For decades now, Ireland’s Primordial have released consistently excellent albums. Their past three: To the Nameless Dead, Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand and Where Greater Men Have Fallen, have all ranked among my favorites of their release years.
The band’s blend of melancholic black metal and Irish folk, combined with vocalist Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill’s unique delivery, make for some deeply engaging listening experiences. To say my expectations for Exile Amongst the Ruins were sky-high would be putting it mildly.
The album certainly starts off on the right foot. “Nail Their Tongues” is a classic Primordial opening cut, rife with blast beats, ebbs and flows, and Averill alternating between crazed bard and demonic black metal vocals. Side note: I’ve always felt that of any band out there, Primordial should be guesting on Game of Thrones, not Mastodon. Averill would be the ultimate bard for House Greyjoy.
“To Hell or the Hangman,” the second track, is the standout song on Exile Amongst the Ruins. It features the same riff for all seven minutes, but with a fantastic arrangement and excellent lyrical story (essentially about the origin of the term “lynch mob”). It’s the kind of song U2 could write if they were pagan metalheads instead of tax-evading pop stars, and is one of my favorite songs of the year. Once again, Averill steals the show with a fantastic vocal, although drummer Simon O’Laoghaire comes close to matching his intensity. O’Laoghaire continues to be one of metal’s most underrated drummers.
Averill and O’Laoghaire certainly command the stage with their performances on this album, and in fact Averill’s lyrics and delivery of them are excellent – possibly his best. The two songs above, along with the title track and “Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed,” will stand the test of time in Primordial’s vast catalog. But on Exile Amongst the Ruins, that’s as far as the band takes things.
Averill has commented that the recording and writing of Exile Amongst the Ruins was rife with stress, tension, and issues, and it truly shows, especially in the tedious second half of the album. While the style and structure of Primordial’s songs have not changed significantly, the final cuts on this album, including “Stolen Years” and “Last Call,” are the sounds of a band that is just plain old weary, rather than battle-weary. A feeling of nonchalance permeates these songs, leading us to believe the band just wanted to get the recording sessions over with.
Exile Amongst the Ruins was one of the albums I was most looking forward to this year, and its arrival has proven to be somewhat of a letdown. There are still a number of excellent songs here, but far too much disappointing content. After more than a month of listening, I find myself skipping almost all of the second half of the album, which is never a good thing. Here’s hoping that whatever travails the band was forced to overcome during the creation of this album can be put behind them, and they can once again focus on the excellence we know them for.
(released March 30, 2018 on Metal Blade Records)
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Watch Primordial – “To Hell Or The Hangman” Video