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Primordial | ‘Exile Amongst The Ruins’


A church bell tolls, deep and portentous. The internationally accepted symbol for the start of a metal album.

Depending on where you’re up to with Primordial these days – which basically comes down to a heady mix of age, nationality, how closely you’ve savoured the last three or four albums and then Alan’s side projects- you’ll either view that as a heavy handed and somewhat tired cliche, or a statement of defiant traditionalism.

We knew this would be an album that would raise questions, not least because, as I’ve said before, it’s only really been the last two albums or so where awkward shifting in your seat moments of criticism have come the band’s way after a two decades of absolutely rightly earned acclaim.

The last album in particular left an open question: where next?

I’m heartened that the answer is ‘here’ – at least for the better part of ‘Exile…’.

Tonal Mastery

I had imagined Primordial would slip into an elder statesmen role for this album, fusing more of ‘Lizzy and Horslips, or even the likes of Amorphis or Solstafir into their palette.

That they would invite in more straight rock stylings, befitting of men entering their mid 40s, and that we would all acknowledge it as the right and dutiful path.

That hasn’t really happened for the most part.

In fact the aggression of ‘Nail Their Tongues’ roundly blows that whole idea out of the water.

It wastes no time in getting into a valedictory blastbeat and bark that outdoes even the likes of ‘The Heretic’s Age’ in power.

Indeed before that, this track marks itself out as a superb opener, and easily one of the best tracks on here.

One notices immediately the beauty of the tone.

How the bass drum sounds vintage, slightly muffed, rounded, and fat. How the guitars dial back on the distortion for a gorgeous embers-warmth.

This production is absolutely, hands down superb. The similarity to Tribulation is of course noted, courtesy of producer Ola, but it must be said that Primordial’s outdoes it by leagues.

Alan is more gravelly than ever, audibly still up for it, driven as only he can be; but what this track shows, and what is shown by the album in toto is that this is truly Simon O’Laoghaire’s finest work.

The speed of that blastbeat, the power contained in its rolls… not just anyone can do that. And as we’ll return to, he has audibly put extra effort into making this one special.

’To Hell Or The Hangman’ was the first song aired, complete with its working mans’ porter and braces video, and immediately marked itself out as a departure not just aesthetically, but compositionally.

A single riff, played out to passionate intensity, ended with an almost Hawkwind lead lick, with a beautiful lyric set in more or less plain English (a large part of its appeal on a Primordial album these days, I shouldnt wonder) that gets right under the skin.

For me, it’s the album’s best track by a mile. Those sixteenths on the hi-hats are just pure rock ’n’ roll with no apologies.

Fascinations

‘Where Lie The Gods’ though, feels slightly slovenly.

It is a step back in time as far as Primordial are concerned. Though Alan’s falsetto is absolutely superb when he belts out those massive lines, the actual song isn’t much of anything.

The Bathory-esque final segment, with its subtle Valhalla choirs in the background, is rousing once or twice, but fundamentally dull.

Who, I have to ask, is this for? It sits very badly with the atmosphere and approach of the track bofore it, and feels badly lumpen.

The title track opens in a manner similar to much of ‘Redeption At The Puritans Hand’, and lyrically too its where we take the deep dive back into Alan’s touchstone fascinations: nationhood, civilization, religious iconography, schism, nobility, politic, memory.

Bear with me here a moment while I put a suggestion.

Would it be better if there were some Chinese walls around Alan’s side projects, vis a vis his day job?

I ask because much of this stuff seems better suited nowadays to Dread Sovereign and to a lesser extent Blood Revolt, rather than Primrodial – even if those have been Primordial’s core themes for ages also.

I just dont know anymore where one ends and the other begins.

No Anthem

Part of the problem too is that this album has no anthem – or at least not as such. None that’s clear at this point in time anyway.

There are no fighting men. No coffin ships. No Rome to burn. No God among the Godless.

Now, perhaps Primordial anthems were becoming a format in themselves. Perhaps we need an album that enforces deep and lenghty listening.

But I’d still have liked one. And it would have made what now seem over-familiar lyrical tropes a shade more digestible.

