Friday, 27 April 2012

The Big Four

No, not the 80s thrash bands - didn't catch them in 2010, don't care to now; Megadeth would only be of interest if one were guaranteed fighting amongst the bandmembers, as Bobby Blitz recalls happened nghtly when Overkill toured with them in the '80s; Anthrax deserve no respect and none of anyone's money after how they treated their members who weren't there to abandon them back in the late '80s, early '90s; Metallica are only worth it to see Rob Trujilio play bass; Slayer would be worth it if they were playing 'South of Heaven' plus 'Show No Mercy' with 'Haunting the Chapel' for the encore, especially if they all farted in unison at the end of Chemical Warfare. What a gig that would be...

Anyway, the Big Four referred to here are the albums which soundtracked my 2010. The Big Four records which hung around like bad smells through extended periods of that fateful year - and which still linger, still haunt, still thrill. If any of the following four haven't had gross listening as yet, it won't be long before they can echo the cry of humans who have hung around long enough to be smug about it: I'm a hundred, you know. When you are, you can prevent lines from getting to the same place. But I digress. Again.

In 2010 four albums made an indelible impression. Other records were played - Melechesh's 'The Epigenesis' got some spins - but no other albums -made- 2010, 'round these mindparts anyways. The Big Four stood alone, as follows:

Ramesses 'Take the Curse'
Dethonator 'Dethonator'
Darkthrone 'Circle the Wagons'
Legendary Shack Shakers 'Agri-Dustrial'

(Another time, perhaps this space will host a reappraisal of 'the releases of 2010', since over a year has now passed since that year ended. It should be a rule that yearly reviews are only conducted at least 365 days after the year in question has ended. It's only fair, the only way to get anything really meaningful as a guide to the greatest music of year X.)

First up will be the opening track of Dethonator's self-titled debut, Wreckers. Look for it to appear before Saturday, entitled Haunting the Shores.

(Posts regarding the Big Four will continue intermitently until all tracks on all four releases have received a post, of whatever length, with perhaps an additional post for each album as a whole)

Riddle of the Rise of Magik

It was only recently that I came under possession by the latest Ramesses release, 'Possessed By the Rise of Magik'. As much as the band enthrall me - 'Take the Curse' was the finest album released in 2010 - having been so out of any loop (well, apart from Loop's loop, perhaps), let alone 'THE Loop', only recently did I realise it was out. The philosophy that says that any media can wait is the right one to adopt in these oversaturated times: what exactly would have changed had I heard this when it was released last year? Would I have gained mastery over time and space? If so, the chance is gone and I will just have to be sober about it. No one can do everything everywhere. And considering certain sources which come my way unbidden, I thought I might have heard. Still...

Nearly an hour in length, 'Possessed By the Rise of Magik' is as enthralling an offering as its predecessor specifically because it is quite distinct. There was a whole saga behind getting 'Take the Curse' from its creators' minds to their audience's ears. The experience may well have driven some people (almost) insane. It's a story that will be explored in this space another time. The important point for the present: 'Possessed' was recorded live in two days and then overlaid and perhaps toyed with a little. The difference between it and 'Curse' is, appropriately, awe-inspiringly stark.

A proper write-up of 'Possessed By the Rise of Magik' will appear here another time - track by track most likely, and then perhaps something about its totality too, we'll see. Right now I'm more concerned about the riddle which this simple digipack hides in plain sight on its back cover, as follows:

Ramesses were:
Tim Bagshaw - Flesh and Claws
Adam Richardson - Blood and Spells
Mark Greening - Skulls and Bones

If you scanned it read it again. Yes, were, as in are not any more - we can assume they don't mean 'Ramesses were', as in the wolfy kind; you can hear quite clearly that this could be the work of no other core triumvirate.

