Originally written by Jordan Campbell
Album number seven: Most bands limp to this landmark, bleeding and barely breathing, as their longtime fans silently beg for a mercy kill. Not Primordial.
After hitting a stride with 2000’s Spirit the Earth Aflame, this Irish collective went on to perfect their craft on their initial offerings for Metal Blade: the suffocatingly grey Gathering Wilderness, and the electrifying, inspiring To The Nameless Dead. Now, they’ve been charged with crafting a follow-up to consecutive career highlights. A daunting task, assuredly. Lesser acts would desperately grasp backwards, retracing steps in search of former glories. For Primordial, however, there is no glory. Only resilience. That resilience is the crucial element in which Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand has been so indomitably cast.
Stylistically, Redemption splits the difference between the aforementioned dual opuses. The barnstorming bile-burners of Nameless punctuateRedemption‘s first half, while Wilderness-style introspection encapsulates the latter. (A burly pair of pace-changers, “God’s Old Snake” and “The Black Hundred,” pock the album’s midsection, failing to conjure much in the way of fireworks. These are rare unfocused moments, but the latter track steals some value with a subtle nod to The Ruins of Beverast and a circle-jigging coda.) Thus, it’s a tale of two facets. Primordial is confidently exploring the strongest aspects of their repertoire, culminating in some of their most clearheaded and focused songcraft to date.
Primordial is at their best when not only somber (as this perpetually-greyscaled group tends to be), but also seething. Their moments of clenched intensity not only allow drummer Simon O’Laoghaire to exert his will–a defining aspect of the band’s lean-on-the-riff approach–but they bring out the best in A.A. Nemtheanga’s soul-stirring roar. And that’s really what we’re buying the ticket for, is it not? To hear one of the few clean vocalists still standing practice his craft? His delivery on Redemption–wholly unique, horrifyingly impassioned, and ultimately inspiring–has never been more impressive. His lyrics and storytelling are the reasons whyPrimordial‘s name will remain spoken long after the empire is reduced to rubble.
Nemtheanga’s turns of phrase bring typical tales of metallic solidarity and world-weary wandering into hallowed territory on “Bloodied Yet Unbowed.” His tortured contemplation on the rhythmically brilliant “Lain With the Wolf” molds it into one the band’s mightiest offerings. And his old-school rabblerousing on opener “No Grave Deep Enough” is enough to evict the dead from their slumber.
Flipping the coin, when the band globs on the gloom, they’re equally potent. “The Puritan’s Hand,” powered by Pól MacAmlaigh’s thunderous rumblings, begins in markedly bleak fashion. As the pace quickens, Nemtheanga’s furnace reaches a boil, and the track morphs into a driving anthem for the ages. Here, the band’s subtly streamlined approach truly shines. Where past epics like “Sons of the Morrigan,” “Gods to the Godless,” and “Cities Carved in Stone” lacked nothing in terms of potency, their immediacy is comparatively tempered when contrasted with Redemption‘s near-dessicated purity. Primordial‘s latest conjured fog isn’t as grossly oppressive as those of the past; crepuscular rays poke persistently. These songs breathe.
This cardiovascular fortitude makes Primordial the most vital heavy metal band on the planet today. By design, they are not slaves to convention or rigid aestheticism. No conventions of subgenre must be heeded, and there are no peers with which to compete. Their very existence is based on outright rejection of the traditional metallic ethos–thou shalt worship the riff!–in favor of lyrical potence and stark individualism, the latter of which should rightfully be the truest of our beloved genre’s tenets. Thus, quite paradoxically, Primordial is a folk entity first, a metal band second–take a listen or twelve to “The Mouth of Judas”–and yet remain the closest thing heavy metal has to a standard-bearer in 2011.
Seven albums, and no signs of slowing. No regrets. No remorse. All hail Primordial.