For the last ten years, Primordial have ploughed a lengthy, earthen furrow that is most definitely their own. The triumph of 2005’s The Gathering Wilderness and 2011’s Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand gave major legs to Nemtheanga and co.’s let’s-keep-it-long approach, and with this methodology firmly established, the Irishmen present album number nine, Exile Amongst The Ruins.
Opening with ‘Nail Their Tongues’, Primordial sound a little uncomfortable. Nowhere near as grand as 2014’s Where Greater Men Have Fallen, there’s a genuine discomfort that hangs above the tracks like a noose, out of sight but threateningly perceived. The worst offenders here are the endless build of ‘To Hell Or The Hangman’ – which goes nowhere at all – and the title track, where the band sound like they’re just trying to get through it.
Primordial have always been an easy band to like – they’re very human, and the potent frailty on display during tracks like ‘Stolen Years’ is both affecting and quite genuine. A paean to the notion that there will be a last time you will see any given person, it feels extremely personal despite that notions’ reach. ‘Where Lie The Gods’ is as huge as the title suggests, a glacial monument of a track that seems to suit our troubled protagonists, but there’s little joy in the proceedings.
That’s the thing, Exile Amongst The Ruins feels like it was a task rather than a cathartic experience, and while there are some welcome deviations from the Primordial canon, it doesn’t sound like the band are enjoying themselves. This is a great shame, as few stand as proud on the peaty headland occupied by these five musicians; fewer still have the ability to deliver an album like this with the focus on clean vocals. Nemtheanga especially sounds like he’s trying to beat the experience with power alone, and this record holds some of his highest, most powerful takes, but the nagging discomfort and uncertainty that permeates the performances as a whole waters down any such accomplishments.
Any band that’s nine full albums in is going to birth the odd turkey, but Exile Amongst The Ruins is not a corn-fed disaster. It comes across as a record which, had it been given a bit more time and sensible pruning, could have been shaped into something pretty sturdy. As it stands, this isn’t up to Primordial’s capable standards, something it gives this writer no joy to report. Náire mór.
Exile Amongst The Ruins is out now via Metal Blade. Purchase here.
Words: John Tron Davidson