After two decades as a band, Primordial can be excused for taking their time to sprint. On each of their last two records, the Irish metal stalwarts lurched into motion, as though priming the engine of some great old machine. To the Nameless Dead, from 2007, reached its racing, blackened beat after a distended prelude of electric guitar haze. Four years later, Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand wove through militaristic field recordings, meandering acoustic guitar, and galloping war drums for two minutes before ripping into its melee.
The time for hesitation, however, has ostensibly passed. Where Greater Men Have Fallen, the band’s excellent eighth album, begins with a very big boom. The drums open with a heavy hit, followed by a jagged-edged riff and a countering lead that’s pulled as taut as a high wire. And when frontman Alan Averill, or A.A. Nemtheanga, screams “Go,” the beat only intensifies, with the guitars flexing extra muscle, too. In the time it’s recently taken Primordial to get into a song, Averill—one of the most captivating bandleaders in metal—is already screaming tales of pillaging armies, buried children, and massed graves. For a band that’s always paid so much attention to the end of empires and lives, the pressure of their own creeping morality seems to have induced added urgency.
Primordial have already flirted with their own demise: In 2010, after an onstage meltdown in Greece, Averill publicly apologized for the actions of drummer Simon O’Laoghaire and admitted that Primordial sought an immediate replacement. “Over the last 10 years, we have had many problems with Simon’s alcohol and substance problems,” he wrote. “We have tried many, many times to help him out, but on Saturday things reached a new low.” But the quintet persevered and summarily recorded the death-conquering record Redemption.
The survivor symptoms seem more prominent, however, on Where Greater Men Have Fallen, an eight-song set that finds Primordial more focused—but just as fierce—as ever. Primordial’s discography is a stylistic field trip. They have ventured between straight black metal homage and heavy metal heroics, but they have specialized in a mix of the two, laced with idyll accents, acoustic instruments, and the recognizable melodies of Celtic folk. There’s neither space nor time for that here. “The Seed of Tyrants” heads straight into a black metal ascent, the band easing the tension between the rhythm and riff only to pull it tight again. The song ends much where it starts, redirecting only for a brief mid-tempo midsection that serves to emphasize the ferric strength of its furious conclusion. “Babel’s Tower” locks quickly into a lumbering doom groove. Averill uses the pulpit to croon and cry his prophecy of the world’s end. At various points, the song jumps into double-time and half-time, but both instances swivel around the same languid riff-and-rhythm pair. Compared to Primordial’s past successes, the stripped-and-centered approach might seem simplistic, but the hour-long result is more immediate because of it. From beginning to end, Fallen feels like a compulsory listen.
Late-album highlight “Born to Night” does make time for a long and gentle introduction, but the magnetic tune that eventually emerges bears the theatrics of Iron Maiden and the twisting maneuvers of Confessor. What’s more, every turn of Averill’s voice here feels like a plea from some hardened soul singer, begging you to follow him into his battle. That’s an essential element of Fallen’s appeal; though Averill has been one of the most capable singers in metal for two decades, he has tapped into a new potency, delivering these tales of loss in search of redemption like Mahalia Jackson looking for her Lord. It’s surprising that, a quarter-century into Primordial, Averill is now perhaps better than ever. His performance during “Come the Flood”, for instance, is electrifying. He leaps between falsetto crests and bellowed lows during the first verse, broods and commands through the chorus, and vamps with gusto in the turnarounds like he’s the son of Robert Plant. On these eight tracks, Averill is in total control and absolutely thrilling for it.
But none of this is to say that, just because Primordial omitted some acoustic accessories and upped the rock spectacles, they’ve turned away from their Irish pedigree, always such an essential part of the music they’ve made. Rather, the opening title track swivels around a chorus to which you might lift a pint in a pub, its sing-along swagger reinforced by shouted harmonies and guitars that aim upward. More important, though, is the way Averill questions his nationality, pride, and sense of belonging in these lyrics. There is an incensed resignation at work here, a feeling that Ireland is only another territory that forsook some of its own early virtues. “This dreadful history we have sired,” Averill offers, “is the black, bleached future that you have desired.” That suspicion exists outside of Ireland, of course, and resonates across the Atlantic right now in particularly shameful ways. It’s the right time for Primordial to push pause on their nationalist isolation—not only for their respective age, but also for our collective one.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1ueAQcy