P is for Primordial
To the Nameless Dead
Metal Blade Records, 2007
There’s about 50 seconds of calm, before the storm hits, and A.A. Nemtheanga howls “A cold wind is blowing.” And so begins To the Nameless Dead, just one of the many flat-out fantastic records in the Dublin-based band’s catalog. Primordial have been around long enough and have such a distinct sound that they can be difficult to classify. There’s a definite black metal feel, and Nemtheanga has that blackened rasp down. There’s an epic, doomy feel as well. Excluding instrumental interlude “The Rising Tide,” not one song on To the Nameless Dead is shorter than five minutes. And Nemtheanga’s voice is melodic, yet haunting, enough to sound fit for the genre. In fact, he also sings in the band Dread Sovereign, who have old-school doom down pat. Then there’s the part that falls into folk metal, owing to their homage in their native Ireland in lyrics and melodies. Whatever you want to call them, Primordial are definitely their own, distinct beast. And they know that and they have it perfected.
The epic “Heathen Tribes” is probably one of the best summations of Primordial you could get. There’s a folksy, near acoustic, guitar tone, which continues even after the heavier hammer drops. Nemtheanga sings his epic odes over it, alternating between lines of calm and storm. That folksy guitar tone gets an interlude and then the song sprawls into homages to ancient, heathen Europe. “From the frozen Baltic / I watched sunrise over Athena.” Nemtheanga sounds like he’s pouring his heart out most of the time, but there’s a stronger emotion here. Ultimately, it honors their Irish homeland: “Yet when to Ireland we return / I know that I am home at last.” “As Rome Burns” follows a similar build-up, with its rhythmic “sing to the slaves, that Rome burns” chant, before Nemtheanga’s rage explodes. And the blasting drums in “Traitors Gate” are intense enough to rival any trve kvlt black metal. Combined with lines like “All the world proclaiming / Yesterday's man as Traitor / Yet welcome with open arms / His brother as tomorrows Dictator,” done in Nemtheanga’s haunting shrieks makes for a very intense, and somewhat uncomfortable listen. Until you realize how fucking amazing every song on here is.
When I lived in Albany, I made the four hour out drive out to Rochester to see Primordial headline in 2012. I’d seen them once before, in 2009, but as they come across the Atlantic so rarely, their shows are not to be missed. They are one of the best bands I’ve seen live, and Nemtheanga, in addition to having one of the best voices in metal, is one of the best fronts to a band I’ve ever seen. He has an intensity that just draws your involvement into the show. There’s so much emotion poured into every word he sings, or shrieks. Watch them live in Dublin below. And be sure to check out To the Nameless Dead. It is easily not only one of my favorite metal records, but favorite records of any genre. There’s not a bad song on it. Hell, there’s not even a mediocre song on it. It’s very deserving of being a classic.