one which raised money for cancer awareness and I’ve done one for the Trevor Project as well. I did one that wasn’t a fundraiser. You signed up for it and you submitted a game—I submitted Metal Gear Solid—but other people submitted games and then they mixed it up and you were supposed to learn a run in three months. I got [The Legend of] Zelda: [The] Minish Cap for Game Boy Advance. It was a big undertaking. Very strange, not familiar with it at all. But I was like, Cool, Zelda game. That’s a mainline game. I’ll learn that. So, I waited until the week before to actually start even playing the game casually [laughs] and decided to learn the run in, like, a couple all-nighters before. And it was a train wreck, dude. It was so bad. It went sideways straight from the beginning, there’s a bunch of people watching, but luckily my buddy was there commentating with me and he made it fun. My camera froze, I softlocked the game a couple of times, but it was still entertaining. We were cracking jokes and just trying to make fun of it just to enjoy it still. We had a good time.

The idea of practicing on something over and over again, if you think about it, really isn’t terribly different than practicing musical instruments. With that, do you think your talents as a drummer help with your timing and pacing in speedrunning?
I think you’re absolutely right. I’ve met a lot of other musicians that have come out of the woodwork when somebody tells somebody, “Joe does this weird-ass hobby.” And then they’re like, “Oh, me too.” There’s a lot of little pockets of this that you see. And you meet people on the road. It’s a cool community. But to answer the question, it 100 percent does. There’s actually a trick at the end of Metal Gear Solid when you’re facing off against one of the bosses. It’s a hand-to-hand fight and you can stunlock this boss and beat him as quickly as possible if you double tap a button at 165 beats per minute. If you’re right on the dot, you can beat it. I was watching tutorials on how to do this and talking to people on Discord trying to learn the run and everybody would watch me do it. And they were just like, “What the fuck, man? You just, right out the gate… I’ve been trying to do this for months!” I was like, “I play drums.”

Do you run into many people on tour who are into games or is it more of a solitary thing?
Yeah, surprisingly, I found that everybody plays games. So many people play games. I grew up in a generation [where] it had this negative connotation to it. So, I think I grew up just being like, Eh, this is just something that I kind of do… I also play rock music. That’s pretty cool. [Shrugs] We’re all adults here now and you talk about your hobbies and things you’re passionate about. And, as this has happened, everybody’s doing it, everybody plays the game, everybody’s got some hobby. They like to do it and you can bond over it.

Those are fun things that you learn about your friends and your peers out on the road to over time. It just gets you closer. It’s stuff you learn about each other. I remember Steve [Peacock] from Spirit Possession was going out with the Black Curse guys over in Europe and he had brought it up to [Primitive Man bassist] Jon [Campos]. He was just like, “It’s crazy that Joe’s got some world record in some game speedrunning.” And Jon was just like, “What the fuck?” And he came and he’s like, “Hey, we have to talk about something.” I was just like, “What is it, man?” And he’s just like, “That’s fucking crazy. I didn’t even know that about you.” And I was like, “Yeah, I guess that was just a ‘me’ thing that I had kept to myself for a while.” But now we’re doing interviews about it.

What is your world record?
I’ve had some world records in some indie games. There’s a game called Undetected that’s a Metal Gear Solid wannabe game. I had some good Metal Gear Solid times, top three times in a bunch of different categories. It was something that I held to some high regard when I was first getting going, and now I just do it for fun. But back then, it kind of felt like, It feels really good to be the best in the world at something.

In a previous conversation, you also mentioned that you’re building a custom GBA cart for Chip King from The Body. Can you tell us a little bit about this project?
He was driving for Full of Hell on our tour with Fit [for an Autopsy] and The Acacia Strain. I think we were in Atlanta one night and he was just sitting [and] waiting to drive and he was crushing on this little Gameboy. And I was like, “What are you playing, man?” Dr. Mario is his big thing. And he also loves Pokémon Pinball. He likes puzzle games. I think this is his jam. He’s like, “I don’t like the way that this cartridge sits in the system.” And I was just like, “I’ve got a bunch of random cartridge loaders and shit laying around my house. I’ll make you a cartridge that’s got a whole bunch of shit on it.” And it was just another way for him and me to connect. And I’m sorry, Chip—I’m still working on it.

