For 27 years now, Primordial have been challenging the idea of what extreme metal can be. From the band's earliest days as a Venom and Bathory cover band, they've grown from a primal, vicious black metal outfit into a more dynamic, considered amalgam of doom, Celtic folk, and classic heavy metal. There are still black metal elements, too—I don't think vocalist and creative lodestar Alan Averill will ever truly abandon the genre, even as his work continually reshapes its meaning.
The band's current, most grandiose form is certainly the most mature that Primordial has ever sounded; one gets the impression that, much like many other bands who started in the 80s and weathered the ensuing decades, this is what Averill would've been doing all along had circumstances and technology allowed for it. Despite his love for the underground, he's always kept his eyes trained on the stars—while his range certainly allows for it, no one with a voice like his should be using it exclusively to howl mockery at the cross. Allowing Averill's elemental, endlessly expressive pipes to soar is what truly elevated the band from hometown heroes to one of the best metal bands of all time—which sounds like hyperbole, to be sure, but like, have you ever heard "The Coffin Ships"?
Primordial's latest effort, Exile Among the Ruins, follows 2014's well-received (and well-polished) Where Greater Men Have Fallen, but reaches for a rougher, less spit-shined sound; it feels darker, angrier, more interested in vengeance than glory. There's a newfound (or, rather, rediscovered) rawness to it, perhaps a result of the looser way the band approached the recording process. It's still very much a Primordial album, with all of the melancholy melodies, explosive percussion, grave-born riffs, and heavy metal thunder that that entails, but a more restrained, thoughtful version thereof; here, our somber warriors sound weary, but unbowed.
Gloom aside, the epic threads we'd expect from a band so smitten with Bathory's Hammerheart era still run through tracks like the rousing war cry "Where Lie the Gods" and the sprawling, furious "Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed," which sees Averill channel an especial blast of fire-and-brimstone. This is music meant less for the mammoth stages of Wacken than a wilder setting—one imagines strains of "Sunken Lungs" playing besides an open air pyre, by the onyx waves that inspired its genesis.
"It can be hard to focus entirely eight albums into your career, so it was important to step outside of the bubble and be able to analyze whether we still sound vital and like we mean it," Averill said in a press statement. "The answer was yes."
Listen to Exile Among the Ruins in its entirety below—I recommend pairing it with a pint of ale and a heavy heart.
Kim Kelly is missing Dublin on Twitter.