Review Summary: Reclaiming a sense of urgency.
After years supplying a steady stream of great albums, Primordial lost something important. Caught in between the pounding drums and vicious waves of guitar that characterize the band’s sound, there was a sense of urgency. There was passion behind every tom hit, and pride behind the powerful vocals. When the band unleashed tremolo riffing and vicious blast beats, you could feel the anger seeping through the speakers. Monolithic tracks like ‘The Coffin Ships’ and ‘Failures Burden’ had so much emotion and intensity behind them, which made it a real shock come 2011 when the band sounded so flat. They hadn’t lost any of their song-writing chops, and the album contained more than its fair share of standouts, but it just didn’t have the impact of the Irish metallers past works. But thankfully, sometime in the 3 years since Redemption
, they’ve found it again. From the moment the title track comes storming out from the gates, Where Greater Men Have Fallen
doesn’t let up and stands as the bands most consistent and heavy album to date.
The most prominent change is apparent right from the opening 5 seconds of the album - the riffs. While the band has always excelled at writing expressive guitar lines, they always felt more like a tidal wave of sound for Nemtheanga to roar in the face of. This is the first time in their long career where the guitar has really found its own voice, and this shift lends the album variety seldom found elsewhere in the bands catalogue of releases. From the driving low end of what is possibly the bands best opening track ever, to the triumphant riffing that breaks up ‘The Seed of Tyrants’ and the headbanging potential in the bestial ‘Ghosts of the Charnel House’, the guitar is the key factor that staves off stagnation and carries the momentum forward. For a band so comfortable with their formula built over so many years, this small change makes a huge difference to the albums replayability. While the choice to make a more aggressive album results in a more limited tonal palette than Redemption
contained, the final product is a rejuvenated, fresh sound; a rare feat for metal bands pushing 20 years old.
None of this is to take credit away from the other band members however, as every facet of Primordial’s sound remains as strong as ever. The vocals are still engaging and emotive, with a greater focus on Nemtheanga’s aggressive roar. In a similar vein to ‘Traitor’s Gate’ from To The Nameless Dead
, the black metal rasps also make a return in the latter half of the album, providing some vocal variety to keep the listener on their toes. The drums have always been the driving force behind past releases, but the guitar stepping up allows the drums to take some time and flesh out each song, providing some diversity instead of constantly resorting to pounding toms and crashes. As is often the case, the bass isn’t something to write home about, but it rears its head in more than a few places and adds much welcomed depth and power to the albums climaxes. The busier mix on display here works in favour of the heavier style adopted, but the folk aspect of their sound has taken a significant hit as a result. Sadly, the only song here that contains anything resembling the folk stylings of old is the opening minute of closing track ‘Wield Lightning To Split The Sun’, which ends up being one of the highlights because of that. Sure, this choice gives the album a definite place in their discography as a heavy and straightforward album, but it cost an integral part of the bands identity in the process.
Despite this, their sound is still distinctly their own, and there is nothing to be found here that would make long-time listeners balk or avoid this release. The band have abolished all of the awkward pacing and highlight/filler issues that have plagued them in the past, and Where Greater Men Have Fallen
stands firm from front to back as a very solid release from a very solid band. There is more than enough meat to this album to content fans, and the trademark atmosphere these Irishmen conjure is as powerful and evocative as it’s ever been. The fact that they’re still on top of their game after all these years is impressive in itself. At the end of the day, Primordial haven’t reinvented themselves, but this album is a triumph all the same. The band never planned to write for a new audience – and as long as they’re happy to keep churning out albums, we’re happy to keep eating them up.