When did you start working on the hardware side of things?
Very recently. In the last three or four years, I’ve had a bunch of hands-on companies that I’ve done, painting companies, renovating companies, handyman stuff, yada yada yada. And through this journey, I found a lot of new confidence. And like I mentioned up top, I really like learning. I like the process of learning. Maybe that’s why I like speedrunning so much. I like the process of taking in information, using it and accomplishing something. It just feels good. I’ve recently found that with technology as well. It just kind of is seeping into every aspect of my life now. It’s been an uphill battle, especially with some of these retro systems trying to figure out the best formations of cables and little weird boxes that you have to order off of some dark corner of the Internet for 250 fucking dollars. [Laughs] But when it all comes together, it’s really satisfying. Just one more thing for me to turn my brain off for and just work towards.

There’s a community around unofficial carts, [like] homemade variants of old games, demakes, translations and stuff. Is this a corner of the video game world that occupies a significant amount of time or is this a once in a while thing?
Very much so the latter. Speedrunning is a big, big, big part of my life now. But the other side, that stuff’s just when I get bored and I just want to try something new. I just want to problem solve and try something else, like loading stuff onto an SD card or you can order carts that just have PCB boards and then we can just load shit straight onto those with some of these ROM loaders and then suddenly your SNES has infinitely more options to play stuff that people are still making to this day. That interests me quite a bit. I think it’s really cool that people are still releasing these, like Etsy stores that have modern releases for the old hardware. Something that’s above me, but I like that it’s happening. I like it when they’ll do special releases, too, where they have the box with the art and it has a manual and some little toy or whatever with it. I like these fully-fledged ideas that people are doing. You see this passion in it, these people that are really all about it. They coded this from the ground up, they made the hardware, they made the artwork, they made the music. I just love the idea of really having an idea, fleshing it out, seeing it through and doing a really legitimate release for it. And I’m glad that it makes money for people, too.

Primitive Man is a very abrasive, harsh, nihilistic, negative band. Do you seek that kind of similar mindset in the games that you play or do you try to keep games as purely mental downtime?
Probably the latter. I don’t seek punishment out of my games, like these folks playing these Soulsborne games and stuff. I don’t get a whole lot of alone time, so I would like that time to be enjoyable and not too much suffering. Having said that, I have dipped my toes into the Kaizo world.

Kaizo is infinitely fucking worse than any FromSoft game. [Laughs] How can you say that you don’t like punishment in games and then be like, “I dabble in Kaizo”?
I think that it becomes so ridiculous to a point where it just becomes funny. It just makes me laugh because it’s just like, Who made this torturous game? I have a good time with it. I think that goes far enough for me to do that. I think what really attracted me to is the skill set and playing so optimally. It’s a healthier hobby for me. With speedrunning and these Kaizo games that are so hard, you can’t drink, you can’t be a wasteoid and all this. To each their own, but what I’ve noticed is I’ve got to keep all that separate. It’s a healthy, positive thing in my life.

Primitive Man utilizes some harsher noise elements and that has an effect on the music and the performance. Do you think that the band using those sorts of elements causes you to notice certain sound things in games?
Yes, I really enjoy sound fonts and textures of sound and how different franchises use things differently. I like the really crunchy sounds of older retro systems. I like to dig into what kind of sound cards things are using. Because we spend so much time with the noise element in Primitive Man, even putting out full length records that are noise, texture and intent and all these things are really important. You spend a lot of time getting it just right and I do think that’s transferred over to other things in my life. I’ve gone out to movies with my partner and I’ll mention, “I loved the the ambience and the vibe that this part created by having this weird subfrequency just rolling under this bit of dialogue here or there.” And she looks at me and she’s just like, “What are you even talking about, man?” And then I find that in video games as well, of course, especially with horror stuff. Horror stuff, they nail it.

