Tuesday 9 December 2014

Primordial - Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Album Review)

Album Type: Full-length
Date Released: 25/11/2014
Label: Metal Blade Records

‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’ CD//LP//DD track listing:

01. Where Greater Men Have Fallen
02. Babel's Tower
03. Come the Flood
04. The Seed of Tyrants
05. Ghosts of the Charnel House
06. The Alchemist's Head
07. Born to Night
08. Wield Lightning to Split the Sun

Primoridal is:

A.A. Nemtheanga | Vocals
M. O’Floinn | Guitars
C MacUiliam | Guitars
P. MacAmlaigh | Bass
S. O’Laoghaire | Drums


For over twenty years now, Primordial have been in a perpetual state of refinement. Each album, since their first full-length, 1995’s ‘Imrama’, has built upon and in some way improved upon the album before it. No doubt, some will prefer ‘Imrama’ over ‘Spirit the Earth Aflame’, or ‘To the Nameless Dead’ over ‘Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand’ or any variation thereof throughout their whole discography. The key point is that the metaphorical halls of their twenty-plus year career are flooded with gold from top to bottom.

Primordial are sort of an outlier when compared to some of their mid-90s black metal peers. While they’ve continued to put more distance between each new album and their purer black metal roots, they never really get met with the vitriol that bands following that same trajectory often do. An excellent comparison is Enslaved in that they both had their full-length debuts come within a year of each other, they both started out with black metal heavily influenced by their native culture, and both have put out music consistently ever since.

Where Enslaved—especially in the case of 2000’s ‘Mardraum’—has frequently played with progressive components and enjoyed taking some big risks with their overall sound; Primordial has taken the approach of introducing new elements a bit less chaotically; trying new things more conservatively on each successive album. For Enslaved, those big risks paid off more often than not, but they’ve also served to alienate blocks of their audience (while obviously gaining others) with each major shift. Meanwhile Primordial has continued to improve upon their original formula without straying so far as to be virtually unrecognizable when comparing the debut to their newest. Instead, they came to a clearer definition of their sound with 2007’s ‘To the Nameless Dead’.

It was on that album that one of Primordial’s greatest assets, vocalist A.A. Nemtheanga, began to really hit his stride, with what seemed at the time to be a sudden boost in self-confidence; this coming after an already strong performance on ‘The Gathering Wilderness’. He’s grown into being one of the very few examples of a larger-than-life frontman in an extreme metal band. I’m not sure if it’s the purposeful lack of humanity in black or death metal vocals, or if extreme metal suffers from a shortage of charisma from its vocalists in general, but almost no one commands an album and acts as the true voice of a band the way A.A. Nemtheanga does in 2014.

That brings us to ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’, the band’s eighth studio album. In keeping with their M.O. up to this point, it carves finer detail into, and makes grander everything they’ve done to this point. It’s also more adventurous than they’ve ever been before. Each song has its own distinct personality, perhaps more so than any album in their discography to date. The album’s strongest songs are the ones that open and close the album, but every track is a captivating listen.

The album-opener, which is also the title track, is perhaps the finest example of what you might consider the Primordial sound. It’s instantly-identifiable, without ever sounding stale or rehashed. It also takes almost no time at all to realize that this is easily their best-recorded material to date. A.A. Nemtheanga is better than ever, as his voice scales mountains and drills beneath the earth and hits every point in between. Everything feels alive and wild with a passion and fortitude missing in all but a handful of the best heavy metal has to offer.

That’s not to say the album doesn’t have its out-of-character moments. “The Seed of Tyrants” blasts along at a “Traitors Gate” pace, but it never even comes close to recycling those ideas. The guitars have an almost lingual quality to them, not unlike someone humming to themselves. In some ways, it reminds me of Bölzer in its early minutes, prior to the eventual break when the humming guitars and taut blastbeat gives way to locomotive double kick and hammering snare drum. “The Alchemist’s Head” is also a step outside their comfort zone, oscillating between an atypically dissonant verse and a foreboding, but low key bridge. It’s a song that travels some bleak terrain, both musically and lyrically.

Speaking of which; the lyrics, maybe more so than with any heavy metal band I can think of, play a vital role in Primordial. With A.A. Nemtheanga having such an impassioned delivery and the musical compositions themselves covering so many different emotional tones; it makes ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’ all the more satisfying that the lyrics have meaning and resonance as well. I won’t spend time trying to interpret their meaning or message, but it goes without saying that it’s worth giving this a listen with the lyrics handy so that you get a complete experience with this album.

With all of this in mind; ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’ is one of the great albums of this year. 2014 might very well be remembered as a year where the truly great albums stood well apart from a pack of very good albums. The separation is clear from a quality standpoint and Primordial is strongly in the former category and I’d even go so far as to say, at least as I’m writing this, I’d have ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’ on par with ‘To The Nameless Dead’.

Words by: Daniel Jackson

You can pick up a digital copy here and a CD/LP copy here.

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