A shining beacon for pagan metal…
Review by Paul Castles
Release date: 24 November 2014
Anyone with a little Christmas cash burning a hole in their pocket could do worse than snap up a copy of Where Greater Men Have Fallen, which was actually released just before the decorations started to go up. Primordial have been a shining beacon for pagan metal for many years, often lighting up the path for others to walk down. And in AA Nemtheanga they have one of the most charismatic metal frontmen around.
When a few years ago their Bloodstock spot was effectively ruined by Nemtheanga suddenly being struck dumb, rather than shy away, he proceeded to mouth the words to the sympathetic throng and kind of conducted them along through a succession of inspirational rabble rousing songs. Fortunately this year’s return to Catton Park was a more straightforward affair with Nemtheanga in great voice and Primordial proceeded to deliver one of the most enjoyable sets of the whole festival.
Primordial don’t simply write songs. They pen weighty tomes of earthy substance. Their material has to be consumed whole rather than nibbled at around the fraying edges. And that’s certainly the case with most of the majestic material contained on their latest barnstorming album Where Greater Men Have Fallen. Ireland has a proud tradition of supplying extraordinary storytellers, whether it’s Joyce or Behan or MacGowan. Nemtheanga should not be embarrassed to be mentioned in their company.
This album – the band’s eighth – opens with the title track marching to a military beat. Nemtheanga barks out rally calls with old values at their core such as honour, passion and loyalty. The rhythms are sufficiently strong to send even the most nervous rookie headlong into battle, with courage almost bursting through his uniform. The pulsating opener is followed by the much darker and more deliberate ‘Babel’s Tower’. Although far from doom-laden, it is certainly a more thoughtful and considered offering from the Gallic veterans.
Most of the tracks are sweeping pieces played out intricately across seven or eight mercurial minutes. The fear and horror immersed on ‘Come the Flood’ is painfully etched across Nemtheanga’s strained vocals. As the track builds in tension the pounding drum beat of Simon O’Laoghaire quickens in intensity. In keeping with the song’s title, you almost feel as though you’re going to be swept out to sea as the guitars crash down around your ears like waves. A typically abrasive cry of “Traitor!” launches the album’s most fevered, and shortest track, ‘The Seed of Tyrants’ – although it still passes through the five-minute barrier. The aggressive atmosphere has a definite Norse black metal feel which is legitimate as Primordial’s early material did contain elements of this before they adopted a more native Celtic approach.
A Primordial song tends to carry a certain thread and vibe that enable you to feel the hand of Nemtheanga within the first few chords. That though isn’t the case with ‘The Alchemist’s Head’ which sits slightly incongruously amongst the other seven tracks. It just seems to lack some of the clarity and energy of Primordial’s usual work with the slightly ponderous tempo lacking direction with Nemtheanga’s ramblings struggling to make the impact he usually achieves. The album does end – as it started – on a high with the sprawling ‘Wield Lightning to Split the Sun’, a captivating mid tempo masterpiece that eats you whole and will surely prove a favourite when the Irishmen do the round of European festivals next summer. The only downer is that their three-date UK visit in February has annoyingly failed to include a Midlands date.
8 out of 10
- Where Greater Men Have Fallen
- Babel’s Tower
- Come the Flood
- The Seed of Tyrants
- Ghosts of the Charnel House
- The Alchemist’s Head
- Born to Night
- Wield Lightning to Split the Sun