Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Primordial - Redemption At The Puritan's Hand

2011 brings us a new Primordial album to follow up the critically acclaimed "To The Nameless Dead." And while "Redemption At The Puritan's Hand" is by no means an album to ignore, it also feels underwhelming compared to what I felt would be a near impossible album to summit. So in the end, after thinking about it for a few weeks now, I place "Redemption..." as tied for second place amongst their discography with The Gathering Wilderness, the first of the band's decidedly current-sounding albums. Spirit The Earth Aflame is right on their heels though. I still feel that "To The Nameless Dead" is their iconic release. It may be that a year from now, when I revisit this record in full, and give it two or three more listens, I may feel differently about it's place in the ranks of Primordial's past efforts but my feelings on the tracks will most likely remain and, something I thought I would never have to say about the band, is what will ultimately always drag the record down; Alan Nemtheanga's vocals do not live up to my expectations.

For me, and I feel the vast majority of Primordial fans, Alan separates Primordial from the vast majority of other bands. Of course the music is excellent but it is propelled to a different level with Alan's heartfelt vocals and unique melodic confidence. I remember reading that Alan was sick during recording this record and maybe that had an effect on his performance. To be blunt, I don't feel the vocals on many of the tracks flow naturally, there is a hesitation in the rhythmic patterns, a staggered movement through the verses usually bogs down what should be a smooth moving and confident proclamation. Of course, this is only apparent on some select tracks and I find my favorite tracks don't suffer from this uncomfortable stumbling across the vocal parts. At times, a trained ear can easily hear overdubbed vocal parts meant to thicken up what would be thin sounding vocal tracks. At times the vocal production on the record is sloppy, something that a record with so many eyes and ears focused on it should be careful to avoid.

Where his vocals disappoint, Alan has once again, with the aid of Irish poet Padraig Pearse on "Death Of The Gods," written a strikingly aware commentary with the lyrics on this record. Where "To The Nameless Dead" questioned why it is we fight and die for the concept of the nation, "Redemption At The Puritan's Hand" feels like a purging of feelings built up as a result and, I feel, possibly answers the questions posed on the previous record with a simple answer. To be free. There are scattered fragments of a single thought across the record all told through different metaphors. According to Alan on the Primordial website, he claims this is the "Death" album. Some would say death is just another road to freedom. Overall, the album is full of the same grandiose poetry we have come to expect from Primordial and in this regard Nemtheanga delivers. You can make your own interpretations of the lyrics of course.

The production is similar to The Gathering Wilderness with a bit better mixing job. It's not quite as treble-laden as To The Nameless Dead and I felt a stronger bass presence from Pól MacAmlaigh which I personally love because his bass lines across the record are phenomenal. I feel he plays a lot like Geezer Butler would in this kind of band, giving the album weight by building his lines around the rhythm of the drums and not following the guitars as we would expect. Simon O'Laoghaire is becoming a more elite drummer with every record. He isn't just playing drum parts to fill in. Rhythms are calculated. Simon, on this record, is the cue giver; deciding what moments are build up sections, what kind of a feel a certain moment on the record will have and practically conducting the dynamics of the record from behind the kit.

Ciáran MacUiliam and Micheál O'Floinn once again leave us with captivating melodies. Rhythmically, the record follows in the vein of "To The Nameless Dead" except for "God's Old Snake," which reminds me of their much earlier records like "Journey's End" and "Imrama." It's difficult to pick out a real difference in tone between this record melodically from the Previous record but I don't find as many memorable sections. I don't feel like Ciáran and Micheál have fallen prey to using more clean guitars or playing more leads, or doing any egotistical guitar showmanship. Honestly, Primordial never needed that.

A quick run through of the record would read like this if I were asked to give a few sentences on the album. Opener "No Grave Deep Enough" is pretty much a whole lot like opening previous album's opening track "Empire Falls" with a short clean buildup, heavy intense riff, some of the harsher vocals on the album, and basically blasting Primordial's now solidified style through a megaphone. "Lain With The Wolf," the album's second track and third track, "Bloodied Yet Unbowed" are both immediate hits owing their success to Alan's vocals which shine on these two tracks best of all. "Bloodied Yet Unbowed" feels like an attempt at doing another "Heathen Tribes" styled anthem and works well but not as well as "Heathen Tribes." I have been skipping fourth track "God's Old Snake," I just don't care for the verse at all - something about the combination of the drumming and guitars that feels awkward to me.

The album at this point could take two paths. It could turn instantly boring should Primordial not have something exceptional next. "Mouth Of Judas" is absolutely excellent. Notable in this song is the lead 3/4 in which is layered over another emotion vocal section. At first I dreaded that the track would ride the album into the ground. It starts very slowly. I assume the band chose the track specifically for this reason after the faster, more aggressive previous song. "Mouth of Judas" never gets boring though, it is like watching a slow moving tragedy with every sad moment lingering, pressuring its sadness into the listener. It's a weaving song though - the track builds on itself, it's previous melodies. The song instantly codifies Primordial's elite place in metal, perhaps even more so than any one track on "To The Nameless Dead" did.

"The Black Hundred" is another good track, this one faster, again shaking up the pacing of the record and offering a different texture utilizing some baritone vocals in the style of a 1940's propaganda audio sample. The title track on the record, "The Puritan's Hand" is completely forgettable. Doesn't do anything for me and is relegated to the ranks of filler tunes on good records. Final track "Death Of The Gods" I want to love so much but really is a prime example of the lack of vocal flow on the record. Every vocal phrase feels truncated and shortened. Great lyrics which could probably be photocopied and dropped out of helicopters into the middle east to increase the upheavals and protests in those countries against the dictators and leaders who kill their citizens and suck dry any hopes for a decent life.

Since this is getting longer than I wanted, a really succinct conclusion is this: Primordial fans will adore this record though probably agree it isn't better than "To The Nameless Dead." People who have never listened to the band before, wouldn't be discouraged from checking out this record as it really is a good representation of the band's work, at least their past four records. I think that this album will make most of the "best of 2011" lists and I'm sure it will propel Primordial into the vocabulary of most aware metal fans. I doubt that Eddie Trunk will take notice even though he claims to be one of the world's leading experts on all things metal. Metal Blade will probably cash in on this record too. Primordial's next album will do for Primordial what Ghost Reveries did for Opeth and pretty soon when they tour the USA with Enslaved and a random folk metal band being peddled as the next great thing, we will find ourselves squashed between fifteen year old overweight high school girls and their gothic boyfriends in HIM beanies.

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