Primordial: Staring death in the eyes

We’re all going to die. There, feel better?

But seriously, we will. No matter if that involves some awful disease, an accident, murder, old age, or at one’s own hand, we all will face our demise. And that’s not a very pleasing thought, to be honest, but it’s an inevitability we all face. Some people choose to dwell on this fact (I’ve been known to do this from time to time) while others park it in the back of their minds until they absolutely must face what they know to be true. People say the only things that are certain are death and taxes, but many people avoid taxes for years. No one avoids death.

So it is with Primordial’s seventh record, the interestingly titled “Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand,” that the Irish black/folk metal warriors face the facts. This plane of existence is temporary and fragile, and there’s no assurance of an afterlife. So how does one navigate through life, knowing no matter what one does and how one chooses to act, one day the lights will turn out? Even the eight songs on this record don’t really give any concrete answers and stand more as personal philosophies, but there’s much to gain from this, no matter where one stands on the topic of “the end.” The band’s frontman/lyricist Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill partially explains the album this way:

“We are animals, beasts and making peace with that beast might be your life’s work but more often than not he is never tamed. Once a wolf always a wolf. We all seek redemption in one way or another, from lies or from truth. Those of us who are godless or faithless often envy the man of faith for his life seems to have an extra purpose, despite the fact that logic, pragmatism, science and realism should crush any sign of faith, we still persist in lying to ourselves. Perhaps the alternative is too much to bear. So the themes of religion, mortality and death occur over and over again, along with continuing themes of alienation, martyrdom, sacrifice, violence and retribution. Occasionally, very occasionally a chink of light breaks through.”

This is interesting, as the album contains a song called “Lain With the Wolf,” a surging, riveting number, where Averill, full of provocative intent, howls, “He whispers when the demon comes, ‘Do you make peace with them, or do you become one of them?’” One shouldn’t read that line as if Averill’s character is addressing little red devils with pitchforks. He’s facing what’s haunted him during his life and deciding if he’ll conquer these things or if they’ll destroy him. That’s something most of us face at some point in our life. It’s interesting, but just last night I watched a documentary on George Foreman, and the bulk of it focused on his devastating defeat at the hands of Muhammad Ali in Zaire in 1974. The loss absolutely destroyed Foreman mentally. His aura of fear and invincibility basically was erased and he became a joke. It wasn’t until he faced that humiliation and decided it wouldn’t define his life that he finally climbed out of that funk and reclaimed his life. He chose to make peace with the demons and came out of it a stronger, transformed man who reclaimed the world title, miraculously, in 1994 at age 45.

That may seem off course, but not really. That example can be used to add color to the song “Bloodied Yet Unbowed,” one of the most inspirational selections in the band’s catalog. Averill mentions that “chink of light” that can shine through on the record, and I find it on this song. Here he finds himself bested by, supposedly, a “better man.” Yet for whatever damage he may have sustained physically or mentally, he never wavered from his beliefs or what he thought was right. “No regrets, no remorse,” he insists. But he’s not afraid to fail as long as he didn’t sell out his beliefs along the way. It really is a song that, as long as you can relate to his character, you can adopt it as a personal mission statement.

Of course, there is plenty of darkness elsewhere. “God’s Old Snake” and the stunning ballad “The Mouth of Judas” sort of walk hand in hand in their despair and doom, while the title cut warns, “There is sickness in the soil,” which you can take to mean any number of different things, from a literal interpretation to something hiding ominously below what’s obvious. Closer “Death of the Gods” is the longest piece on a record of lengthy cuts, and sitting in the middle is this reminder: “Beware of the thing that is coming.” It all comes back around, with us facing the day we’re no longer a member of this planet. What did we learn along the way? Were we productive? Did we stand for something? Were we not afraid to lose, to be bruised, to be bloodied? Or were we merely, as Averill states elsewhere in the album’s description, “food for worms, and nothing more”?

I’ve gone on a bit without describing how the music sounds. Sorry. I found the lyrical content of the record so interesting, I had to spend most of my time there. Few bands do that for me, so it is most appreciated. Basically, if you’ve been on board with Primordial’s journey, you’ll recognize the music on “Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand” as a natural progression. They’ve slowly moved away from the black metal of their earlier days, though it’s here at times (“God’s Old Snake,” “The Black Hundred”). Most of what you meet is their specific brand of epic, emotional metal. There’s not a second where you’ll doubt if they’ve poured all of their hearts’ contents into the songs, because it’s so evident they have. Averill absolutely soars over the material (he told Decibel he was suffering with an illness while recording, but you’ll never notice anything awry), and he’s one of metal’s most important, most expressive vocalists. Maybe some people will miss that they’ve evolved away from how their earlier recordings sound, but this record is so good and so moving, I don’t see how that can even be possible.

As far as pure heavy metal goes, drawing from all genres and subgenres, Primordial remains one of the best there is. They’ve never made a bad album, and they only get more intense with age. They have lived by their word. Primordial won’t be around forever as a band or as humans, but every time out, they wear their hearts on their sleeves, they say what they mean, and they aren’t afraid to ruffle feathers because they believe so steadfastly in their message. When their end has come, they should rest well knowing they added something real to a world so full of synthetic goods. God forbid this day comes, but when their number is up, Primordial certainly will be able to die with dignity wholly intact.