Interviews : Primordial
With Alan Nemtheanga
Well-proven veterans in the underground metal scene, Ireland's Primordial returns with a brand new album that surpasses anything the band has done before. The Gathering Wilderness combines tribal fury of Neurosis with epic sounds of Bathory (RIP) to create one truly memorable, emotional ride into Irish history.
A few eyebrows were raised after the band signed to Metal Blade. What happened with Hammerheart/Karmageddon that made you decide to switch labels?
The whole thing basically fell apart and we had reached the end of the line with them. There were so many things wrong and basically we knew if we didn't move, the band would simply be buried and never reach another level.
Speaking of that "other level" what are some of the things you want to accomplish with Metal Blade?
Well, we simply wanted a label where we didn't have to worry that people were not doing their job, you know? Metal Blade is perfect, we don't sound like anyone else on the label, we had a bigger budget and they don't bullshit you promising what they cannot deliver.
But aren't you afraid that you are just another band on the big label? They seem to be more preoccupied with the metalcore crap thats so "hot" these days?
Well, that's the thing, we signed through the German side of it but we had offers from other big labels but we knew on Metal Blade we will stand out.
True; Primordial defintely possesses a unique style. It is also one of the few bands that have remained consistent to its sound for its career, consistently improving on it.
We've put up with a lot of shit from labels and some might say we have never achieved what we deserved, whatever...I dont care to dwell on that, what I do know is that after 15 years nearly we are stronger than ever before.
One of the many things that especially stands out with Primordial are these, for lack of a better word, galloping guitar riffs that sound like a cross between black metal and Viking metal. It is easy to recognize the band from the first listen...
Not Viking metal. We have our own style, we always have. We never simply wanted to sound like Darkthrone or whatever. But we evolved here in Ireland away from the centre of the scene in mainland Europe so I think it helped us. We are an original band.
Absolutely! But if you let me, I would say that one band that Primordial resembles is Bathory (RIP)...
Sure of course, we were influenced by Bathory. Perhaps we sound a little more like them now then on albums like Journey's End.
How has the death of Quorthon affected the band if any?
We were very saddened to hear of it, of course, and it certainly made me view my own mortality and the musical legacy you can leave behind you. I actually played bass and sang in a hastily made Bathory tribute at a festival here only 3 days after he died. He died on Monday, I think, and the following Saturday myself and 4 other guys from Irish bands were onstage at a small festival here playing A Fine Day to Die and some others. That was quite emotional.
Alan, staying with the subject of life and death, and mortality, I may be overreaching a bit, but many of your lyrical creations deal with the subject. Particularly touching is the line towards the end of "Cities Carved in Stone:" "And sometimes I get to thinking of the past when I've had more then a drink or two. And who knows where the days go when you ever want them back, would you ever want them back?"
Yeah sure. I was recording the vocals for the Italian band Void of Silence last year in Rome and was in the city one day and was struck by the thought that no one knew where i was, and that here and now I could walk out on my life. It's that and when I travel I think about things at home and people at home as well, and about people who have come and gone through my life over the years.
Staying with specific songs, I have to ask you about my favorite lyrical line from "Fallen to Ruin," "Father, You Won't Make Me a Martyr."
Well, it was made to sound like a film sample. So we made this storm and added my voice in there to sound like I was crawling up a mountainside in a storm basically.
Well, your vocals sound absolutely perfect there. Unlike many other bands out there, your voice stands out like another instrument. It's such a rarity these days....
I never wanted the vocals to simply be a monotonal noise. I always wanted to use many different voices and thankfully over the years I've been able to do what I wanted to.
Have you done anything in particular to accomplish that?
No, nothing really, I was singing in a covers band for a while doing WASP and Maiden, and that was hard and I think helped me. But thankfully I can do most things I want to within Primordial. WASP...now that's something else!
That just does not sound like a band I would imagine you being into. I just cannot see you singing The Headless Children or something....
