Few bands seem to showcase the idea of extreme music for grown ups the way Primordial does. Born out of the early Black Metal scene this Irish band has forged their own path over six albums including To The Nameless Dead, thought by many to be a classic metal album. Primordial abandon much of the shtick and showmanship of modern metal for a more chaotic, darker sound, one born of art rather than commerce.
At the head of this juggernaut is singer Alan Averill aka Nemtheanga whose outlook on life and music is just as no nonsense as his approach to the bleak and harsh vocals of Primordial. The band has recently released a mammoth DVD titled “All Empires Fall” featuring not just extensive live footage but also a rather in depth documentary about the band. I got to speak to Alan and he had more to say in our conversation than most anyone else I’ve interviewed this year. Funny, direct and filled with opinions Alan Averill opened up about his band, his lyrics, the DVD, and anything else I cared to ask him about.
CRAVEONLINE: It seems as if Primordial has made an entire career out of circumnavigating the Black Metal cliché.
ALAN AVERILL: Yeah we did. We were the most heavy metal in some respects by doing it on our own but we just weren’t interested in some of those same things. We’re all traditional metal guys and we’ve always wanted to do this without compromise on our take on music. Every single thing we’ve done has been in that stubborn, alternate direction.
CRAVEONLINE: It seems to have worked for you in a big way.
ALAN AVERILL: Well what goes around comes around. We’ve been very much on the periphery of the scene up until the last two albums but then what we fashioned collectively for the last few years came around. We signed to Metal Blade, released To The Nameless Dead and it all came out to roost so to speak. Is that a good metaphor? I don’t know. People who hadn’t heard of us were wondering who the fuck is this band and people from the beginning were like “Yeah, we knew.”
We’re one of the few bands that stepped out from the underground to challenge the mainstream and yet we’re still respected in the underground.
CRAVEONLINE: I like to think of you as extreme music for adults.
ALAN AVERILL: (Laughs) Yeah, I mean we’re all guys in our mid-thirties. I grew up much more a fan of bands like Bathory, Venom, Merciful Fate as well as the standard bands of the eighties. I was always liked the Show No Mercy (Slayer) style image and there was always a certain theme to the theatricality of that heavy metal that we embody as well. At the same time, and I don’t care if this sounds pretentious or not, Primordial is art it’s not entertainment. The show can be entertaining but it is artistic and the whole point of that is to try and emotively engage with people.
The subject matter whether it’s colorful or historical or relevant was always what we wrote about and always what we wanted to do. We were never interested in singing about zombies or unicorns or Asgard or how metal we were or anything like that. A fifteen-year-old kid who likes metal is not going to get the same jollies out of it when he listens to us. But maybe when they grow up.
CRAVEONLINE: It seems every ten years or so there are always a handful of bands that push things.
ALAN AVERILL: I agree, I think in the last ten years mainstream metal has had a terrible falsity of imagination. It’s had its teeth blunted if not removed by the banality of metalcore to this absolute banality of female fronted gothic metal. I belong to the eighties and nineties metal, I don’t belong to 2000 metal. During that I was in the underground, the only place turning out genuinely extreme bands. Those other bands might as well have been No Doubt to me.
For some strange reason Primordial can exist in both worlds. We’ve become kind of anti-heroes if that doesn’t sound too arrogant. We’re the band that the guy in the Bathory shirt goes to see and tells the guy in the Arch Enemy shirt “You see them, that’s why that band is shit”. It’s strange to observe but that’s what it has become. We can play to six hundred old school guys with Hellhammer t-shirts on and they say “Right, of course, Primordial no problem” and we also play to the mainstream crowd. It’s a balancing act.
CRAVEONLINE: Moving on to the DVD. There are three main shows on there (Dublin, Ragnarok and Hove Festival), what made those shows special enough to make it on the DVD?
ALAN AVERILL: The Dublin show was always the intention, that’s the main body, the main show so that’s the one filmed in the more professional kind of way. Ragnarok was a semi-professional show that no one had ever seen and it looked the best. The Hove and Grasspop is just sort of a little sprinkling on top. We were never going to put the full shows I mean do you really need five different shows of us opening with Empires Fall all on one disc but with different lights? I’m not so sure.
CRAVEONLINE: The Hove show is from Norway. Being an Irish metal band do you have a hard time gaining acceptance from the Norwegian Black Metal scene?
ALAN AVERILL: Is there a Norwegian Black Metal scene anymore? (Laughs) Actually we sell rather well in Norway. We got reviewed in the daily newspaper and got these incredible reviews. The Hove festival, the one on the DVD, we actually played after Bad Religion. It was us Behemoth and Dimmu Borgir on the metal stage and the rest was pop music. Amy Winehouse was there, it was very strange but we just sort of clicked for that year. Traditionally foreign bands that weren’t really big didn’t sell anything in Norway it was impossible. Satyricon could sell 15,000 records but Rotting Christ would sell maybe a few hundred.
As far as Norwegian Black Metal there are a few bands doing the traditional thing but it’s not what it once was. As somebody who was into the music from the beginning there’s now the tendency for everybody to say they’re Norwegian Black Metal based on a sound from the early nineties. Truth is you had everyone from Blasphemy from Canada, Mystifier from Brazil, Samael from Switzerland, Masters Hammer from Czechoslovakia, Rotting Christ from Greece, all involved before Emperor or when Darkthrone were still considered Death Metal.
