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From The Vaults #39 | Primordial’s ‘Storm Before Calm’

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
thrive in.

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
ironic way.

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.

Axe Attack

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“.

Powerful stuff.


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

  1. Very much an album that doesn’t get enough credit. It’s my favourite Primordial release, there’s not a bad track on it. I agree the production leaves a bit to be desired but the songs and lyrics more than make up for that. The standout track for me is The Heretics Age and possibly my favourite Primordial track of all time.

    Nice to see this gem get some exposure 16 years after it’s original appearance. Great piece.

  2. Black Shepherd Says:

    First Primordial I ever bought/heard. Think it’s great myself, although not my favourite. Nice album to choose for a write-up!

  3. Paul keohane Says:

    Spirit the Earth and this are Primordials best imo.

    If a gun was put to my head id probably go for Storm,totally brilliant album,was/is it underrated?

  4. Suspicious Aloicious Says:

    I think it’s by far their weakest album, sandwiched between two Primordial classics.

    I remember talking to Alan after the launch gig, think it was in the village and he didn’t seem to be happy with the production at the time of it’s release. To be honest production is only part of the piece, the songs just weren’t there in this instance. Alongside To the nameless… my least listened to Primordial album.

  5. It’s a fantastic record and the issues with the production and artwork hardly impede on its quality. It marks the end of cycle for Primordial. You have the first two albums where the band are refining their style. Then STEA and this are the pinnacle of that style and represent a maturing of song craft, to my ear. After this one they entered a different era with TGW, one that they still appear to be in, but the new album will tell that story. Maybe they have moved into a new phase of creativity now. Going to stick this on later as it has been a while!

  6. To me it has always been as much a classic as the rest of the pre-nameless dead albums

  7. Dick Dastardly Says:

    I agree completely. A fantastic record.

  8. massiveTractor Says:

    I don’t get what is wrong with the production. Too clean or polished or what? I believe they recorded this one over click tracks which is something they generally or never do so possibly that also adds to the more polished aspect rather than their usual rawness.

  9. As far as young bands go I think they are doing well for themselves all the same.

  10. Paul keohane Says:

    I don’t get the production stuff either,sounds great to my ears.

  11. A good review……dry production and bland artwork none withstanding, I think it’s a great release with some of their finest songs on it. The Heretic’s Age and Cast to the Pyre sound very different to anything else they’ve done.

    I’d rate it over the post TTND albums easily.

  12. Have it on here this morning and it really is a great album. Classic Primordial, basically.

  13. Been spending sometime with this album ever since the write up first posted. Its a fantastic album and up there with their best in my opinion. From the get go it just grabs you and pulls you in. Nice piece.

  14. How Things Change...... Says:

    Interesting to see the admiration this record now seems to have. Primordial Played with Cruachan for this albums release, there were 50 something paying customers that night.

  15. But back then Primordial could hardly pull a crowd in Ireland. I saw them paying with Destroyer back then in The Temple to less than a hundred people. Their profile has risen massively since they signed with Metal Blade which says more than the quality of the albums that came before.

  16. You could also factor in the rise of the internet around that period as well. Whatever the reasons for it often being overlooked it’s a great album and stands up to the test of time (maybe moreso than some of the later albums?). Glad this article appeared and made me dig it out again.

  17. How Things Change...... Says:

    Yeah, aware of their draw mate, been going to see them since day 1 practically. It’s just kinda funny to see so many people say they love it when fuck all bought it back in the day.

    Most of them will probably now claim they were at the gig!!!

  18. brianwilliams82 Says:

    Cryptic Stench under any other name…

    A load of people probably bought/listened to it after getting into the band via one of the metal blade albums. I’d imagine their pre-TGW albums got significant sales boosts as a result of the increased profile that MB brought them. You don’t have to have bought the album at the launch gig to have an opinion on it.

    Did Hammerheart also not die a death not long after this album came out?

  19. Well, I have no idea who did or didn’t buy it or like it at the time but if this article makes people revisit it who wrote it off at the time or never heard it before then it’s all good. It recently got a rerelease with new artwork that looks a bit more snazzy but I’m happy to stick with the original, as middling as it may well be. I’d actually love to get originals of this and Spirit on vinyl if they exist s out was only around 2003 I started picking up vinyl and never grabbed them as I had the CDs.

  20. “Spirit the Earth and this are Primordials best imo.”

    Spot on. I never had any issue with the production either, I just dig the whole vibe off of it.

    I’m not sure about the Bard Flynn comments – IIRC he only joined at the time but didn’t actually do any of the recording? Or was it he just didn’t write any of the music?

  21. Black Shepherd Says:

    I bought it more or less when it came out (it arriving in stock in Golden Discs in Bray was the first I heard of it) but I wasn’t at the gig.

    What impact does this stat have on the embittered hipster logic trying to be cobbled together here?

    It’s a great album. When any number of individuals came to that conclusion doesn’t matter. Gonna stick it on now, see if it brings back any memories of the gig I wasn’t at.

  22. Funny, I’m just such a Journey’s End devotee (and to a lesser extent STEA) I never really gave this album the love. Always thought it needed another ‘Heretics Age’ or two on the album…. and then the new era began.

    It’s a rare day I spin this one.

  23. No better time to revisit it 😉

  24. This article was the first I ever heard/read of the album being under-rated; I think it stands head-and-shoulders above the albums either side of it. Maybe it is a matter of perspective in terms of people arriving at the album after getting into the band before or after the TGW?

    After Imrama, it is my second favourite of theirs, and it was my album of the year for 2002. For me, it is/was the culmination of the style, sound and mood they had been building from the demo and first album, along with providing an occasional hint at what was to come.

  25. Ah here! It is most certainly the most underated primo album. Completly overshadowed bt TGW. Even the band themselves are on record as saying its underated among their fans and they were never fully happy with the production and artwork. Solid album though start to finish.

  26. Kieronunsilence Says:

    The issue with the production is down to the engineer and the studio: Mags and Academy studio. Academy has just moved to new premises and had a Pro-Tools set-up. In particular, the guitar was DI-ed through a Line 6 POD and whilst it has a sufficient power, it just sounds artificial. I recorded there just after this and have similar issues with what we did. And it was the same to varying degrees with other bands recording there at that time such as My Dying Bride and Mourning Beloveth.

    The album was released later than January 2002 – towards the summer of that year. It was recorded in January.

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