There was a time when Primordial could release an album and, for me, it would almost instantly be an album-of-the-year contender. Their material in the early 2000s established them as elite, especially the now-legendary album To the Nameless Dead (2007). That being said, the 2010s haven’t done much to shake these Irish stalwarts’ legacy. And now we have Exile Amongst the Ruins, another hour-long epic of histrionic dark romanticism.
As much as it pains me to say this, Primordial has released an album that by any other standards is very good. But by the band’s own standards, it fails to stand up to the monoliths that raised them up so high in the pantheon.
At times, this is a heavy album. From song one, “Nail Their Tongues,” black metal blasting and harsh vocals make a triumphant return among A.A. Neamtheanga’s signature operatic wailing. I personally love his singing voice, and it’s as strong as ever. His lyrics are also as good as ever too, painting bleak landscapes true to the album’s title. At other times, when the album slows down, it loses a lot of its edge. Slow songs can certainly be very heavy, but a slower tune like “Stolen Years” almost sounds like a black metal power ballad.
So what’s going on here? I just think the album fails to have as many memorable riffs or as many musical connections to their home country of Ireland as in the past. Gone are the subtle nods to heathen ancestry or even the glint of native folk music. Many of the pieces of a decent Primordial album are still here, but I’m sad to admit that it’s not enough to put it among this year’s elite. It is a long and, at times, enjoyable listen, but not the instant classic its forebears were.
(Metal Blade Records)