For three decades Primordial have captivated with a unique fusion of folk, heavy metal, and black metal, capturing the musical and cultural history of their home country of Ireland in ways that truly stood out. While they’ve had their fair share of anthemic moments and powerful peaks, the group’s music tends to sprawl outwards and offer a bit more twists and turns compared to some of their peers. One could argue that despite key differences in tone and some hints of experimentation, their last few full lengths retained a lot of the patterns and elements that hallmarks like 2007’s To The Nameless Dead had established, but that’s mattered a bit less when the songwriting has been consistently strong. 2023 sees the release of Primordial’s tenth album How It Ends, and while it’s not clear if this will be a swansong just yet it does bring some noticeable changes. Long-time guitarist Micheál O'Floinn has departed and the band is a four-piece again for the first time in many, many years, while stylistically the material moves between somber, brooding moments and triumphant powerful ones that also bring in some additional genre elements. It does have some lulls and the flow between tracks isn’t quite as smooth compared to some of Primordial’s best efforts, yet How It Ends still impresses and demonstrates this veteran act isn’t down for the count.
Coming in at around an hour and six minutes in length, How It Ends is a lot to take in and does feel slightly bloated at certain points, leaving me with the impression that Primordial albums tend to have the most impact at closer to the fifty-minute mark. But even if a few of the songs overstay their welcome by a minute or two, it’s hard to ignore just how strong the material on this album is overall. There’s a regular back and forth between more somber, brooding numbers that let the darker atmosphere build and more up-tempo ones where the folk and black metal elements fuse together for a more aggressive and triumphant sound. This isn’t new territory for Primordial, but their albums have tended to pick one or the other for the bulk of the songs and stick with it rather than hopping around. If you’ve missed some of the black metal elements that were subdued on more recent material, songs like “We Shall Not Serve” will impress with just how much bite they have, especially around the mid-point which goes full-on black metal for a few minutes. But in typical Primordial fashion, this song twists and turns, offering soaring melodies that have a bit more folk and heavy metal to them and once again making the sound hard to put into just one box. Other highlights include the lighter and airier textures of “Nothing New Under the Sun” which has some slight hints of post punk riffs and rhythms, and the stunning closer “Victory Has 1000 Fathers, Defeat Is an Orphan” which has one of the most fist-pumping worthy riffs I’ve heard this year around the four-minute mark. Admittedly some of the transitions aren’t quite as seamless as on past material, and the almost nine-minute “All Against All” repeats things to the point of repetition, dragging things down a bit. The high points definitely make up for it, but it does keep How It Ends from reaching the upper echelon of the group’s discography. What’s also worth mentioning is the production ensures a warm and full sound, so even with one guitar on the recording everything still sounds immense.
A.A. Nemtheanga has one of those instantly recognizable voices, something that’s become a bit of a rarity in the metal landscape today. He’s still in top form throughout How It Ends, and when his vocals come in on the title track they come through with a considerable amount of power and grit but soar into the clouds as he hits some higher registers. Sometimes his pitches are closer to epic doom metal with how much emotion they offer, but you get chants and some raspy black metal screams on certain songs that add variety to the performance. I love the additional details that stand out upon repeat listens, like the much lighter and airier folk sounding pitch that comes in ever so briefly on “Victory Has 1000 Fathers, Defeat Is An Orphan” as the song transitions over to its triumphant final lead. Primordial’s vocal work has yet to disappoint me even ten albums in, and whether this ends up being it or not there’s something to be said for just how powerful Nemtheanga’s voice is three decades in.
Primordial has such a consistent discography that even their weaker efforts outshine other band’s best work, and that continues to be the case with album number ten. I’d hardly call it their worst, but “All Against All” drags on for far too long and the flow doesn’t feel as seamless compared to their best, putting it somewhere in the mid-range. But compared to some of the other albums out this year it’s still worth a high recommendation, as the darker atmosphere and triumphant peaks continue to impress. How It Ends is available from Metal Blade Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg