Primordial build on impeccable resume with mood-shifting new album ‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’

The idea of modern metal legends might seem silly. It isn’t. Yes, bands such as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Dio, and Bathory are absolute royalty to this style of music, and for very good reason. But it’s time to start considering bands past their reigns to consider for adulation, and Irish bruisers Primordial should be placed on that mantle.

This band has been around for 27 years now, and I defy you to tell me one release from them that wasn’t absolutely epic. They are about to unload their new, ninth record “Exile Amongst the Ruins” that maintains their amazing reputation and further cements their legend. For those who have been around for the entire ride, or a large portion of it, this record will feel a lot different. The black metal flourishes are scarce, but not in a bad way at all, as things feel more traditional and Celtic-infused. The songs take a little time for absorption, as their characters are not obvious right away like some of their past work. But having to earn an album can be a good thing, and the more I visit this music, the more it stretches out before me. The band—vocalist Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill, guitarists Ciarán MacUilliam and Michael O’Floinn, bassist Pól MacAmlaigh, and drummer Simon O’Laoghaire—has more than one trick up their collective sleeves, and they show that on this expansive new record (it’s eight tracks and 65 minutes).

Primordial records tend to start with thundering tracks, but the first hints of this record being different from the others come with the first cut “Nail Their Tongues.” While still spirited and seeped in biblical lore and violence, the band runs out a nine-minute tale that addresses Cain, Abel, Lucifer, and others, as Averill bellows, “Did you know you were able to pierce the tongues of liars?” Gazey guitars enter, as do Averill’s growls (which are sparse on this record), and things end with a huge blaze of sound. “To Hell or the Hangman” feels a little more like traditional Primordial, as the band hits an exciting tone like they’re on the hunt, and a scarred Averill admits, “I can see in your eyes you want him.” The flames of battle and the pursuit sting your nostrils, as the theme of swallowed pride pelts your chest, the riffs send energy, and this killer cut comes to a bloody end. “Where Lie the Gods” is a 9:12 epic that has a folk-driven, acoustic start before it settles in mid-tempo territory. It reeks of a saga (in a good way) as the story unfurls, strong guitars throw punches as they enter the mix, and sounds cascade. The fogs keep getting thicker and more ominous before the song ends with a spirited assault. The title cut follows, and there, guitars simmer while Averill points out, “Your enemies are long gone.” The track burns the flames for those lost to history, people whose acts have been buried in time, as the track waxes about a place “without history, without nations, without names.” The intensity and emotion continue to grow, with Averill belting out, “We are ghosts among the ruins,” with the song fading into the framework.

“Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed” is venomous and powerful. The track rumbles a bit before letting the Earth’s crust split open with Averill wailing, “Your foolish heart, it poisons the well.” The chorus is tremendous, something that should swell live, and later, things erupt even more. Growls arrive with vows that the foe will succumb to a painful battle, and the track ends in a cloud of smoke. “Stolen Years” has a warm riff and feels like a moody ballad, giving off a more vulnerable vibe than most Primordial songs. Averill marks “our years of pain,” as the track pours emotion and pain into this song, one that marks its mark and sticks with you well after it’s over. “Sunken Lungs” also is pretty different, as the song has some forceful singing that pushes the narrative, while the guitars are active and noir-rich later, there’s even a psychedelic sheen applied later that makes things glimmer. As the song goes on, the tempo blisters even harder, as things crescendo before escaping under the waves. Closer “Last Call” trickles open, as it moves in a calculated pace at the start before the power sets in. “Step up to the gallows and hang me out to dry,” Averill wails, while the tides rise and fall over the song’s 10:32 run time. That ebb and flow lets your breathing fluctuate and your mind race, as the song has guitars cutting into its center before the whole thing fades away.

Primordial remain one of the strongest, steadiest forces in metal, and their emotional conviction and devotion to their and their homeland’s history has kept them one of the steadiest, most honest bands out there. “Exile Amongst the Ruins” is another strong effort from a group staring three decades in the face, with hardly any wear or tear to be shown. Primordial are kings, and their music is such that will stand the test of time, this album included.

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