For all that though, the almost Isis inspired ending to ‘Exile’ is beautiful and vast. Alan’s lyrics here are straight out of his usual big book, but the falsetto over that double bass brooks no argument. It’s fantastic.

Many on the forum have marked out ‘Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed’ as a favourite. Leaving aside its quaint nod to Elvis Costello, it does hark pleasantly to the ‘Spirit The Earth Aflame’ era.

I guess by the end it has a little ‘Heathen Tribes’ about it as well.

‘Stolen Years’ provides a moment of reflection, but not much else. I’m not entirely sure about what its supposed to do other than provide the backing for ‘Sunken Lungs’ to clatter in after it.

And what a clatter!

Again, this is Simon’s voice coming through those tinkling, slithering cymbals.

The beat is a pure homage to Brian Downey, and it is a song in which the beat is All.

And then, rounding out, ‘Last Call’ is a distinctly Doomed affair, enlivened greatly by Alan’s passionate delivery.

You get the sense that like any good franchise, they’re leaving their options open with this one, should it end up being the coda on a career or merely just an era.

Or perhaps I’m reading far too much into it. Probably. And in any case, its neither my place nor anyone else’s to be making dark allusions to what a band who’ve paid such considerable dues choose to do.

Divisive

Now.

Eagle eyed readers will have totted up three and a half great songs noted in this review, set against the album’s total of eight.

Is that enough from a Primordial?

Or, more simply, has tiredness now set in?

It’s a hard one to answer, because no matter what they do, they’re fundamentally a great band by any outside measure or comparison.

‘Nail Their Tongues’ and ‘Hell Or The Hangman’ are easily amongst their best ever. I could have done with much more of both: two tracks that crackle with dynamic, building on the past while giving tantalizing nods to the future.

Other offerings however tread water.

So far I’ve heard varied opinions (like all the best bands) – and indeed it’s been divisive. For some its a treat, especially on vinyl.

For others, like one especially scabrous texter, people only want to like it because its Primordial . To me, that’s a defence in itself. But I get the point.

It isn’t their best, and it doesnt have an anthem or two to grab. But it does bust them out of a mould musically, if not lyrically.

Simons drumming, Alan’s singing and the production are all a joy.

Musically though – yes, it must be said, quality is not in quantity.

But I like it – alot – and those quality moments are ascendent.

And anyway, questions around Primordial’s quality are relative only to themselves.

So form your own judgement. It sounds beautiful, its best moments are sublime, and though its not among their greatest, it’s a solid addition to the canon.

3.9 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 05/14/18



19 Comments
  1. No mention of the beginning of To Hell or the Hangman sounding like Barracuda. More seriously though, I’d consider that track to be an anthem, not a typical Primordial anthem perhaps, but that shuffling driving rhythm throughout, 100% hook chorus lyrics… what makes an anthem that this tune doesn’t have??

    5/5!

  2. Cryptic Stench Says:

    I’d say it killed the Earl to give it 3.9.

    All joking aside, it’s not a great record. It’s the first Primordial album to leave me completely cold and to be honest the last few listens were a chore to get through

  3. I have only heard four songs so far so I can’t speak of the album as a whole, but what struck me about those songs (the three with the vids and Sunken Lungs) was how they share a similar smouldering vibe. That’s something that has been lacking on the last couple of records where it all became a jumble of various styles (anthemic opener, Coffin Ships pt. 2 & 3, harsh black metal song etc.) and is a welcome return for me. This sounds like it might be the most unified album since The Gathering Wilderness.

  4. King Hostile Says:

    Yeah “To Hell or the Hangman” is a defo Anthem….

    Quite liking this album way more than the last.

    The production differences track to track are cool.

  5. Fintan Stack Says:

    Alan looks like an extra from the Blue Oyster bar scene in Police Academy in that pic

  6. After giving this alot of spins and have given it the space to bed in but im just not clicking with it. Hangman is by far the best track. There is no blood and thunder at all in it unfortunatly. It gets tired very quickly and ends up a chore to listn to. I really wanted to love this album, primordial are one of the few bands left that i get genuinely excited about to hear a new album but this hasnt done anything for me. 2.5/5 give me redemption any day.

