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.

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