Primordial, "The Gathering Wilderness"
Primordial struck gold with their 2002 release, "Storm Before Calm" and its stunning blend of charred black metal and pagan/Celtic tribalism. To say that they had quite a task ahead of themselves when faced with following up a near-masterpiece would be an understatement and I was more than a little anxious to hear their latest opus, "The Gathering Wilderness."
On first listen, the album falls flat. The riffs are there, but it almost feels as though the entire album is one long song. The tempos rarely change, the meter is almost entirely in 12/8 (think Bathory/Viking horse gallop rhythms) and it seems as if Primordial is just going through the motions, writing what they know and not bothering to invent anything new.
Then I listened again, and the second time through the songs began to differentiate themselves. The subtleties became more obvious and I noticed things like how perfectly the instruments sit in the mix, how beautifully overdriven the guitars are, how effortlessly the songs rise and fall, etc., etc. The ritualistic pagan beats began to give off a trance-like Celtic vibe and a feeling of paranoid intensity grew as the sun went down. I started noticing details like the shuffling snare work halfway through "Song of the Tomb" and the quiet chanting that haunts "The Golden Spiral". The melodies buried in the guitar chords started to reveal themselves, the epic lengths of the songs feel shorter and the album bloomed...
From there out, every listen has been better. Every time I put this album on, I hear something new. A drum fill that I missed, a clever bit of song arrangement or an insightful line of lyric. The mix is focused much more on the drums and vocals than before, but in the end it all works because everything works to compliment the songs. The album is a textbook example of how to play for the song. Yes, the overall vibe of "The Gathering Wilderness" is one of brooding intensity and less overtly m/etal than "Storm Before Calm", but in doing so, Primordial have separated themselves from the likes of Amon Amarth (who sound positively cartooonish in comparison, and I love Amon Amarth!) and moved closer to the purity and realism of bands like Neurosis and Cult of Luna. It's a smart move and one that will likely be applauded on many Best of 2005 lists in a few months' time.