As we wait expectantly for Primordial’s new opus ‘Exile Amongst The Ruins’ to drop, Pat O Hagan digs out perhaps the bands most overlooked album – ‘Storm Before Calm’.
When we think of Primordial, we think of music that drips with passion,
emotion and integrity.
I think it’s fair to say that these are qualities they have embraced since day one.
Primordial have a sterling back catalogue when you really take a good long look at it. It’s very hard to punch too many holes in any album, EP or split.
For some reason though we do have a black sheep of the family in the shape of ‘Storm Before Calm’.
It is rarely included in discussions regarding Primordial’s best album – which there are multiple contenders.
Close listening though makes it hard to understand why it doesn’t get more praise.
It has the passion, it has the emotion. It has the songs.
Maybe it was a timing issue regarding its release? Maybe it was a label issue? Maybe it was a production issue? Or maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
It’s time to dust it off and try find out…
‘Storm Before Calm’ was released in January 2002 through Hammerheart records which turned out to be the last release with the Dutch label before being snapped up by Metal blade.
I think with the benefit of hindsight, it was a great move.
It seemed that the ball was dropped regarding a few issues.
Firstly, the production was a huge step away from the type of environment that Primordial
This was a very digitized production. This, coupled with click-track feeling drums, seemed to suck the life and feel out of the album. The overall sound does feel very compressed.
Contrast this with the total opposite approach to the next album ‘The Gathering Wilderness’ which has a very live and analogue feel.
It’s obvious the band were out of their comfort zone to a certain degree. Listening to it can be like entering a darkened room: you have to wait for your eyes to adjust.
Another area that let this down hugely was the cover art.
I’m not sure if the blame lies with the label or not but it falls short of the mark.
It doesn’t do what album art should do and that is to blend with the theme of the album, to encompass the emotive direction of the music and to complete the package.
Take for instance ‘The Gathering Wilderness’. It’s such a dark and bleak album that it needs a strong cover to complete the concept, and it does. It’s simply stunning.
But ‘Storm’ is left burdened with this one dimensional, half-arsed cover that seems like it was thrown together ten minutes before the album was released.
A ‘drag-and-drop’ approach, kinda like the production. So maybe it does fit the album in an
Being wedged between ‘Spirit The Earth aflame’ and ‘The Gathering Wilderness’ didn’t do it any favours either. Both are arguably two of their strongest albums.
But worry not. That is where the negatives stop.
This was the first outing with two guitar players. It was at this point that Michael O’Floinn joined the fold. Although an inevitable move, I think this was one of the best Primordial ever made.
Ciaran’s guitar playing was always and still is the backbone of Primordial. It’s unique, passionate and infuses traditional Irish chord progressions with that black metal grit giving Primordial ‘that’ sound which is hard to label.
But bringing in Michael really opened up doors, both in the studio and live, that they could not have otherwise achieved.
The songwriting on ‘Storm Before Clam’ is as strong as ever. There isn’t a weak track on the entire album when you boil it down.
It hits the ground running with the vicious ‘Heretic’s age’.
Blasting it’s way through a cascading wall of guitar laced with melodic undertones. There is little room to breathe.
There is alot of aggression permeating through ‘Storm’. Tracks like ‘The Heretics Age’, ‘Cast To The Pyre’ and ‘Sun’s First Rays’ really capture Primordial at their heaviest.
‘Cast To The Pyre’ is for me one of the standout tracks.
That discordant intro coupled with Alan’s spoken verse is truly menacing.
It’s almost suffocating in its bleak tidings.
But it’s the outro tho that really gets me every time, it never gets old. It has passion, it has emotion, it has integrity. It’s simply stunning – Its a pity it doesn’t get too many airings live.
Another standout is of course a track that has become a live favorite, ‘Sons Of The Morrigan’. This is where the twin guitar approach really comes into its own.
That passage in the middle sounds very Thin Lizzy (well, more like Lizzy worship). This is one of those doors that they could only open with two guitarists.
Words Of Fire
Lyrically Primordial have always been strong and this album is no different.
I think this is perhaps the most nationalistic, or celticized, album they have released. ‘Nationalistic’ is a word that can have negative connotations so I want to be clear about exactly what I mean.
Mistakenly, Primordial have been labelled as a band that write about Ireland and Irish mythology, but for the most part this is incorrect.
Most of Primordial’s work relates to themes and concepts that can be interpreted by any nation or people – for example the fall of empires, alienation or coming to terms with a tragic History.
But on ‘Storm’ there is a romantic nationalist thread running through some tracks too,
particularly ‘Sons Of The Morrigan’ and ‘Hosting Of The Sidhe’. The latter being an interpretation of W.B Yeat’s poem about a procession of Irish gods called the ‘Sidhe’ to the land of eternal youth or ‘Tir na Nog’ as we know it.
Alan shows a great ability to be able to navigate through these themes without falling foul to cringey cliches or predictable babble that can saturate other folk-inspired metal.
Instead, there are fantastic lyrical passages that are thought provoking and hold substance. See – “Words to drip from the Traitors Tongues, Waging a War between the Crimson lines” or “To rewrite the words, feign the phrases, To finally finish those unwritten pages“.
Although ‘Storm’ is burdened with production issues, it dosen’t lack atmosphere. Its filled with moody acoustic passages and haunting melodies. It even accomplishes a cinematic feel in places – the middle of ‘Fallen to Ruin’ for example.
As a whole it sounds complete as an album, so I encourage you all to dig it out again and give this fantastic, overlooked gem another spin.
Look past the few issues that drag it down and you will be heavily rewarded with seven tracks that all punch well above their weight within the ever-growing primordial catalogue.
This IS a classic Primordial album. The problem is it just doesn’t ‘sound’ like one.
– Pat O’Hagan ::: 21/01/18