PICK OF THE WEEK: Primordial’s ‘Where Greater Men…’ bursts with fire-breathing conviction

PrimordialThere are iconic voices that have made their mark throughout heavy metal history and that can be name-dropped easily when rattling them off the top of one’s head. Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, and Geoff Tate are some of those who drove metal to where it is today and are instantly recognizable when you hear them.

We don’t have a whole lot of those voices today, as sounds have homogenized, the amount of artists has grown out of control, and the art of actual signing in metal has gone by the wayside. But one singer stands out among today’s sea of voices, that being Alan “A.A. Nemtheanga” Averill, frontman for Primordial. Maybe I’m going to sound over the top here, but he is one of the greatest voices of our time, a man who injects power, anger, tenacity, rebellion, and sorrow into every one of his lines, and he’s never uttered a word that wasn’t packed to the gills with meaning. Yes, he’s also lent his voice to other bands such as Blood Revolt, Twilight of the Gods, and Dread Sovereign, but in Primordial is where he sounds most at home. The band is back with their excellent new record “Where Greater Men Have Fallen,” another collection that unearths violent history, casts arrows at the forces of society that hold us back and persecute us, and leads the way with raised swords and torches ablaze. They are Ireland’s greatest musical import. And they would never force their way onto your iPhones.

Inlaysheet.epsThe new record, their eighth and first since 2011’s wrenching “Redemption at the Puritan’s Hands,” is awash in both Primordial’s most recent sounds but also reaches back to their earlier days, when they were more of a black metal band. A lot of that thorniness lies in Averill’s vocals that show harshness on a couple of songs he hasn’t displayed here in a while. The rest of the band–guitarists Ciaran MacUiliam and Michael O’Floinn, bassist Pol MacAmlaigh, and drummer Simon O’ Laoghaire–also are at their best, providing color, texture, animosity, and metallic glory to supplement Averill’s heritage-laden, war-torn tales that make you realize that while others often forget their history, these guys never do and never will. It’s in their blood.

The title track is the opening opus, and what a rousing welcome it is. The music gets warmed up, like a fire catching wind, and once Averill howls, “Go!” it’s off with hammers away. The singing and lyrics grip, especially when Averill demands, “Pray for mercy for release,” as the rest of the band drums up a backing as boisterous as the words. The band does an expert job building toward the finale, and Averill delivers a time-wearied message of, “You will always bury your sons,” digging back into that adage of never learning from history. The next two cuts offer a bit of a pullback, though they’re both intense in their own ways. “Babel’s Tower” is a calculated, cold-blooded cut, with the guitars churning, sorrowful vocals soaring, and the whole thing dripping in black drama. “Come the Flood” has guitars raining down like needles, with Averill taking on the role of storyteller, recounting “1,000 years of rain” while he stalks and unleashes foreboding messages. “Wash the blood from these lands,” he urges, as acoustics guitars rise up and add a rustic feel to what’s otherwise a gory tale. “The Seed of Tyrants” is one of those aforementioned callbacks to their earlier days, as you’re jarred awake by the shouted accusation of, “Traitor!” as the band delves into black metal stylings and some of the grislier music they’ve offered up in years. The music is hammering and vicious, the vocals flood with violent intent, and just when you’re in the midst of chaos, the track releases suddenly.

“Ghosts of Charnel House” is kicked open with punishing drums and a devious groove that thrashes away and lets the guys get loose. The riffs are spacious and atmospheric, a nice touch from the band, and there is melody just flooding everywhere. Averill sings heartily with a touch of gruffness to his voice, though he bellows mightily in spots, and for the most part this is a more reflective track. “The Alchemist’s Head” has a clean, cold open before vicious growls and waves of menace take over. Things feel ominous, with a touch of storminess dressing the music, and the bulk of this thing is like being trapped on a boat out at sea, with gusty winds and rains threatening your very survival. The abrupt end is the only thing that makes you feel remotely safe. “Born to Night” continues that sense of danger on the waters, with thunder and waves crashing, and the long, involved intro sets the scene. Of course, the things bursts open, with tremendous, meaty riffs leading the way, and Averill spitting, “You gaze into the abyss, and it gazes back at you.” Once again, he’s luring you into his bleak tales, with the band creating a backing that is just as compelling as the words coming from our minstrel. Closer “Wield Lightning to Split the Sun” has a lush acoustic intro, with the drums joining to kick up dust and the melodies sounding downright kingly. As expected, the emotion is gushing from the guys, as Averill pokes tradition and pays homage to his surroundings, wailing, “Who would pray to anything but the mountains?” The guitars weep in spots, glow over the din in other places, and the song winds to a deliberate end, letting the music and the words geminate and hopefully take root in your mind and heart.

Primordial remain one of the most important bands in all of metal, and they also are one of the most battle tested and honest. These guys will never mail one in, because it’s just not in their DNA. As a result, “Where Greater Men Have Fallen” is another record bursting with passion, emotion, and conviction, and if you wanted to argue it’s one of the best of their entire run, you won’t get an argument out of me. We need more bands like this, more singers like Averill. If we got them, the metal world would be a much better place.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.primordialweb.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords

For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/us/

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