Why do we like metal? Can we come up with a logical, objective answer? There may be as many reasons to like metal as there are metal fans. The genre keeps growing year after year, its borders being pushed ever so fervently to encompass an increasingly broad spectrum of instruments, topics and emotions. If one is to take metal at face value, the instrumentation and the technicality behind it usually jump out as the main attention-grabbing facet. However, there are bands who seem to achieve more with their music through the emotions that come across to the listener. Irish quintet Primordial is a fine example of bands that create a multi-faceted experience with their mostly-standard metal instrumentation that is augmented by the most universal instrument of all: the human voice.
Frontman Alan ‘Nemtheanga’ Averill defines the Primordial sound with his voice as much as the songwriting behind him does. Even though his lyrics are in English, the anguish and the inescapable sense of tragedy with which he delivers his words go beyond the language itself. As for the music, it seems to conjure up images of a windswept landscape where the climate is harsh and unforgiving. The focus in composition is on creating a coherent atmosphere that is unified by the lengthy segments of repetition and the theatrical element emphasized by the vocal performance. It is an immersive experience that Primordial have created before, with arguably better results on previous endeavors.
This dramatic combination is at the core of Primordial’s sound and it has been prevalent throughout their career, up to and including 2018’s Exile Amongst the Ruins; the band’s ninth full-length. The sixty five minute record starts off with its strongest track “Nail Their Tongues” which creates a lot of tension with its mid-tempo pace. The tension is abruptly released by a blistering blast beat as the vocals put a sinister twist on proceedings. The nine minute long “Where Lie the Gods” sees the drums and the somber acoustic guitar in the beginning combine to create an ominous atmosphere that leads into a classic 6/4 Primordial chord progression. The distorted guitar tone and double bass drumming add another layer of intensity as Alan’s shrieks take the song to its peak. However, the last two minutes maybe considered as a missed opportunity since they weigh the song down a bit without adding much.
As the album approaches its mid-point, the titular track presents a subtle main melody is intricately woven throughout the whole track, creating a backdrop to the sorrow-laden defiance in Alan’s vocal performance. It’s as if he’s the defeated protagonist who is forced to accept defeat yet still keep fighting because it’s the only thing he knows. The last minute or so is another example of the intensity that harkens back to 2007’s masterpiece To the Nameless Dead; an intensity that’s proving rarer as the years rolls on. The tragedy is emphasized once again as the vocals project a sense of regret and defeat on “Stolen Years” – the album’s shortest yet most ponderous track.
“Sunken Lungs” revels in repetition like a lot of Primordial material but it’s not the finest example. It feels a bit static aside from that beautiful yet short-lived soaring melody in the end. Then the aptly titled “Last Call” paints a bleak image for ten minutes leaving the listener wondering about the answer to the question posed in the beginning: ‘why do I like this?’ It may be a longing for the gut-wrenching tragedy that emanates from Primordial’s vocal performance and intense music. It may be the spine-tingling emotions evoked by an intense segment that’s elevated by meticulously chosen words delivered at the right moment. Exile Amongst the Ruins has glimpses of these captivating characteristics but alas, they are all too ephemeral throughout this record which quite frankly pales in comparison to its predecessors.
Exile Amongst the Ruins will be released March 30th through Metal Blade Records, and is available for pre-order in digital format at the band’s Bandcamp page.