Over a month after its release, we finally sit back and take a good, hard look at Exile Amongst the Ruins, the ninth album by Irish black/pagan ensemble Primordial. Was it worth the long wait?
There is an ancient Chinese proverb which states that there is no such thing as a bad Primordial album. Or perhaps a wise man just said it once. The Irish band’s eighth album Where Greater Men Have Fallen, released in 2014, was definitely not a bad album, but for me personally it does, especially in hindsight, feel like the first time that Primordial’s music felt aimless, and as far as I’m concerned it’s one of their weaker efforts. Besides Babel’s Tower, I can’t seem to recall any of the album’s songs, and that’s usually not a good sign. Good thing then that the band seems to have recaptured themselves on this year’s Exile Amongst the Ruins.
Exile opens with Nail Their Tongues, a more subdued album starter than we’re used to from the Irishmen. Less of a call to arms than usual, the song still draws you into the album the way a good opening track should. Two minutes in, when the chorus hits and Averill wails Oh Luther, did you know you were able / To pierce the tongues of liars? you will be drawn into the album proper and its ride to the last moments of Last Call. The second track, To Hell or the Hangman boasts a spectacular main riff (the best of the album, in fact), around which the entire song is based. It’s more up-tempo and in your face than we’ve heard Primordial thus far, but the way the song gallops on for seven minutes whilst building up energy until it almost bursts is magnificent. It’s a testament to Primordial’s musicianship that they are able to regurgitate the exact same riff for over seven minutes and are still able to captivate.
Where Lie the Gods descends back into a more sombre atmosphere and restrained pace the band so excels at, just like the following title track. Both dark and moody, they benefit from a restrained performance and Averill’s captivating vocal work where, on the fantastic Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed, he goes all out in its apotheosis. There aren’t many vocalists like Averill who are able to effortlessly put so much pathos in their voice. The way he belts out lines like Your foolish heart / It poisons the well is utterly breathtaking, and makes this a standout track.
Clocking in at five minutes and fifteen seconds, Stolen Years is the shortest song on the record, as well as the least typical Primordial track of the lot. Slow and brooding, it’s a contemplative semi-ballad that is as short as it is haunting. Initially, I thought it was a strange choice to release this as the album’s first track, but it has grown on me and works wonders between the percussive rage of Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed and Sunken Lungs, like a calm between storms. Exile ends with the frantic Sunken Lungs, on which Simon O’Laoghaire’s drumming steals the show, and the long and foreboding Last Call, which runs a little over ten minutes before the curtain closes.
Let us hope that this curtain does not remain closed for another four years, because after Where Greater Men Have Fallen, Exile Amongst the Ruins is a massive return to form for these Irish pagan metallers. As a whole, Exile works better as a complete and cohesive album than its predecessor did, and even though it clocks well over an hour, it never feels overlong. It’s still early days and the album’s too fresh to already declare it Primordial’s best, and chances are that The Gathering Wilderness and To the Nameless Dead still wins out in the end, but it’s very close. If anything, Primordial has released a serious contender for the album of the year spot.
Label: Metal Blade, 2018
- Nail Their Tongues (09:00)
- To Hell or the Hangman (07:16)
- Where Lie the Gods (09:11)
- Exile Amongst the Ruins (07:59)
- Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed (08:28)
- Stolen Years (05:15)
- Sunken Lungs (07:52)
- Last Call (10:32)
- Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill – vocals
- Ciarán MacUilliam – guitar
- Michael O’Floinn – guitar
- Pól MacAmlaigh – bass
- Simon O’Laoghaire – drums
Review by Ralph Plug