One of the lasting effects the notorious second wave of black metal had on underground heavy metal is the introduction of the idea that metal's primary purpose is to spread misanthropy and evil. Heavy metal, as a genre, has dealt with the darkness of humanity since its inception, but misanthropy has never been its primary focus. Heavy metal's defining characteristic, as its name suggests, is weight. Metal is a huge subgenre and lyrical content varies wildly, but the common denominator between every band is musical weightiness. In order to be convincing, heavy metal bands have to project authority in either musical or vocal performance. Ireland's Primordial delivers on both fronts in spades.
Primordial is a product of the aforementioned second wave of black metal that swept through Europe and other parts of the globe in the 90s. The band is the definition of a cult act – they've released a steady stream of good-to-great albums over their twenty year history but never gained the kind of following that contemporaries like Mayhem and Immortal enjoy. As Primordial has progressed as a band, they've moved further and further from their black metal beginnings; so much so that the band's new album Where Greater Men Have Fallen is, for all intents and purposes, not black metal. That's fine, though. There are plenty of acts that still fly the trve kvlt flag, and Primordial is better when they're doing their own thing anyway.
Where Greater Men Have Fallen sees the band at the height of its game. This is a truly heavy album both musically and thematically. The album opens with the martial drums and galloping guitar chords of the eponymous track, and the first words out of A.A. Nemtheanga's mouth are, "For those who buried their sons/Under bone white crosses/For those who saw their daughters/Virtues were taken by invading forces." You can't get heavier than rape and murder. It would be easy for lesser bands to handle this type of subject matter ham-handedly or reduce it to horror movie fodder, but Nemtheanga is a skilled writer who imbues his profane lyrics with a literate air. His writing is evocative but restrained as opposed to the garishness that infects a lot of extreme metal. His voice is also expressive enough to do justice to the words. Death growls and black metal shrieks require a certain level of talent to pull off well, but Nemtheanga possesses the ability to howl in key. It's hard to describe his singing style if you've never heard it, but it fits Primordial's forbidding image well, and, as a plus, you can actually understand what he's saying without the aid of a lyric sheet.
As was mentioned earlier, Primordial can't really be classified as a black metal band anymore. There are still some remnants of the style in the bands music, the flurry of blast beats in "The Seed of Tyrants" or the wall of guitars on "Come the Flood" being the primary examples, but the band could be more accurately described as folk metal now. The presence of traditional Irish folk music is unmistakable on every track, and the album closing "Wield Lightning to Split the Sun" bears an especially strong influence. Ciáran MacUiliam and Michael O'Floinn's guitars recreate the bouncy melodies of Irish folk while a mournfully droning guitar stands in for a fiddle midway through the track. Don't be fooled by all this talk of folk music, though. Where Greater Men Have Fallen is a supremely heavy album. The music conjures images of sailing a longship into a raging storm or plowing a rocky field.
The atmosphere Primordial have created here is relentlessly crushing and emotional. Only a few truly great albums come out every year, and this is one of them. This is heavy metal for metalheads. If you ever find yourself complaining about the state of heavy music, this album will shut you up immediately.