Now that you have your PC, have you delved into the indie horror community at all?
Oh yeah, buddy. There’s this [developer] called Puppet Combo. I won’t play those games with headphones anymore because the sound on it is so absurd. But they’re fun. They scare the bejesus out of me. My partner won’t watch me play those games. They’re short. They’re just little snippets of being absolutely horrified by something. I love the old PS1 triangular pixels. I love that shit, that’s my thing. I thought it was a cool idea for a company to do that.

The indie horror scene, it seems like it’s in like a renaissance right now. It’s so crazy. The Chilla’s Art stuff is really cool. People really figured out how to scare people again without guns blasting all the time. There’s an emotional aspect to those games that I think is a more recent thing, honestly. People are more able to tell these chilling stories, these sad stories. The first title that comes to my mind that I think really caught my attention in that regard was the AAA title The Last of Us. When that first came out, I was going through a pretty rough time in my life, and I had heard good things about it. I picked it up and it just made me feel such a way and caught me at maybe the right time in my life. I was like, I didn’t know that these fucking video games could make you feel this way. What, we’re doing this now? I thought I was just gonna have fun today. [Laughs]

We’re getting close to the end of the year. What are some of your favorite titles from 2023?
Resident Evil 4 was very fun, the remake. I thought Armored Core was really great. I had a bit of fun playing Outlast Trials for a little bit. I didn’t get too deep into it because, you know, my feelings about multiplayer games. But it was cool.

Do you do anything on the Nintendo side? Did you pick up Zelda or the new Mario?
I have a Switch that sits in my backpack on tour and never comes out. The two things that I always bring on tour are my Switch and a book, and I don’t ever touch either of them. [Laughs] I was out on tour with somebody that had one of those Steam decks and I saw him just rocking that thing every day in the green room. And I was like, That looks so awesome. I just don’t see myself laying down and doing that. Maybe because of what I was saying earlier, because that is a my time, my space thing that I do in my office or wherever, you know?

Are there any games that you’re looking forward to in the near future?
There is a Mario ROM hack that’s coming out in one week that I’m really looking forward to. I might give the Super Mario RPG remake a shot. Honestly, just the laundry list of games that I’ve been told to play over the year that I haven’t been able to because of tour and stuff. Magically, no matter when you go on tour, that’s when the game comes out that you want to play. And then you have to wait a month or whatever.

Do you find that it’s a cycle of “Go on tour, get back from tour, tear through a couple of games, go on tour”?
That’s exactly what happens. Something will come out that I really want to play and I’m like, Ooo, I can’t wait to get home and play that. Go home, play it and then go back on tour, like, a week or two later. We got home from this run with Baroness and I wanted to make sure to take a week off afterward because it’s my birthday and I wanted to play some games and go to some hockey games and see some friends and shit. I feel like you can date where I am in the year by either what tour I’m on or what game I’m playing.

The funniest one that I can think of is when Resident Evil Village came out the day before we were supposed to leave to go to Chicago to record the collaboration with Full of Hell. It came out at, like, 11:59 or 10:59 on Steam and I was just like, OK, I’m just going to stay up and I’m just going to beat this game in one sitting. And I did. I made sure to pack my bags and I was ready to go and I made sure to play that thing up until the moment that the van showed up and we had to go to the airport. [Laughs] Everybody was like, “Man, you look pretty rough.” I was just like, “It was a rough night, man,” but I got it. I got through it.

Tickets to see Primitive Man at Decibel Magazine Metal & Beer Fest: Denver 2023 are available here.
Follow Primitive Man on Bandcamp, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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