So is this the last Ramesses release, a final full-length trip into blackened pschedelia for the road? That was the first thought that sprung to mind, but it seems doubtful. More likely Ramesses were a triumvirate and will now become a quartet. For while the skeleton of 'Possessed' was recorded in 2 days in August of 2010, we are informed on this same unassuming digipack sleeve: "Vokills and keys recorded by Rodaidh McDonald at XL Studios January 2011", and while all the music is credited to Ramesses and all the lyrics to Adam Richardson, "Additional korg MS-20 and moog prodigy" is by, you guessed it, Rodaidh McDonald.

The suspense is killing, the record killer. More news as it comes in.

Unwanted calls

I felt I might as well just post about this, get it off my chest. Earlier today I was browsing the internet looking for quotes on house insurance. I had left a quote from More Than up in my browser while doing other things like eating my lunch, taking a moment away from my tiresome tasks. Suddenly I get a call out of the blue. It's from More Than. Now remember, I haven't purchased anything from them: I've just been looking at quotes online, you need to enter your details to do that. They wanted to offer additional discounts over the phone, did I have 5 minutes to spare. Not only did I not, I was incensed at being intruded upon in such a way for such a flimsy reason. I feel like this is worse than cold calling, a kind of pressure selling designed to help push consumers to their wits end. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to just unplug from the entire world so that I might just possibly get a moment's peace. Of course I'm being melodramatic, but that's my way sometimes.

The end result? Negative for More Than. Where I was initially interested, I am now determined to find home insurance elsewhere. The rating they got from Which? customers did help spur me to that decision, but this creepy invasion of my privacy really clinched it.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

More apologies - and another transcript

Accompanying transcript for my second Primordial installment is now up on

Eritrean delights

We sit in a corner by the window. Thick clouds of just lit incense seemed almost choking as we entered - there is some irony in the fact that our entrance was delayed until a cigarette could be extinguished - but now we have become accustomed. We have explained that our friend will be late, that we will wait - immediately our server sees an opportunity. Quizzing us for what knowledge we have of Eritrea - it is now an independent country, used to be within Ethiopia - he points out that the capital of the country begins and ends with the letter 'a', and challenges us to find as many of the thirteen other capital cities of the world which possess the same quality before our friend arrives. DUB gets Abouja immediately, I Oslo and Warsaw - DUB missed Warsaw for thinking of it as Warsawa. It's a good exercise, seeing how many capitals we can recall generally, it prompts other conversations, it is indeed diverting. Offered help and stuck with only four answers we are told we need to remember the capitals of both Turkey and Ghana. We get neither, but our friend who joins us shortly after gets the latter (Accra - also contributing and Addis Abbaba with a note that it's somewhat controversial to even mention it, given where we are) while we all kick ourselves when at the end of the night our charming quizzmaster - he would appear to be a waiter but to call him such would create a false impression: the warmth he emits prompts you to engage, he makes jokes without apprehension, is briskly but pleasantly stern when appropriate, does not defer in the manner of a typical 'server'; it is most refeshing - gives us Ankara and then fills us in on the others we missed (I kick myself for failing to think of Tashkent since I once spent a curious few hours there, laying over on an Uzbekistan airways flight to Thailand).

We have come to Mosob to eat. Located near Westbourne Park tube on the Harrow Road it serves delicious Eritrean food and has an atmosphere which provokes one to do more than merely relax. Not only did conversation flow but we relaxed and played word ganes, biding our time between courses which came at just the right, relaxed pace, as if they knew exactly how long we needed to wait - as if, had we been in a hurry, the food would have arrived accordingly quickly. Creating two new hot-rockin' musical combos in name at least (C.H.E. and P.G.R.S. - Constantinople Hatstand Eviseration and Pelham Ginger Rug Snack) we were given a mint tea to finish which perfectly balanced out our constitutions after the feast we had devoured. Neither cheap nor strictly expensive for eating out in London, Mosob is a place I will, if necessary, save up to visit in the years to come.