Now when you watch documentaries on metal and they list the genres suddenly it’s all Norwegian Black Metal? I know for the sake of journalism it’s easier and tidier but the whole Black Metal tape trading scene was there before Norway so I think they get undue credit for creating the scene while to me Worshipping by Samael is just as important if not more important than Emperor. But it was on the cover Kerrang so everybody associates Norway with Black Metal.
CRAVEONLINE: On the documentary part of the DVD you’re very open about the history of the band and even your lyrics. Considering Primordial and artistic endeavor was that hard for you?
ALAN AVERILL: No, I don’t mind. I’ve had people come up and say “this is what this lyric meant to me” and if they can engage with it and that’s what it means to them then that’s fine. I haven’t always interpreted everything I’ve heard or read exactly as it was meant. I’m always happy to talk about the lyrics and what they mean, there’s always extra liner notes in the albums explaining the concept behind the album. I always love that kind of thing, bands that you can really scratch the surface with. If you want to just listen Empire Falls, it’s like a classic metal song in a kind of Iron Maiden kind of mold, then that’s fine but for those who want to engage more with the band on one level or another, it’s all there.
To be honest I’m happy to talk with people about the meanings behind the lyrics as opposed to say the history of the band. I mean, really, this again? I like discussing things that aren’t the same banal questions.
CRAVEONLINE: Primordial has always been able to involve Celtic time signatures, rhythms and melodies into the music. As time goes on does that get more difficult?
ALAN AVERILL: It never gets hard. All of us have a profound understanding of what makes the band the band and we have very good bullshit barometers. All this hokey pokey stuff was never what we were interested in. We always focused more on the dark underbelly of traditional Irish folk music. The strange times or syncopations we use that might not become evident to a listener unless they play an instrument.
We never wanted to be overt about anything. I never wanted to stand on a hill waving an Irish flag singing Hey Diddle Diddle. I never wanted it to be a history lesson where in 1228 this happened and some brave muscular warrior did a hurling deed that never really happened. Even if there were historical leanings to the songs I always wanted it to have a relevant purchase. Whether you were from Peru or Palestine you could recognize yourself in the situations of alienation, martyrdom, sacrifice and you didn’t have to be Irish.
I watched kids sing along with Moonsorrow during the tour in America and they’re singing in Finnish and I’m wondering what they’re singing along to.
CRAVEONLINE: I would say Primordial have a more punk rock feel to what you do than a melodramatic metal one, even though it is metal music.
ALAN AVERILL: Oh I totally agree it’s the difference between reality and fantasy. Primordial is not fantastical at all, we’re not romanticized in fantasy. A lot of metal is about escape and we’re not, Primordial reminds you how dark the world is. We also grew up with things like Minor Threat, Fugazi, Discharge and those elements. Musically we’re not influenced by that but there is a certain attitude. If we go into a club and there’s not stage and we just play in the people I’m fine with that, fucking bring it on. We weren’t indulged growing up; you had to be quite rough and tough to be into metal because you were going to get into a fight.
CRAVEONLINE: What’s going with Primordial now?
ALAN AVERILL: It usually takes us a year and a half to wind back to writing music after we release and album because there just isn’t anything there. Primordial isn’t a professional band, we don’t make a living off of it.
CRAVEONLINE: I didn’t know that.
ALAN AVERILL: Oh no we all have other things, we have to work or we have kids so forth and so on. We don’t really have a work ethic with the band, when there’s nothing to do we don’t force ourselves to do something. It takes a while to build up new ideas and within the last few months we’ve started writing new songs. It keeps us a bit fresh that we don’t have to do anything.
CRAVEONLINE: Is there a certain freedom to that?
ALAN AVERILL: Oh totally. We don’t have to go on tour we don’t have to make an album and a lot of bands are stuck in that cycle have to force that because they don’t know anything else, that’s their career. In some ways I envy the professional bands because you might listen to To The Nameless Dead and judge it on the same criteria as the new Behemoth or Satyricon but those are professional bands that can sit around and write music all day. Primordial has to fit it in with jobs and kids and living quite far away and all the other things that get in the way. But we’re not on the wheel, which is good for us. We could make an acoustic album and people would be like “fair enough”.
CRAVEONLINE: What’s your opinion on this sudden spotlight on Black Metal (Lords Of Chaos, Until The Light Takes Us)?
ALAN AVERILL: I’m traditional about Black Metal in that it’s supposed to exhort negativity it’s supposed to be a negative energy it’s not supposed to be for everyone. It’s not supposed to progress, it’s not supposed to evolve, its supposed to be evil. I think a lot of people are diluting it with this ego take on what is and isn’t Black Metal. Let’s be honest at the end of the day Black Metal is perfect and ripe for the media to find and exploit various angles. You’ve got murder, death, sex, intrigue; you’ve got everything to make a perfect story.
Dark Romanticism (Demo)
Primordial/Katatonia Split 10”
A Journey’s End
The Burning Season EP
Spirit The Earth Aflame
Storm Before Calm
The Gathering Wilderness
Primordial/Mae Mordha Split 7”
To The Nameless Dead
All Empires Fall DVD
For more on Primordial check out http://www.primordialweb.com