Primordial, "To the Nameless Dead"
Primordial is a name that has long been celebrated in folk/pagan metal circles, but only with 2005’s ‘The Gathering Wilderness’, their first release on Metal Blade Records, did they really receive international attention. They met the challenge unfazed, enjoyed positive feedback from all quarters, and in ’07 delivered their follow-up, ‘To The Nameless Dead’. So far, the only negative commentary about the album (that this reviewer has seen) has been limited to secondhand—‘oh, my friend doesn’t like them’, ‘they’re one of those love/hate bands…but I love them’. And so, Primordial’s honeymoon affair with the mainstream continues unchecked with no end in sight.
Nor should there be. Over their long career, Primordial have been a defining and independent voice in the genre, always present, but never a full member of any movement or clique of bands. Even as folk-influenced metal has gained popularity in recent years, Primordial stands apart from the heavy-handed, party favor atmosphere that have taken some of its acts to stardom. A.A. Nemtheanga and his band have a connection to their roots and spiritual core too austere to co-opt for the sake of rock ‘n’ roll. Indeed, Primordial is still a band, and a heavy metal one at that, but ‘To The Nameless Dead’ is far from escapism or glamour. As its title suggests, this is a remembrance, a memorial to our forebears and the spirit of sacrifice.
In fact, ‘To The Nameless Dead’ is an immersive experience on all fronts, from the lyrics to liner notes to the imagery and the music itself, sweeping up the listener like the bracing wind and holding fast for its 55-minute duration.
The most defining element of Primordial is the voice of Nemtheanga, which is as strong as ever on ‘To The Nameless Dead’. Much like the band itself, his vocals are an unclassifiable hybrid of clean and harsh singing with semi-spoken narration and occasional blackened rasps. Of these styles, the black metal vocals are technically the most accomplished, but judging any by traditional means does an injustice to the man and his mission. With his vocals and lyrics, Nemtheanga is the emotional core of Primordial—indeed seeming to be one of the most deeply contemplative men in all the genre—and if his voice isn’t always perfectly in tune, so be it. Primordial’s music and Nemtheanga’s voice have improved in kind over the years, now richer and more mature than in years past, and his emotiveness and unique lines more than make up for what flaws can be heard.
Primordial’s songwriting and instrumentation also manage to achieve distinction without any particularly remarkable technical feats. Most songs are characterized by a modest handful of driving riffs that rely on frequent note repetition and descending patterns, often played with the same few strumming patterns. This can’t be considered much of a fault, though, since they folk-inspired (as are most Western patterns, admittedly) and are all are very effective in evoking a grand and desolate melancholy so characteristic of the band. Drummer Simon O'Laoghaire deserves particular mention for his efforts, putting in an excellent performance that, on an album with little rhythmic variation, achieves great dynamics through resounding tom tattoos, syncopation, and a snappish blast when called for.
And even though nearly every song on ‘To The Nameless Dead’ could classify as an epic, Primordial manage them all quite handily. Only the slow ‘Gallows Hymn’ lacks a strong forward momentum, but this is only apropos, given its contemplative nature. Other tracks, such as the lead single ‘Empire Falls’ or the fierce ‘Traitor’s Gate’ have an immediacy that belies their length, and the album plays through with vigor. From the first spin, the listener is left with heart pounding and emotions stirred; soon enough thereafter, he is eager to take up arms, apply the woad, and heed the call of Primordial’s banner.