A.A. Nemtheanga: Vocals
Ciarán MacUilliam: Guitar
Michael O'Floinn: Guitar
Pól MacAmlaigh: Bass
Simon O'Laoghaire: Drums
2018 marks the twenty-seventh year of Primordial's seminal career, and returning with their ninth full-length, Exile Amongst The Ruins, they have lost none of their vitality. Once again building upon their signature sound, the follow up to 2014's Where Greater Men Have Fallen is a more raw, "old school sounding" record than its predecessor. Hitting home with what vocalist A.A. Nemtheanga describes as "a direct energy" and wielding an urgency that is undeniable, the Irish quintet once again effortlessly blend elements of Celtic folk and black metal like no one else. Likewise, the evolution in their sound continues to be organic and unforced, ensuring that Exile Amongst The Ruins is essential listening for both their long term faithful and those only now drawn into their world.
Looking back on Where Greater Men Have Fallen, the members remain understandably proud of the critically acclaimed record and everything they achieved with it. "The songs have stood the test of time," asserts guitarist Ciarán MacUilliam. "Like all bands on the go as long as us with an extensive discography, individual songs sometimes fall by the wayside, especially as they don't get the 'live treatment', but there are eight powerful songs on that album." The band - rounded out by bassist Pól MacAmlaigh, drummer Simon O'Laoghaire and guitarist Micheál O'Floinn - also changed up their manner of working, which only served to fortify both the music and their intent. "We needed to take a different approach in terms of the studio and engineer we used, and we did that, and I think the resulting sound is pretty expansive and lush," states Nemtheanga. "Personally, it was also a step up vocally, and I think it has some of my strongest lyrics. It can be hard to focus entirely eight albums into your career, so it was important to step outside of the bubble and be able to analyze whether we still sound vital and like we mean it. The answer was yes." While the quintet has never entered into the writing process with a "plan" for what they want their next record to be, and prefer to rely on their instincts, their opportunities for writing together prior to entering the studio were particularly limited this time around. According to Nemtheanga, this means that they were less prepared than they had been for any album since 1998's fan favourite, A Journey's End - though this was not necessarily detrimental to the music. "Because we couldn't get together as much as we would have hoped, much of the writing happened at home, and when we first got into the studio, a lot of time was spent honing ideas and structure before a single note was recorded," states MacUiliam. "The songs 'Stolen Years' and 'Last Call' were written entirely at home and were relatively easy to execute, and 'Sunken Lungs' was based on a drum beat Leary came up with, but the rest came about by hard graft." This hard graft, combined with their innate songwriting skills, has evidently paid off, imbuing Exile Amongst The Ruins with the aforementioned urgency and rawness that has been absent from some of their more recent records. At the same time, while their signature sound is intact, they incorporated rhythms that are new to their catalogue and approached some songs from angles that might take fans by surprise. With initial riffs for most of the songs quite "elemental or earthy", each one steadily builds upon a musical theme as they unfurl, without sticking to any kind of formula that dictates either the structure or feel of the finished product. This likewise applies to the lyrical content of the record. "There's no overriding theme on this one, but I've thought a lot about the loss of our ancient European magical systems, the loss of our spirituality and our suicidal headlong journey into amoralism and decadence, which is where the title comes from. I've placed these against the values of The Enlightenment and classical civilization, and the people who want all countries under the yoke of an unelected federalist fiscal, political and cultural hegemony," Nemtheanga states. The feelings behind every song manifest through a variety of tones, moods, and approaches, from the "very simple and elemental" to the vengeful, angry, and spiteful, and the vocalist's poignant lyricism is as engaging and expansive as fans have come to expect. "'Sunken Lungs' is a song about the sea. I was just watching the tide rise around an old sunken wreck and thought somehow it looked like the ribs of a body, so it's about all the lives lost to the sea. The title track is about the end of classical European civilization, as I mentioned above, about the sickness at the heart of European society and our suicidal urge to self-destruct, while 'Stolen Years' is a simple song about preparing for a night out with the ones you love, and the thought it might be for the last time. It's about ageing and losing people."
Teaming with producer Ola Ersfjord, who worked on Primordial's 2016 live album Gods To The Godless and has also overseen releases from the likes of Dead Lord, Tribulation and Nemtheanga's Dread Sovereign, the record was tracked at Dublin's Camelot Studios, located adjacent to their rehearsal room. While this proved very convenient for all concerned, the recording process was anything but easy. "Sessions were good and productive to start, but as we were thinking on our feet for some songs and getting to hear things for the first time, we had to reassess at times, and this caused a bit of tension," says MacUiliam. "Also, we had gaps between recording sessions, so an idea which was good in week one didn't always sound so good in hindsight, and sometimes one person's vision did not match another's, and quarrels would ensue." Nemtheanga notes that the environment in which they tracked Where Greater Men Have Fallen was comfortable for them - based in an old farmhouse in the Irish countryside with time and space from each other, and having a big, open live room available to them. With the circumstances they found themselves in tracking Exile Amongst The Ruins almost the polar opposite, the vocalist feels that "I had to pay for the last one with the stress and darkness surrounding this one. It was fucking hard, cold, nothing worked like it should and it was more or less a total endurance test filled with conflict and discomfort." However, he is quick to note, wryly, that while this adds up to a miserable experience, the results are unequivocally Primordial, and the record ultimately benefitted from the trials faced. "It all adds to making the music what it is - and if it was easy, we'd be a power metal band, right? Strife is life."