  7. That they would invite in more straight rock stylings, befitting of men entering their mid 40s, and that we would all acknowledge it as the right and dutiful path.

    So all men in their mid 40s should be directing themselves towards straight rock?

    Bollocks.

  8. Sedgebeast Says:

    Speak for yourself – I’m 40 next year and the pull to form a Whitesnake tribute act has never been stronger.

    Intriguing write-up and it looks like this one is dividing opinions like never before – the three tracks released thus far haven’t exactly had me leaping up and down with excitement but plaudits to them for mixing up some different tones/textures/atmospheres. Definitely interested in checking out the full thing at any rate.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Bollocks is right !! A lot of underground heads are late 30s mid 40s , as for the album , love it

  10. Death Metal Redneck Says:

    This is the problem with having a small country and smaller still metal scene. The review is written brilliantly but flirts around the edges of criticising the album or songs in any kind of direct way, if most of the album is shit apart from a couple of songs just say it….they’re all big boys. Like where does it rank in terms of their great albums?….

  11. Death Metal Redneck Says:

    Oh ye…almost forgot, from looking at the pic, didn’t know Al was a ginger!! 😉

  12. Cryptic Stench Says:

    As I said 6 months ago, Primordial have a pass.

  13. Right in terms of this Primordial having a pass thing, which you’ve flogged to fucking death in fairness, it seems to be me that the Earl’s opinion with this and previous Primordial reviews is that they have set a previous standard so high that even their lesser efforts would rank higher than many other peers of theirs. I would agree and actually this can be frustrating sometimes. I still think that there are feck all bands out there who sound the way Primordial do. They definitely occupy their own sound and space in what they do. However, with that being said i do think they’ve dropped in standard slightly in terms of delivering wall to wall deadly albums. Lets say for example they release a song that is treading water of their past work, it still sounds like Primordial and still sounds like its own unique thing. I only ever find myself weighing up their music with their own previous work, rather than other bands. Too much of a good thing maybe.

  14. I’ve also just noticed the second last short paragraph in the review, which sums up my feelings too when critiquing their music.

  15. I enjoyed TTND when it came out, and I also recall liking a few on the debut. But otger than that I haven’t been a fan but I’ve listened to all their stuff. The albums since TTND disappointed me… I just couldn’t relate to them. But with the exception of the final song, the latest album for me, a casual fan, the new album is outstanding. I can’t get several of the songs out of my head. Hangman is a magnificent piece of work, and Tongues, Deathbed and the title track are magic. Production is gorgeous. A few over used lyrics for sure. I’m not familiar with any of the side bands referred to here so can’t comment. To each their own and maybe someone with more understanding of the back catalog is better qualified than me – but I’d rate this very highly- more highly than the review. Great job guys, stellar stuff. Another convert.

  16. Blizzard Beast Says:

    This is a great album,there’s a bit of everything in there from old Primordial Storm before Calm to Greater men have fallen in one track along with some Bathory and a bit of black metal Carnun inspired riffs in another particular song 🙂

    Didnt think much of the 3 tracks released at the time but they slot in nicely with the album. To hell or the hangman is a great track even if I’m still not gone on the videos.

    As its been mentioned the production is brilliant on this album as well as the drumming which is superb.

    Hard to pick a best song from the album as they are plenty to chose from.

  17. Listened to a few of the other songs this evening. Man, this is more like it. The band have been trading creative water over the past two albums, bar a handful of great songs, but it sounds like they have tapped into some new inspirational reserves. The riffs are so good.

  18. Really?? I dont see it at all, Feels very bloated.

  19. Loving this one more and more. I know I’m going on about it but it’s so good to be excited by this band again. I would like to contest the idea that the album lacks an anthem. I think every song is an anthem in its own right. Every song is epic and powerful in its own right and fits in neatly to the whole structure of the album. Even the songs that are typically Primordial sounding in approach sound to me to be re-energised. This is a 10/10 for me.

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