For those unfamiliar with Primordial, their roots go back to 1987 when their current guitarist, Ciarán MacUilliam, and bassist, Pól MacAmlaigh began jamming together, calling themselves Forsaken and playing covers of Sepultura, Death, and other extreme bands of that time. Vocalist Alan Averill aka “Nemtheanga” joined the group in 1991, and they released their first demo that same year entitled “Dark Romanticism.” It was a fitting title for the band has always had a dark sense of foreboding atmosphere to their music, which, like the Romantic period, is very expressive, crafting stories cultivated from Celtic folklore. In fact, Primordial was the first band to emerge from Ireland to incorporate any elements of Black Metal. Primordial has always been their own entity, though, swiftly dodging categorization as they have blazed their own independent trail throughout the eight full-length albums that precede Exile Amongst the Ruins. Now the folk-tinged crafters of extreme Pagan Metal have advanced their sound to incorporate new dimensions, while still holding on to their solid core sound.
The first track, “Nail their Tongues,” sets things off with a gorgeous fingerstyle classical guitar passage; however, after the 1:00 mark, the song opens up with one of the most Metal and aggressive riffs on the album. The bass plays a well-executed variation of the melody underneath the crunchy guitar to offer a fuller sound. Their roots shine at the 4:00 mark where the drums commit to blast beats that coincide with furiously strummed guitar parts and lacerating vocals that are reminiscent of earlier albums in the band’s catalog. The blasts are like an audible strobe light as they relentlessly pummel the listener in super-quick, machine-like pulses. “To Hell or the Hangman” is the second track and it can be said without doubt that it is immediately legendary for it stands firmly alongside past greats of the band’s discography. The song exemplifies what Primordial do best, which is to compose a haunting melody and expand upon it with the instrumentation carrying the listener through the veil to the Celtic Otheworld. Nemtheanga’s vocals come across like a bard proclaiming the path forward echoing, “Send me to hell or to the gallows.” The guitar plays a simply mesmerizing lead in the latter part of the song as it dances around the melody. A simple sound with memorable melodies that evoke varied emotions is found within the sixth track, “Stolen Years,” which is the only track less than seven minutes long, clocking in at 5:15. The listener is faced with feelings of sorrow, reluctance, and eventually reconciliation. The album is rounded off with the eighth track, “Last Call,” a song built upon a solid Doom riff conveying a sense of farewell and longing. After the 4:00 mark, heavy guitar is put against simple finger picking. An elegant classical fingerstyle part reminding one of Jimmy Page is found later and is countered with a crushing, eerie riff which has the effect of sounding as if a choir is faintly singing in the background. Whether this is due to a keyboard, a studio effect, or a healthy imagination is unknown, but it serves as the perfect way to close such an inspiring musical journey.
The guitars sound amazingly huge on the album, a feat achieved by stacking numerous tracks on top of each other. The perfect amount of distortion is used as it embodies a crunchy tone, but it breaks up cleanly allowing the full chords to be properly expressed with each note ringing resoundingly out. It is a tone that is both organic and classic that uses occasional effects that definitely do not sound digital. Primordial has an adventurous drummer, Simon Ó Laoghaire who executes the ideal amount of tom rolls and resonating cymbal crashes that add the perfect amount of atmosphere. The bass sound is hot, sounding as if it is just over the edge of distortion, though with a warm, full sound that is not saturated. Pól MacAmlaigh is given room by the guitarists, Ciáran MacUiliam and Micheál Ó Floinn, to compose carefully constructed bass parts that have their own identity within the sound but do not go off on any tangents. Vocally, Nemtheanga sings with the effect of being a story-teller. It is as if he is crying out, evoking sadness and doom at times alongside motifs from a rich Celtic history. At times he employs screaming and shrieking for effect, but he always is on key and layers his vocals in a similar way to the guitar parts.
Primordial craft songs that take the listener on a Celtic-inspired astral journey within one’s own imagination. Their sound is achieved by building upon largely strummed guitar passages soaked in reverb and touched often with a bit of chorus that have their own original sense of rhythm and melody instead of performing intricate riffs like others in the extreme realms of Metal. By layering multiple guitar parts on top of each other as such, the band is able to make a sound that is huge, unique, and ultimately, memorable. In fact, the songs have such a strong impression that they sound like they would be just as effective played acoustically unplugged. Each album has moved the band forward to their current status of being epic and brilliant composers, qualities that were evident from the very beginning of their recorded work. This record works by elaborating on simple ideas and also incorporating texture-guitar techniques that bring out-of-genre artists such as The Cure, The Smiths, and Jane’s Addiction to mind. Primordial have always been a band to make a strong impression with a unique sound all their own, though one can hear echoes of Anathema‘s brilliant album, Eternity, within this record in an original light and definitely not contrived at all. To listen to their latest album is to take a journey, fully-narrated, into the land of spirits and anomalies, over peaks and into valleys, and all the while, with the most fitting, challenging and stirring aural soundtrack.