As a final treat, we were each given a Mosob card onto which Mr Quizzmaster - the barman was equally lovely but, tonight at least, did not play raconteur - wrote our names in Ge'ez, the phoentic script used Eritrea. My one regret is that, uncharacteristically, I did not ask his name. I'm sure I will learn it, down the road.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Primordial interview pt 2: "We cannot do a Wednesday show to 50 people anymore"

According to Primordial's website, their last headlining UK club show was four years ago, at the Underworld in Camden, London. The last time I saw them was two years before that, at London's Elektrowertz (also known as the Slimelight for the club that is regularly on there). It's not a great venue at which to see bands - it's small, the sound is usually poor, it gets excessively sweaty - and though Primordial did their best, recalling that night made it easy to understand why Primordial hadn't prioritised headlining clubs in the UK.

"It really depends on what you’ve been offered. I mean, four or five years ago, I don’t really think there was a climate to do maybe a week or something in the UK.  I mean, the last time we played four or five, maybe six dates was with Rotting Christ in 2003, and a lot of those days were, to be honest, quite pointless. Like 23 people in Cardiff. It's just that now, at the age that we are, the responsibilities that we have, that kind of thing – not that we're ancient or anything, but we just can't do that any more. We cannot do a Wednesday show to 50 people any more, it just doesn't work like that in our lives. And we also can't do a Friday or Saturday show to 100 people. It's just... We're not Marduk or Vader or Rotting Christ, it just doesn't work likes that. It has to be, more or less, this way. I mean, it's nothing particular, it's just all those tours that we've done... you know, unless they go to Paris, it's very seldom that they'll go to London, you know? It's really not very much to do with us."

Any band only has so many days in the year, and it makes most sense to go where you're most wanted and appreciated. There's an argument that says that until 'To the Nameless Dead' had done its work, Primordial didn't have much of a profile in the UK - and the work it did do to raise their profile generally meant they had better opportunities open to them than UK club shows. Plus there is nothing like absence to make the heart grow fonder. And of course, the older you get as a band, the more you have to pick carefully.

"This is true, but also the fact that we aren't a professional band, that we don't make our living from Primordial. Maybe if we were twenty-two or twenty-three we could have thrown our hats in the ring and gone, 'Right, let's take everything that we're offered. Let's tour for three months...' and this that and the other. But that's just not the way life has worked out."

Being in the business of being a metal band while not having it be a professional gig requires you to have a lot of discipline in your life as a whole.

"There's no pension plan in heavy metal," says Nemtheanga with a chuckle. "I mean, it's different for me as I don't have [pauses] kids or family or, you know, some of the bills to pay that some of the other guys do. Mortgages and this kind of thing. And also Ireland is a very expensive country to live in. You know, it's not like the money we have goes as far as it might do for Vader or Behemoth in Poland. It's not like in Scandinavia where you can apply for grants from the state or anything. The balancing act (is) between picking the things that you're able to do, that financially make sense, and of course, in the current economic climate in Ireland, if you have a job you really have to hold onto it, which means that maybe some of the leeway you might have been allowed with your job four or five years ago, as regards to like unpaid leave, just doesn't really exist any more. So it's just a balancing act, like anything else. We do enough - maybe we don't do as much as we'd like, but we do enough to be able to, you know, make it sort of sort of tick over."

Given the life opportunity, one wonders if Primordial would do a lot more shows. Some bands aren't into playing live- some professional musicians (Kate Bush is an example) find that fitting live work around commitments to family life makes their prospect completely unpalatable. How much of Nemtheanga's life would he be happy to spend on the road if there were no commitments to consider?

"Most of it, probably. [laughs] It suits me, it's what I like. I don't really like being in the studio, it bores me. People in a heavy metal or rock band complaining[emphasis] about being on the road? I mean that's... You know, you don't realise what sort of opportunity you've been given to see the world. Well, maybe the toilets of the world but you're still seeing the world. I would do way more if I was able. It just doesn't necessarily work out like that, you know? Like I said, we do enough that there's things to do, but you know, trying to get away for more than fourteen to twenty days at any one time... That said, you know, if you were, I don't know, the Vaders or Rotting Christs of this world, doing a hundred days, ninety day tours in a hundred days and stuff, I don't know whether that would suck the joy out of it. But if that's you're living that's also your living. The other thing I just thought: if we were a professional band then we would have to, probably, make an album every 18 months at least. That might[emphasis] impinge on the creativity of the music. You know, if we had[emphasis] to do it.