Well I'm an old metal head and yeah my favorite bands are like WASP, Manowar, Maiden, Priest, AC/DC. We did "Fuck Like a Beast" [by WASP] and that kind of thing. I like loads of stuff. Right now im listening to Godspeed You Black Emperor.
How do you feel about new wave of bands that try to immitate that sound like Dream Evil, Wolf...?
Ah, it's ok I guess, I don't mind some of them but you can't beat the originals. But these days new albums I'm into have been by Isis, Neurosis, Witchcraft and Cult of Luna.
One of the adjectives I would use to describe the new album is "tribal," in a Through Silver In Blood sort of way.
I guess you could say that yeah.
The music is extremely hypnotizing.
I think we share more then people think with Neurosis and Burzum (especially on "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss"). We use the same droning notes sometimes.
Absolutely, but I think the comparison to Neurosis is especially strong when it comes to the drumming.
Yeah perhaps, our drummer is more into Thin Lizzy and that style of drumming and we often play in odd time signatures: 3/4, 6/8, 11/8, etc...
I see, sticking with Neurosis. I must say that I have been very influenced by their Souls At Zero record. Since I hear some minor resemblences to that record on a song like The Coffin Ships, especially in the beginning, what is your favorite release of theirs?
Actually it's "The Eye of Every Storm" and "Sun That Never Sets." I like the older stuff but the new ones have this melancholy and more song structure, the old ones are more pure release but often just musical crescendos. Still great but I prefer the new albums.
Very intense live band, have you seen them live?
Yeah, a few times, it's unbelievable.
Speaking of playing live, I think Primordial could absolutely shine in a live atmosphere. Your music has the same effect as a band like Neurosis, for example, it pierces the listener throughout with passion and melancholy.
Of course we are well known for being a strong live band in Europe. It's quite the white knuckle ride.
Unlike bands like Cruachan, Irish music does not play such a big role in your music. However, there is a strong pride in your country's history and struggles in your lyrics...
Actually Irish music does play a very big role in the music in the chords and timings. We just use it in a dark and subtle way but it is there.
Sure, but I meant more in the sense that you don't use happy violins and play drinking music...there is a very serious message in the music.
Well, true but a lot of Irish traditional music if mournful and dark as well. Cruachan just choose not to go there but yeah our message is very serious.
One the most tragic happenings in the Irish history is the "potato famine." Since my family is from the Ukraine, a country that lost over 7 million in the artificial famine in the 1930s, I must ask you how has that influenced your lyrics if any?
Well, The Coffin Ships is about exactly that. There is a lot of Irish history in the band. However I had been trying to write a lyric about the famine for years and finally it came out in The Coffin Ships. I didn't want it to be a history lesson, but something more emotive.
Your other project, Void of Silence recently called it quits. What are the reasons for demise?
No we haven't. It was a rash decision pretty much made without telling me; more or less more label shit and some of the guys in the band don't know how to deal with people telling lies. You can expect another album. I wont let bullshit get in the way of that band.
Just like the music have not stagnated, your image has remained fresh. Whats with the bald head now?
Haha. Nothing really just sick of long hair, no big deal.
Still gonna do the whole blood on the white shirt sort of thing live?
Well, you know, I'm never going to stand on a stage in jeans and a t-shirt. For me its all part of the preparation, the ritualistic aspect of it. Also the metal tradition and theatre of it all.
You have been a part of bands that are completely underrated and underappreciated yet you have remained in the music scene for almost a decade. What are some lessons you have learned from being a musician?
That most people start off with the best intentions and say they are never going to be another rip off label like such and such but as soon as the money starts coming in people change and you and the band are going to be last. I've learned so much legal stuff over the last few years its not funny. Apart from that I've learned about the industry as a whole but rather then let it grind me down its made me stronger in my resolve to let nothing stand in my way. And also most importantly to never compromise.