May 042011

(NCS writer BadWolf provides a critique of the new album by Primordial, released April 26 by Metal Blade)

Primordial’s 2011 powerhouse album Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand is the black metal record I would give to my friends who listen to Fleet Foxes, and not merely because this is ‘folk metal.’ Rather, as they have before, Primordial transcends folk metal.

That term is insufficient. It has come to describe bands that shoehorn ethnic instruments and elements into what is, in the end, basically power metal repackaged. I find the practice self-deprecating and highly commercial, resulting in music with more in common with a Nightwish record than any strong sense of cultural identity. That is not Primordial. This record has nothing in common with the work of, say, Eluvite, Tyr, or Turisas, who make themselves into a travelling circus side show.

Primordial have no need of specialized instruments—no Viper violins, just guitar, bass, drums, and voice. The elements that feel meaningful and authentic are transmitted well enough in the tribalism of the drums and the melodies of the guitar. The unique sounds of Celtic folk have been alloyed completely with black metal guitars; there is no separation.  (more after the jump . . .)

The standout performance is by vocalist Alan Averil Nemtheanga, who operates somewhere between ‘proper’ melodic singing and the more typical metallic rasp. At times—take this with a grain of salt—he’s reminiscent of Bob Dylan in the way he strangles beauty out of ‘ugly’ sound.

Just as the title suggests, Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand deals with the eradication of native culture by Christianity. It’s not a new subject (see Burzum, Agalloch, most Viking metal bands), but one that has rarely been explored in the context of Ireland. Primordial make the anguish they share with Ireland’s troubled past the focus of the album.

In many ways I’d consider Redemption to work as a companion piece to Nile’s Those Whom the Gods Detest—both are albums about the triumph of monotheism over paganism that toe the line of the band’s previous (rightfully critically acclaimed) work, but with updated production and a renewed focus on atmosphere.

Redemption may not have songs quite as strong as its predecessor To the Nameless Dead (one of my favorite albums of 2007), but is darker and more raw. Both are absolutely essential listening for anyone interested in metal music that packs an artistic and emotional punch.

This is the black metal record I’ve enjoyed listening to the most in 2011.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a track from the album that’s been streaming at the Metal Blade site (and you can go there to order the album, or directly from Primordial at this location):

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  1. Interesting.

    I’m glad I didn’t review this now as my feelings are rather… opposite to your own. Things would have gotten confusing.

    • I get the feeling you and I look for very different things in our music. Which is awesome.

      Seriously though, didja hate it?

      • I look for stuff I can shake my prodigious booty to…

        Ok, not really.

        I didn’t hate it, was just disappointed. (I’ve said this elsewhere but…) When I come to a Primordial album I come to it for the songs I love, but always end up staying for the whole thing as I always forget that all the other songs are just as great.

        With this one I love certain songs (“No Grave Deep Enough” has some brilliant trad-black metal elements which make a welcome change, “The Puritan’s Hand” has some great black and roll feel to it, and “The Mouth Of Judas” has a great Maiden-esque feel to it, which are all nice tweaks to their sound) it’s very much a half-killer, half-filler record for me personally. Too many songs are just lesser versions of their previous work.

        I do agree with though that they have really captured a traditionally Celtic/Irish/folk vibe without resorting to extraneous instrumentation, cliche or “tales of olden times”. There’s just certain melodies that (quietly) pierce the gloom and make it know that ONLY Primordial could be playing this song.

        I just think the album as a whole isn’t among their best.

        • Looks like we got your review after all. 🙂

          • That’s me being succinct too…


            Definitely one reason I’m glad you reviewed the album and not me is I think I found it completely impossible to be objective on this one. I honestly think it’s probably no worse than any of their other records and will simply *click* with some people better than it did with me.

        • I think there’s truth in that. I still love the record though.

  2. I think some people who may be visiting this site for the first time because of BadWolf’s review will wonder what the hell a site called No Clean Singing is doing with a laudatory review of this album. Perhaps we’re having an identity crisis. Truth is, we do focus more on nasty, aggressive music that tends to feature paint-scraping vocals, but we’re not quite foolish enough to ignore music that’s authentic, heart-felt, and original (like this album) just because it includes “clean” vocals. Besides, there are some raging fires burning within Redemption.

    Or maybe it’s just another sign that Andy has succeeded in subverting our founding mission over time. 🙂

    • I’ve actually heard from a few artists I’ve spoken to (Worm Oroboros, The Ocean) that they find the name disconcerting, and assume I’m there to like, slam them for not being tr00 enough.

      Frequently I’ve had to say to someone I interview ‘no, really, I love your music. The name’s a bit tongue-in-cheek.’

    • Perhaps because the underlying meaning to the site is more akin to “no whiny singing” (at least that’s my interpretation)

      • I do think that’s pretty accurate. A protest against whiny singing in metal (as reflected in metalcore, to be more specific) was certainly what prompted us to start this. But NO WHINY SINGING would have left something to be desired as a site name. Plus, we’ve evolved since this started (eg, trying to pay more attention to black metal and allowing ourselves to be open to other genres that we knew little about when this began).

  3. /useless specification:
    “travelling circus sideshow” The band is spelled Eluveitie, and for them and Turisas you’re right. Although you should relisten to everything Tyr made before “By the Light of the Northern Star”, it’s quality folkish progressive metal (Eric the Red and Ragnarok being the best examples.

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