I’m sure by now you all know about Angry Metal Guy‘s Law of Diminishing Recordings. In short form, your favorite band is going to eventually suck because they’ll either run their ideas to the ground, or they’ll change and you’ll want to kill them for it. Take Ireland’s pagan sons Primordial, for instance. Since 1998’s underrated A Journey’s End, they’ve been on an incredibly sharp musical incline that peaked with 2007’s unfuckwithable To The Nameless Dead, an album that I hold near and dear to my heart. 2011’s Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand came out and… it definitely did not come close to reaching the valiant highs of its predecessor, despite still being a good album in its own right. So I’m left with the daunting task of reviewing their newest, Where Greater Men Have Fallen, being fully aware of this fact. Thankfully, I’m happy to report that Redemption was a misstep, because Where Greater Men Have Fallen contains some of the best work Primordial have ever put to record.
When the gallop of the title track kicks in, you can’t help but bang your head, pump your fist, and absorb the feeling of pride as the band marches forth, with guitarists Ciáran MacUiliam and Micheál O’Floinn in perfect lockstep with drummer Simon O’Laoghaire’s military beat. As the song continues on, it exemplifies what Primordial is about: unbridled passion and focus. Once again, though, despite the level of musicianship in the band, it’s A. A. Nemtheanga’s passionate singing that elevates this song, and Primordial as a collective, to the level of feverish worship. Every word is sung and screamed as if his life was truly at an end, sounding both reflective and compassionate all at once, and it’s successful yet again at turning each song he performs on into a convincing rallying cry.
If, like me, you love the moodier side of Primordial, don’t panic, as that’s represented quite well here also. The morose funeral march “Babel’s Tower” lurches solemnly with Pól MacAmlaigh’s thick bass lines, one of Nemtheanga’s best screams at 3:57, and a tastefully performed guitar solo at the end. Closer “Wield Lightning to Split The Sun” leans heavily on their acoustic roots, featuring a beautiful chord structure with O’Laoghaire’s simple yet highly effective tribal drumming. On the flip side of things, “The Seed of Tyrants” harkens back to their earlier blackened days, with some amazing chorded tremolo and blasts. Regardless of tempo or mood, though, Nemtheanga’s passionate cries are what people flock to when mentioning Primordial, and yet again, he doesn’t disappoint. “The Alchemist’s Head” even brings back his old blackened rasp from the Imrama days, but despite the return of Nemtheanga’s throaty screams, it’s easily the weakest song on the entire album. No matter how many times I play it, it still feels very confused and disjointed, two words I would never imagine using when describing a Primordial song. In fact, when I made the playlist on my computer and omitted this song entirely, my enjoyment of the album amplified. Had this song been left off, Where Greater Men Have Fallen would probably receive a perfect score.
The production by Jaime Gomez Arellano brings a sense of warmth to Where Greater Men Have Fallen. The drums especially sound powerful and driving, the guitars are teeming with life, and the bass is audible and punchy. The songwriting, despite “The Alchemist’s Head,” has rarely been stronger, though, as we are seeing a band reaching the same lofty heights attained by their frontman, who is easily one of the most dynamic vocalists and lyricists of our time. This is a welcome return to form if there ever was one.
With great pleasure, I can say that Primordial have definitely side-stepped the Law of Diminishing Recordings and have brought forth a powerful album worthy of the band’s heritage. Though not quite the same level as To The Nameless Dead, it easily sits alongside that album’s predecessor, The Gathering Wilderness, in terms of rank and file. Once again, my Top Ten(ish) list is in need of a reorganization, and this is a great album to end the year to.