PRIMORDIAL – Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand
I believe the criteria that defines something great is quite different today than it used be, simply due to music evolving to it’s world. The music world, at our end of the scale, has been both blessed and cursed by this evolution in the digital age. Blessed in that people like us who are into niche music such as Metal, Prog and so on are far more loyal to our bands than most of the people who made so many bands gold or platinum selling artists before the advent of downloading and the likes truly took hold.
Let’s take an example situation: A band like Limp Bizkit released “Significant Other” in 2001, which is around the time that the whole issue of downloading was becoming known to most with a passing interest in music. That album sold around fifteen million copies worldwide. Their 2005 album “The Unquestionable Truth (Part 1)” sold around one million. That’s around 7% of their peak sale.
A band like Cannibal Corpse, figures are less available for them, peaked around the time of “The Bleeding” and were probably selling around 200,000 worldwide. These days I think it would be fair to say that they sell around 60,000 to 70,000 worldwide. Maybe that’s even a bit too generous, it’s hard to say. Regardless, that figure is around 30% – 35% of their peak number. Pretty impressive given the comparison, right?
That’s the blessing.
On the flip side, it can be a curse in that many bands who once would have been making a living from their music could not take this hit in sales drops, regardless of how small the amount is by comparison many would simply have been ‘just’ making a living before the drop in their sales. So, what happens then? They go back to working day jobs and set the band back to hobby or part time status? Quit music? Both have happened. However, I believe an unfortunate side effect has been that bands desperate to keep their old income level end up compromising themselves, their music and ultimately their listeners.
Another example: Although not ideal as they surely were never close to needing to go back to day job hell and were in fact quite probably financially secure already, Anthrax are a perfect example. After defining Thrash in the 80’s as part of the big four and then brilliantly reinventing themselves with John Bush in the 90’s, the NY Thrashers have made an unholy show of themselves ever since by taking a perfectly viable musical force that featured a close friend (that man Bush) on vocals and selling everything including their souls for a spot on the reunion bandwagon. They may justify it, however they wish, but the world knows they sold Bush and their long time devotees down the river for the almighty dollar. Beautifully it has backfired on them. Through desperation rather than choice they are now stuck with Belladonna, a man they have had open dislike for, a man with far less capability than Bush (who replaced him) but a man who happens to have been vocalist during their most successful period.
In short, our niche music has always meant a lot more to us than your casual music fan and I think that is why we get so offended when bands we once loved, sell out so blatantly. True, we can be an overly harsh bunch, however we do go that extra mile for our bands so I think we can be given some leeway.
There is one absolute plus of being so critical of the fallen and this is especially where Primordial are relevant (finally, the band the review is about :-). In this day of absolute ‘play it safe’ when there is a band that do what was once not all that strange and actually take risks, big risks in their case when all is considered, then it is the sort of thing that will make you feel that there are still moments when you can truly love this music all over again.
And again, I have to go into ‘blah, blah, blah’ mode but it’s important to understand the background of Primordial’s situation to understand the weight of their situation. Prior to signing to Metalblade, Primordial were selling around 10,000 copies worldwide (bit more actually but for the purposes of simplicity…). Their last album (2007’s “To The Nameless Dead”) sold between 25,000 to 30,000 worldwide. Now if compared to the examples at the start of this review, it shows that this band are an anomaly. More, a complete fucking anomaly in today’s music world.
Their last album was, by their own standards, quite catchy and crowd friendly. It was also their best in my opinion (this is a band I have followed from their first demo), but more to the point it was easily their most successful and this means that everyone from their label, their booking agent, their publishing company…, everyone would have been screaming “more of the same”. That’s simply the way it is. Always has been, I suppose, but more so these days. Far more these days. And therein lies the point I have been coming to all along here – that is exactly what they have not done.
It is incredibly brave. It is commendable. They have also made a better album. Darker, not as catchy, slow burning by comparison, introspective, moody but better.
“Bloodied Yet Unbowed” has been released online, officially, and is a relatively good indicator of the album’s mood. To put it bluntly, a song that is able to embrace both the beauty and the beast that Primordial’s sound represents. Ciáran MacUiliam and Pól MacAmlaigh have long since let the world know that theirs is a song writing style without peer. Since his arrival in 2002 and album appearance since “The Gathering Wilderness” Micheál O’Floinn has easily made the two into three in this rock solid songwriting team.
So it continues here but there is a twist. Songs such as “God’s Old Snake” and “The Black Hundred” add an element that seems new to the Primordial mix yet welcomed. Why welcomed? Well, I had wondered often since it was reported that a new album was in the works just what these guys were going to do. Theirs is a sound that is very well defined and this is their seventh full length release, would they be able to muster another album to match the previous and it’s absolute universal acclaim without new elements? I just found it hard to see how they would be able to bring in new elements to a sound that was already so well formed.
I’ll not bother to try find words to describe what it is they have added, I have neither the vocabulary nor the creative mind for that…, lest to say, it’s something very much less than candy coated even something slightly sinister in feel. Averill’s voice also plays a part in this change as he has tried things definitely new to him on here and it adds a fantastic new element. He is key to so much of Primordial outside the song writing, having always been a fantastic, inspired lyricist and having matured into a fine, fine singer these last years. It is obvious through his various interviews and presence online through the years that his love for all forms of Rock and Metal have never dulled, as is nearly always the case with people. Yet, he still raves about the latest Necros Christos as much as about the newest Iron Maiden. I believe this undiminished love for our scene and all it’s trappings has played a massive role in Primordial’s ever pleasing aesthetic as well as his obvious passion and belief in the words he writes and delivers.
“Mouth Of Judas” is the nearest that the band have come to a ‘ballad’ since their “The Coffin Ships” epic of 2005. Although I feel they may never touch the heights of that particular song again, this is a very close comparison piece. Really quite beautiful in it’s chord progressions and delivery.
In closing, it is worth noting that Simon O’Laoghaire is happily back in the band after a brief period where he was given an enforced leave of absence. Easily overlooked as he is certainly not a drummer to concentrate on flash. On certain tracks, let’s say fist banging future chart hit opener “No Grave Deep Enough” you realise that there is simply no one quite like him out there. “Death Of The Gods” closes things wonderfully. An epic at close to ten minutes, it is probably the song most recognisable as being Primordial in the traditional sense. Great finish to a great album.
Whilst possibly a little too cerebral to repeat the sweeping of the boards success “To The Nameless Dead” achieved in the reviews sections of Europe’s major publications last time around, it is an album that reveals more and more with repeated listens. Isn’t that a trait many albums now seen as classic had when first released?