Not being tied to the constant album cycle seems an advantage for Primordial. Their records sound like they take time to bring together, to mature in their creators minds. Things might get horribly watered down were they hooked up like cows for milking. If you're managing to make consistently great records at a rate of about one every three years, probably it's desirable that you not be forced to make them on someone else's tighter schedule.

"Yeah, I mean it's not impossible. The only thing is that don't forget that, you know, when you pick up the new Primordial album and you compare it to the new Satyricon album you have to make [pauses, wry chuckle] a judgement there that here is a band who are professional musicians: that's what they do, make music. It's what they can do for the whole week, whereas we might rehearse, I don't know, once every six weeks sometimes. [interviewer exclaims 'Wow'] Yeah, sometimes not for two or three months if there's nothing to do. When you're having to juggle all the other things in your life with[emphasis] trying to be creative as well, it's very difficult to find that... that equilibrium, that balance, you know? So I think that's probably something that most people don't appreciate but, you know, that's life. What can you do? You just get on with it."

As apologetic as Nemtheanga is, some of us would say that he's seeing it the wrong way around. Having music not be a job, an obligation, is arguably a virtue. Not having the time to play the life out of your ideas may keep the spark that spawned them present. When all was said and done, the best albums of 2010 were not made by professionals but by amateurs. But more on that another time.

[Part 3 will be completed asap - not promising is better than breaking a promise]
Primordial recently announced their first UK club shows in 3 years, one in Manchester on the 4th of May and one in London the following night. If tickets for either haven't sold out by the time you read this, you are strongly urged to secure your place. It will be incredible: you won't believe a mere band of men with instruments and vocal chords can transform the world around you into such an intense arena of sensory experience. Be there.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Apologies, plus Primordial transcript available

Woke late, spent too much time watching Vietnam documentaries and reading 100 Bullets yesterday night and, still half-asleep, killed my alarm when it tried to wake me up at 0600 today, so next Primordial episode will have to wait for this evening at least. However, the accompanying transcript to part 1 has just been published on if you're interested in such things. Primordial interview pt 2: "We cannot do a Wednesday show to 50 people anymore" will be available Saturday afternoon at the latest.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Primordial interview pt 1: You took the words right out of my mouth... it must have been when you were using a smoke machine

If you've never heard Primordial - or having heard them, haven't taken to them - you should buy their latest record, find seventy minutes of time free from distraction, and immerse yourself in it. Even if the masterful 'To the Nameless Dead' failed to stir you, make 'Redemption at the Puritan's Hand' Primordial's final chance to impress. It is incredible. Not because it is hard to believe that Primordial can make a stunning record - 'Nameless' and 'A Journey's End' (originally released via Misanthropy records in the late '90s) are both brilliant: the records in-between were fine pieces of work too - and not even because 'Nameless' itself marked such a peak in their career. No, 'Redemption' is literally incredible because one would not expect even a band of Primordial's caliber to be able to move out from under the shadow of a 'Black Album'-type release without either trying to mimic it and ending up with a pale imitation (think Amon Amarth's follow up of 'With Oden on Our Side' with 'Twilight of the Thunder God') or mistepping in their attempt to offer something distinctive - a 'Load', if you like. Honestly, I don't want to spoil it, so that's all we'll say about 'Redemption'. For now.

Last summer, 'Redemption' was just out and Primordial were playing the UK's Bloodstock festival. There was an almost tangible air of anticipation as their set approached. Between its surpassing quality, Metal Blade's impressive push, a good dose of luck and a fair helping of hard graft and decisive planning - Primordial do not make a living from their art and vocalist A.A Nemtheanga aside, all members fit Primordial around commitments to both day jobs and families - 'Nameless' had set Primordial on a seemingly inexorable march to major recognition. They were about to reap the rewards on the final day of the UK's finest outdoor metal festival when something rather frustrating happened. Here are my scribbled notes from the day.

