Exile Among the Ruins by Primordial

Release date: March 30, 2018
Label: Metal Blade Records

Primordial have been around for 25 years, and this is their ninth studio album. I’ve only become aware of them in recent months, however, much to my regret, as I now count myself as a fan. Primordial play nuanced black metal with strong influences from their native Ireland and Celtic folklore (the band’s logo is written in uncial script, giving their artwork a very Celtic look). Their earlier material was harsher and more black metal and listening to their back catalogue shows me that Exile Among the Ruins is a honed, less harsh, more controlled version of Primordial than has gone before. The vocals are clear and the lyrics audible (yeah, I know) and when songwriter and vocalist A.A. Nemtheanga does choose to add a blackened rasp to his voice it is with amazing effect, because it drives home the message with menace. For subject matter these guys are concerned with epic, timeless, spiritual matters. Not for them the day-to-day meddlings of us monkeys, but age-old questions of creation, spirituality and – above all – darkness. “If you are a son of Adam, I am the wrath of Cain” A.A. sings on bombastic opener ‘Nail Their Tongues’, giving the impression of dealings with ancient gods and humanity’s battle for a place in the universe.

‘Nail Their Tongues’ is, I have to say, my favourite metal track of 2018 by a mile: it is the perfect embodiment of heavy metal and all that I love about it. Huge, expansive, melodic, heavy, thundering and portentous, A.A. sings at the sky, demanding an answer, and when he breaks into that rasping growl halfway through it sends shivers up the spine. Buy the album for this track alone, you won’t be disappointed.

The thunder and momentum is kept up in a few subsequent tracks but on the whole the rest of the album is more of a slow burn. Second track ‘To Hell or the Hangman’ has a rollicking rhythm and infectious guitar hook that bowls along like a goth rock anthem as would befit Field of the Nephilim or Sisters of Mercy. But elsewhere more paced, measured tracks, such as ‘Where Lie the Gods’ and even title track ‘Exile…’, with its rumbling guitar line, take longer to build, releasing their treasures over repeated listens rather than hitting you in the face on first meeting. The lamenting ‘Stolen Years’ is particularly contemplative, while closer ‘Last Call’ builds wonderfully over 10 minutes, using melody and rumbling heaviness to reach a crescendo finish.

On first impressions Exile Among the Ruins felt front-loaded: the impact of the first track is so great that the rest felt like a downward spiral. But the marvels of the remainder of the album just take longer to unfold, that’s all. It’s a very strong album that will endure precisely because of this lack of immediacy. This is a masterful album produced by musicians who have honed their craft over more than two decades. Highly recommended.

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