Occupying a unique position between any easily labeled genre tags, Primordial has been standing apart from the herd these 25 years. In a time where forgettable, instant gratification is the ‘app’ of our lives, what they are and have always been is a bastion of sincerity. On March 30th, 2018, courtesy of Metal Blade records, the Dublin, Ireland collective will release their 9th studio album, Exile Amongst the Ruins. Looking to build upon past mastery, this one comes four years on from prior full-length Where Greater Men Have Fallen. With their surging popularity and all that comes with it, can bardic Lead Vocalist Alan ‘Nemtheanga’ Averill keep the good ship Primordial at the crest of the wave they have coaxed so high?
At this point in their career, the creative core of Guitarists Ciarán MacUilliam and Michael O’Floinn, Bassist Pól MacAmlaigh, and Drummer Simon O’Laoghaire, along with Averill, have emblazoned their distinctive antlers and serpent logo upon a wellspring of stirring anthems that, nine albums in, appears to have no end. We are all the better for it, as fans – more importantly, as human beings – searching for meaning. Ever present in their lyrics, this theme pervades much of Exile Amongst The Ruins. Conveyed in the robust bellow of Averill, whose versatility behind the mic is beginning to rival the Devin Townsend’s of the world, the result rattles the heart with longing.
It seems fair to begin with the two songs the band released early, and not just for chronological purposes. Both could be considered to be departures from the usual working model of Primordial. The first one, “Stolen Years,” broods with morose reflection. Where some bands shout answers into the breach, Primordial plies their listeners with questions. Describing “Stolen Years” with words proves itself an impossible task. When you hear it, you will understand that your life was waiting for this song – it is that good. Once again, Primordial manages to speak to anyone at any time, uniting us all beneath the existential veil we struggle beneath.
“To Hell or the Hangman,” by contrast, might be Primordial’s first ever driving-song. Not a bad thing by any stretch, its catchy cadence is by no means an attempt to be radio friendly. The guitars are still instantly recognizable as their own, while the vocal lines still thrum with Averill’s unfailing gravitas. It is also the second shortest song, clocking in at a sturdy 7:17. The mood of the album is preserved in this track; if the style is a departure, the feeling certainly is not. In some of the verses there is a back-up vocal singing with Averill, while the rolling pace provides a platform for a lovely guitar lead progression. It is these touches which ensure each listen quickens the pulse.
“Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed” floats from martial beginnings into the wistful rolling cadence Primordial has perfected. The mood in the guitars translates and perfectly underpins Averill’s somber poetry, building to a powerful crescendo of a chorus. This song makes you realize how often the word ‘epic’ is misused.
Taking their time, songs like “Where Lie the Gods” and the title track open gradually before the listener, rising like thick velvet curtains to reveal the goodness within them. Each one is crafted with utmost care, yet none feel forced or contrived. The moods in the guitar leads, the many nuances of Averill’s voice, speak of a band locked down into a majestic groove of creativity that we as fans are spoiled rotten by. In fact, if the waning minutes of “Where Lie The Gods” does not make you want to go on a quest to find those lost immortals, you may be comatose.
“Sunken Lungs” rips out of the speakers, yet manages to display the somber undercurrent pervading most of Exile Amongst The Ruins. This one is much of what 2004’s The Gathering Wilderness and 2007’s To The Nameless Dead were getting at, songwriting-wise. The guitar lead at around 2:20 leaps off a cliff, the segment directly after revealing itself to be the pinnacle the tune was building to – stunning song-craft guaranteed to live inside the hearts of Primordial fans the world over. In much the same way songs like “Empire Falls” and “Heathen Tribes” have that motor in their heart, that repeated set of riffs, which build and are built upon by guitar leads as the song progresses, one more beautiful than the last – this one is Primordial being able to reference themselves the way Iron Maiden or Judas Priest reference themselves. They have become a Heavy Metal institution in an attention deficit world.
The album closes on the My Dying Bride-like Doom infusion of “Last Call.” A grim reflection of a life of constant travel, this is a true stellar moment in Primordial’s career. Averill’s voice is its own instrument, a soaring clarion to feelings of undoing, fate, crossed destinies, and the passing decades’ harrowing mark. Each listen harbors another journey into the majestic head space created by the band.
Primordial have always provided honest to goodness Heavy Metal for their fans, and throughout their career have never disappointed. There are very few bands who can make this claim, and with Exile Amongst The Ruins, the bar has been raised that much higher. Get both hands and both ears on this album as soon as you can, music fans. You will not be sorry. CrypticRock gives Exile Amongst The Ruins 5 out of 5 stars.