12:58 Primordial begin

13:04 first song over, 'As Rome Burns' now.

1313 Rome over, bit of a pause... Alan's voice has gone completely - he can scream, i can talk says drummer.

1346 Watching another band now: crowd sang 'Empire Falls' and 'Coffin Ships' as best they could after an instrumental number.

Discovering later on Sunday from their PR rep that Nemtheanga's voice had returned a mere 40 minutes after the band finished their set, the first obvious question is: what happened?

"Well, what it seems to have been is something called temporary vocal chord paralysis," says Nemtheanga. It seems to have been an allergic reaction to a certain chemical in the smoke machine. I do remember being on the stage at the time, singing fine, and I remember thinking to myself: fucking hell, I’ve never experienced smoke that intense on the stage – literally, you couldn’t even see the crowd at some stages. And I remember taking a big, well [slight chuckle], breath of it basically and from one line to the next my voice just completely disappeared. What can you do? I guess I’ve done 400-and-something gigs and that’s the first time it’s ever happened. Sod’s law that it had to happen at that particular moment. But, you know, what can you do? You just have to take it on the chin and go: OK, well... [trails off, his last words echoing disappointment] You know?"

Nemtheanga is clearly very self-conscious about the whole ordeal. It really hurts him that he couldn't give a great performance for the full length of the band's set. Yet as disappointing as it was for those eager to see Primordial on the day, the unfortunate incident actually made for something of a special gig: it will be remembered fondly rather than bitterly in the future by those who were present in the crowd, if not for those on the stage. Shout-singing yourself hoarse trying to make up for the absence of Nemtheanga, you realise how tricky it is to hit his vocal cues without having a guide with great pipes and a microphone. It would be a frustrating experience were it not for the fact that so many around you are doing the same disservice to their vocal chords for the same reasons. Ultimately it was uplifting: however much we all realised that our efforts were inadequate to the purpose of making the gig work, it was awesome to realise that neither we the crowd nor Primordial the band were willing to just walk away without giving it a go. It was a unique experience which will hopefully remain so.

"It was very cool," says Nemtheanga of our efforts. "It was quite, I suppose, quite touching or moving or something, to hear everyone singing, to realise that that was the level of people’s support or the popularity of the band or [he trails off with a noise like a shrug – like he feels to go on would be superfluous speculation]. You know, that obviously the lyrics or the message in the band means that much to people that they know all the words. And yeah, I mean it was, it was… it will be remembered. I’m sure that it will be remembered. Not for reasons I would want it to be. Ummm, I mean, it never crossed my mind that we should stop or stop playing or anything. To be honest, what we should have done is let our drummer sing, cause he can sing really well. But at the time you don’t think of these things. But I mean what can you do? You just have to take it on the chin and go, alright, this is sods law and if you play X amount of gigs I suppose eventually you’re going to play one where your voice gives in, you know?"

As you can see from the notes above, drummer Simon Ó Laoghaire did say he could sing and Alan could scream. Maybe that was just too difficult to rig up at the time?

"No it wasn’t too difficult. I couldn’t actually make a single noise. I couldn’t even whisper. I couldn’t do anything, at all. He can actually sing really well. He sings Irish Caoineadh songs and he’s a very good singer. So if we’d thought of it or there was a headset he probably could have sang, actually."

[Part 2 will be completed tomorrow morning]

Primordial recently announced their first UK club shows in 3 years, one in Manchester on the 4th of May and one in London the following night. If tickets for either haven't sold out by the time you read this, you are strongly urged to secure your place. It will be incredible: you won't believe a mere band of men with instruments and vocal chords can transform the world around you into such an intense arena of sensory experience. Be there.