Friday, 27 April 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Primordial, "Exile Amongst the Ruins"

By: Daniel Jackson

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 30/03/2018
Label: Metal Blade Records

‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’ CD//LP//DD track listing:

1. Nail Their Tongues
2. To Hell or the Hangman
3. Where Lie the Gods
4. Exile Amongst the Ruins
5. Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed
6. Stolen Years
7. Sunken Lungs
8. Last Call

The Review:

Given enough time, any and every band will stumble. Of course, there are degrees and scale to these things. Each fall will come from different heights and will last for different distances. After 25 years of growth and refinement, Primordial were long overdue for something like ‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’. The big picture issues have been covered in a number of places already, but they do ring true: the album is longer than it should be, and the overall feeling is that this was a really good EP stretched into a bloated, clunky full length.

A narrow example of this album’s larger problems lies in one of the album’s singles: “To Hell or the Hangman”. The song is built around a really great song idea. The driving groove that serves as the song’s backbone is a brilliant way for the band to avoid some of the rhythmic tropes the band have been working with over the last 10-15 years. The central guitar idea is every bit as good. It feels unmistakably like Primordial, but places that sound in a new context and it all comes together beautifully. The problem is that the band ride this great idea into the ground, going minutes longer than they should have. Heart’sBarracuda” is an all-time classic, but nobody would listen to it if it were just slight variations of the opening riff, with no break or chorus, for seven-plus minutes. No idea is good enough to withstand that kind of repetition without diminishing returns.

One of the other nagging issues that hurts ‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’ in a general sense is Simon O'Laoghaire’s occasionally uneven performance. I have no idea what happened here. I don’t know if he ventured a tad too far outside his comfort zone, or if there were production issues, but there are specific moments over the course of the album where things just fall apart. It’s particularly noticeable thanks to the album’s natural-but-boxy drum sound. For a frame of reference, the drum sound might be described as a heavier, updated version of the sound on Satyricon’sNemesis Divina’, especially in the kick drums.

For the most part, O'Laoghaire sounds like his strong, feel-oriented self. But a specific example to illustrate where his performance becomes a problem would be “Sunken Lungs”. The song is difficult to get through because O'Laoghaire’s grove-shy and needlessly busy beat choice is made all the more unpalatable by the kick sound. It feels intentional, but it’s difficult to shed the feeling that he’s perpetually late coming in on the downbeat because he’s frantically shoving as many notes as he can into the counts prior to it. If it were a brief section or the intro, you could almost wave it off, but it’s used as the general rhythm structure for the whole song. I normally wouldn’t have spent so much time on this, but O'Laoghaire is usually a drummer I’m excited to hear more of, and some of the choices he’s made on this album are a complete mystery to me.

As I indicated earlier, the story of this album for me is similar to what you might have read elsewhere. There are a ton of good and great ideas here, but some of those ideas get lost in translation, and some are ridden for well past too long. Even when Primordial misfire, the end result is still a largely good album. That’s where the degrees and scale I mentioned earlier come in. When Primordial put out their worst album in more than a decade, it’s because they put out a good-but-not great album. This isn’t ‘Illud Divinum Insanus’ or ‘Cold Lake’. This is Primordial going through some growing pains as they try new things. I have no doubt they’ll get where they mean to go, but the start of this journey is a bit more rough than they might have planned.

‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’ is available digitally copy here and on CD/LP here.

Band info: Facebook