Two decades on from their debut, Ireland’s premier merchants of Celtic catharsis don’t seem set to glide into the limelight and blow the minds of literally everybody like Behemoth did with “The Satanist” any time soon (the closest they’ve come being with 2007’s “To the Nameless Dead”), but amongst those in the know, a new Primordial album is a damn big deal. Every ounce of this respect is deserved; in the discography of lesser bands brilliant early works like “Imrama” and “Storm Before Calm” might be seen as career highs, but for Primordial they were merely hints towards the majesty they’re truly capable of. Seven albums past and Primordial have only achieved more and more as time has gone on, the streak starting with their absolutely perfect fifth record “The Gathering Wilderness” in particular being utterly mesmerising. Essentially this makes new eighth album Where Greater Men Have Fallen a release from a band in their prime, and they’ve never felt more vibrant.
What’s immediately apparent within mere seconds is that there’s more fire here than their last venture, the mournful “death album” “Redemption At the Puritan’s Hand”. The opening title track clatters forth with such vigour it’s genuinely startling, made all the more so by the robust production. By the time Alan Averill lets loose with possibly the greatest usage of the word “go” since ‘Slaughter of the Soul’, the track becomes absolutely unstoppable, an instant Primordial classic boasting an ‘Empire Falls’-size refrain and a charging demeanour akin to cavalry impacting with shield walls.
The song-writing prowess is out in full force here, each composition holding its own individual themes and feel and developing into something truly epic through subtlety and development rather than incessant symphonic layering, taking time to allow things to unfurl before bursting into that spirited sweet spot. Primordial are absolute masters of the crescendo, cases in point being ‘Babel’s Tower’ spiraling towards one of the finest guitar solos laid down in recent times and ‘Come the Flood’s emphatic final chorus coming across as truly apocalyptic leaving smouldering crumbled remains in its aftermath.
The weight to these songs is staggering, feeling less black metal-informed than some previous albums and instead leaning towards a classic heavy metal and doom-tinged sound like on ‘Ghosts of the Charnel House’, where Candlemass-esque lumbering pace meets that unmistakable Celtic riffing style that Primordial call their own. When black metal does become most prominent like on ‘The Seed of Tyrants’ with its searing blast beats or the deliciously off-kilter ‘The Alchemist’s Head’, it’s all the more venomous for it. The thick production suits this more violent material perfectly, the snare in particular hitting like a tank, and the album also makes clear what has been suspected for a fair while now: Alan Averill is quite possibly the greatest heavy metal singer on the planet. His range, both technically and emotively, is jaw-dropping, not the commanding roar of the title track, his prophetic eruptions on ‘Babel’s Tower’, or the desperate plea for salvation of ‘Come the Flood’ feeling contrived or forced. Frankly no one conveys as much raw power coupled with as much sorrow and captivating morosity as Averill; the man’s such a phenomenal singer that it’s easy to forget his harsh black metal shriek is pretty impeccable too. His gravitas and touching relatability would only be a redeeming feature meanwhile if the band behind him weren’t equally as alluring, the instrumental work as rousing and tangibly human as its booming mouthpiece. Every single emotional button is pushed as it sucks you in and demands response.
“Where Greater Men Have Fallen” is as close to flawless as they come. Primordial have proven time and time again that they are undoubtedly one of the most special and vital bands within the metal underground or outside of it for that matter, and it’s one of their strongest efforts to date. Devoid of mystical pretensions and deeply connected with both primal intuitions and the complexities of the real world, it’s genuine and as enveloping and engaging as anything else available. Primordial are a band worth making time for.