Primordial / How It Ends – Deep, Dramatic Aggression And Defiance

Nine albums and 32 years into their career, should they wish to call it that, Irish outfit Primordial’s view of the world has, some would say, become increasingly weary and cynical. Others might point to a more realistic, measured, and objective stance centred on events from the previous few years and the chilling impact felt by the events of the past few years. 

Primordial – How It Ends (Metal Blade Records)

Release Date: 29 September 2023

Words: Paul Hutchings

2018’s Exile Amongst the Ruins was a monumental high, possibly their best and most mature work. 

Then came the pandemic, and the band, or more specifically, outspoken singer A.A. Nemtheanga, raged against much of what followed. [You can find his podcast, the excellent Agitators Anonymous, for more]. 

It’s not surprising, then, that album number ten, How It Ends, throws up questions, challenges, frustration and anger in a manner that Nemtheanga has been delivering for the past three years. 

“The title is a question – is this how it ends? How it all goes down: culture, language, history, society – humanity – who knows?” he says. “Regardless of who you are or were, you get one chance at all of this, and it’s asking, is this the end of your town, state, nation? Myths, traditions, relationships, and I suppose it asks the question, who reacts, who rebels – how does it end now for them?”

Join Hillbilly Vegas on Tour This July

Joined by founding members Pól MacAmlaigh (bass) and Ciáran MacUilliam (guitar) and longtime drummer Simon O’Laoghaire, this is an album that is carefully crafted. The band’s Celtic influences run deep through the whole album, alongside the aggression and defiance that have become part and parcel of the Primordial sound over the past three-plus decades.

Chris Fielding returns to engineer the album, produced by the band and tracked at Hellfire Studios on the edge of Dublin. Written in 2022, the making of this album has been described by the band as a positive experience, “calm, but with a really strong work ethic and intensity.”

The title track is first up. A slow build-up turns into a thunderous tumult that roars across the hills in an almost show of defiance. “Is this how it ends?” Nemtheanga asks as the band eases into a rhythm that allows the track to continue to build. 

Nemtheanga snarls his questions, provoking and challenging, whilst the band locks in tight to propel the song forward. It’s an anthemic, epic opening to an album that has been highly anticipated for some time. 

There’s certainly more of the band’s heritage and roots here. Ploughs To Rust, Swords To Dust blends Sabbath-style riffs with the power of Thin Lizzy and the doom of Candlemass. 

Dark in substance and delivery, it’s an example of how the band, and Nemtheanga in particular, want to explore, with more questions thrown up. 

We Shall Not Serve is delivered at a breakneck pace, with a driving rhythm section pushing the tempo. The lyrics draw from Irish poet Joseph Mary Plunkett, an artist and revolutionary who was executed at 30 years of age as part of the 1916 Easter Uprising against British rule, and asks the question, would you be willing to sacrifice yourself for the moral good? 

“I’m asking the question,” says Nemtheanga, “where are the artists now who stand up for any kind of cause that isn’t the one handed to them by the state or technocracy? Where are the rebels? The genuine outsiders, the outlaws in thought?”

There is plenty of darkness and visceral heaviness, but also the traditional Celtic styles that have always formed part of the Primordial sound. Their country’s rich and often tragic heritage plays a key part in their music and lyrics. 

The dark and somewhat horrific stories of Irish convicts sent to far-flung parts of the Empire sit behind Pilgrimage To The World’s End. A harrowing tale, Primordial set out their storytelling in emotive style, with MacUilliam’s fluid guitar rising above the combination of MacAmlaigh and O’Laoghaire low-end, whilst Nemtheanga rails in his inimitable and distinctive manner.

Inevitably, it’s the sweeping movements that have long been part of the Primordial sound that capture the attention here. The flowing passages of play on Nothing New Under The Sun and the seminal blend of Celtic folk and Black Metal on Call To Cernunnos, the cross-legged antler-clad pagan god, represent both Primordial’s past and current attitude. 

The latter is very much a tribal ode, with elements of Thin Lizzy, a major influence for the band, very much in evidence. It’s a dramatic, inspirational track that provides a different yet traditional Primordial flavour to the album.   

How It Ends isn’t a short album. You need to invest time. It’s over an hour in length, but the songs are all deep, dramatic, and involved.

Possibly the most intriguing is the longest song on the album, the nearly nine minutes of All Against All, which sees the band’s sound switch once again. It’s a phenomenal blend of styles, with the demonic vocal delivery of Nemtheanga amongst the best on the entire release.

It’s a sinister, atmospheric song, but then, if you know Primordial, you wouldn’t expect anything else. As the first single, Victory Has a Thousand Fathers, Defeat Is An Orphan, brings this album to an end, there still feels like more in the Primordial tank. 

For a band who, by their own admission, are in the last few chapters of their journey, How It Ends certainly doesn’t feel like a swansong. 

The music is organic, and the band collectively sounds energised despite the frustrations and concerns at how the world has changed. A.A. Nemtheanga says, “It makes me proud to think we’ve lasted so long. It feels like so long ago, but yet also I have memories that seem like last week – youth is wasted on the young, huh?

“Blink, and you miss it, but in the grand scheme to be able to make music, have someone give a fuck about it, travel, and perform it, was what you would have wanted when you were 16, and here we are.”

Sleeve Notes

Sign up for the MetalTalk Newsletter, an occasional roundup of the best Heavy Metal News, features and pictures curated by our global MetalTalk team.

More in Heavy Metal



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Search MetalTalk

MetalTalk Venues

MetalTalk Venues - The Devil's Dog Digbeth
MetalTalk Venues – The Green Rooms Live Music and Rehearsal
The Patriot, Crumlin - The Home Of Rock
Interview: Christian Kimmett, the man responsible for getting the bands in at Bannerman's Bar
Cart & Horses, London. Birthplace Of Iron Maiden
The Giffard Arms, Wolverhampton

New Metal News