“Every empire will fall, and this one is no different” Alan Averill warns solemnly during a gap between songs.
“This one is in the death throes, and we will not go down without a fight.”
Spoken from the stage of 2015’s Bang Your Head in Germany, whence the band’s set was recorded for this new live album, one wonders to how many layers of meaning he referring.
Germany? The European Union? The Western military industrial hegemon?
Or, bigger than any of that… Primordial?
Redemption At Hand
The reason one wonders aloud is because it’s only really since ‘Redemption At The Puritains Hand’ and ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’ that a sense of light fatigue has been voiced in the band’s rightly loyal fanbase.
Everything up to and including those albums was received like the ten commandments. And so they should have been. The back catalogue tells its own ample story.
The two most recent albums though have flagged at points, as the band carve away, with significant effort, at establishing a modern identity and sound that befits them as now metal elders.
So it’s with a slight resignation that you see the tracklist and the oldest track is the opener, from what is now A Long Time Ago – and that there’s zero concession to anything else before ‘The Gathering Wilderness’.
Should there be?
Well, perhaps not. For what this performance does confirm is that even if some of those – shall we say – less instant songs on the latter albums dont exactly light the fires of old, the passionate intensity with which they’re delivered is still inspiring.
Screaming For Vengeance
Let us relish the best of this. ‘Gods To The Godless’, ‘Empire Falls’ and one of my own personal Primordial all time favourites, ‘As Rome Burns’, storm out from the speakers.
You can imagine the atmosphere in the hot tent with Alan pacing frantically around looking goggle eyed for enemies at the back of the hall and behind monitors.
“Move it!”, he grooves, on no less than three occasions. What fun.
Perhaps it sounds at times like his bark is a bit done-in. I guess that’s partly just the live environment and partly the band being all but at the end of their transitional period where it’s barely used any more anyway.
The rest of the time though the opposite is the case, in that his singing voice is now without doubt better than ever. Higher in crying reach, sailing on powerful winds when at its very best (a remarkable, hair-raising performance in ‘Coffin Ships’ that only a heart of stone couldn’t be moved by).
Putting the languid ‘Babel’s Tower’ second out of the traps feels a like going down a gear when the opposite should be happening – I’d argue that there are ten more deserving Primordial tracks that could have gone in (though the falsetto in this is absolutely killer).
It’s rescued by ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’ up next, that excoriating mix of politico-religio-historico-metallico polemic that Alan has made his unique calling card in recent years through these latter albums.
That same invective follows through a steamrollering ‘No Grave Deep Enough’ in which Simon O’ Laoghaire’s rumble gets a real chance to shine, and as noted earlier ‘As Rome Burns’ is always a triumph.
‘The Alchemist’s Head’ though seems more of an album than a live track – it’s one of those more uncomfortable numbers from ‘Redemption’ that almost feels as though it would have been more suited to Dread Sovereign, with Alan in his full-on Wicker Man persona.
Similarly I was never convinced by ‘Wield Lightning To Split The Sun’ and later here it also sounds a tad doleful.
If ever a track were made for the many halls that Primordial visit on their journeys far and wide, it is of course ‘Heathen Tribes’ whose unembarassed rallying call unites their European fans under all their glorious flags in a great coming together feeling more like the Elves joining the Men where everyone gets a shout and everyone spills a drink.
It’s slightly camp and slightly beneath their usual artistic high bar, but given that its done so literally and lovingly, you cant help but enjoy it, even on record.
Simon at the back once again gets the chance to explode out of his skin with a most impressive blastbeat in ‘Bloodied Yet Unbowed’, a vigorous injection late into this set.
One To Ponder
So let’s rewind to the start.
‘We are Primordial’ booms Alan, before asking the crowd repeatedly to remind him of the fact. “We are from the Repub-lic Of Ire-Land.”
It’s something that still must sound somewhat exotic to the gigging crowds of Europe given our comparatively small offering to the world’s halls. Were I a festival goer at „Die ultimative Heavy Metal Party!” I too would hear Primordial’s set an wonder what other misty gems of the celtic metal underground must live in that place, especially if they all sound like this.
We have been lukcy to have Primordial as our ambassadors these last two decades. It’s a problem that noone ever matched them for artistry. Anyway.
“And I have a question” (in fact he has many during this set, most relating to the band’s name) – “Are you with us?”
Yes, everyone is still with you. Time’s attrition has only managed a chip or two away at the band’s monolith, and while recent albums have had tunes that are somewhat less than magical, this set stands as a testament to their scarcely equalled esteem as artists – not just as a band – in the underground.
There is more to Primordial than Alan. There are four other quiet men toiling too on this journey. But I’m just going to put this out there, because I think it deserves a little meditation.
We live in tumultuous times, where the countours of geography and politic have rarely been as disrupted in any of our memories.
Financial, political and religious crisis has only lately savaged Ireland. Where was the response from the artistic metal underground, even in theme if not verse and song?
An existential crisis presently threatens what we currently think of Europe itself. Where is the response from the artistic metal underground, either for or against?
The answer is that there has barely been one because there are precious few thinkers prepared to put it in context and nail their colours to the mast, in any direction, save the usual loons on the fringes.
Alan seems to me to be the only one capable of narrating this tumult in almost real time with the insight it deserves, and that’s (surprisingy and despairingly) sorely lacking in the metal underground of the moment.
Which makes the release of these tracks (Empire Falls, Coffin Ships, Babels Tower, No Grave Deep Enough, As Rome Burns), performed and savoured at a great European coming together, all the more persipacious – all the more portentous.
If we do sit at the edge of history, as if in 1989, there will have been one – ONE! – metal band on a continent of metal bands who lent verse, music and fire to it from a decade before it even took place.
I’m not saying that they’re the Scorpions, and I’m not saying their next hit single is ‘Wind Of Change’. What I am saying is that they’re at least responding, trying, venting.
4.4 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 20/12/16