The toms stir, an introductory galloping battering, a rhythmic tribal call to arms, as the simple lead guitar line rides up and down the front of the horde, rousing, preparing, hinting at what is to come, as the opening track of Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade) builds to kick into a timeless opening, an initiation where all the trademarks of the very best of Primordial are evident. Our title track erupts with ‘Hammerheart’ (Bathory) meets ‘Blood Of My Enemies’ (Manowar), driving, open, churning chords and Alan ‘Nemtheanga’ Averill’s distinctive, powerful vocals, preaching, imploring and then leading a stirring chorus to what is, unconditionally, one of the anthems of the year.
After a gap of three and a half years since the Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand this is a mighty return, with the weight of expectation not just shrugged off, but decimated by the pounding Pagan Metal delivered by the hands of the best in the business. For, at their peak, Primordial have no peers in the field of the epic.
Emote is what Primordial do best, and this is an album that drips with feelings of regret, reflection and, conversely, inspiration; Averill’s intelligent themes, authoritative words and voice enhance the profound interplay of Ciáran MacUiliam and Michael Ó Floinn’s guitars, whose interaction on tracks like ‘Come The Flood’ call to mind Anathema’s grandiose The Silent Enigma (Peaceville). ‘Born To Night’ gradually unfurls to reveal a ‘Battle Hymn’ most proud, while ‘The Seed of Tyrants’ releases the rage, nodding to a more extreme past, both musically and lyrically. While Primordial are oft mislabelled as a Black Metal band, ‘…Tyrants’ serves as a reminder from whence they came, but, as ever with those touches of class the band possess to enhance, colour and immerse.
Yet, this is not a flawless album, as with blood both stirred and pumping by our introduction, ‘Babel’s Tower’ and ‘The Alchemist’s Head’ are downers; decent if unspectacular down-shifts of pace, which, while still intrinsically “Primordial”, call to mind the unhurried moments of Imrama (Cacophonous), and despite Averill’s impassioned story-telling, neither grab or evoke like the opening track, or the crushingly pessimistic ‘Ghosts of the Charnel House’. That can be the problem when you start that strongly, as it is a high watermark for the rest of an album to live up to.
After establishing their sound on second album A Journey’s End (Misanthropy), it has been since their fifth album, The Gathering Wilderness (Metal Blade), that the band have truly matured and hit an exceptional run of form that takes them into Where Greater Men Have Fallen, their eighth full length, and its moving combination of classic Bathory inspired metal, doomier tropes and an unmistakable grasp of the epic, all draped in those characteristic Primordial effects.
Yet, are Primordial victims of their own success? The previous three albums are of such a high standard, and are pregnant with anthems that, like the title track or the exceptional closer ‘Wield Lightning To Split The Sun’ – murky, bleak, earnest, wringing with remorse and possibly the best piece of music the band has delivered over the course of their career – means that when Primordial deliver “good” it can, initially appear disappointing.
Bookended by two incredible tracks is a layered, powerful and impassioned album, resplendent with mood changes, from reflective, to angry, to moving – the leads that pull ‘Born To Night’ to its close soulfully uplifting – and to judge by the merits of others Where Greater Men Have Fallen stands tall. Yet measured by their own imperious canon, this latest release, while showcasing everything that is respected and esteemed of Primordial, is not first among equals.
Primordial are too proficient an outfit to release anything other than an excellent album. Just how excellent, when compared to their own standards, is the question at hand, but Where Greater Men Have Fallen is laden with dark anthems and fervent sincerity and, chest out, stands proudly as a laudable addition to a most impressive catalogue.