Primordial – Exile Among The Ruins (2018) REVIEW

Active in some form of conception since 1987 the long, eclectic transformation of Primordial has given birth to nine full-lengths and countless hours of increasingly epic heavy metal informed equally by all parts of Bathory‘s full body of work, as well as classic heavy metal and various folk rock/metal interests. Their earliest releases were equal in effect, and approach, as Cruachan‘s seamless incorporation of black metal and Celtic folk influence. ‘Imrama’ was no small influence upon pagan black metal and they, along with groups like Kampfar, Ulver and Belenos pioneered a spiritually connected form of black metal that remains sincere in it’s connection to the Earth. Well over two decades later they remain thematically relevant to pagan metal but ‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’ represents a continuation of Primordial‘s expansive epic heavy metal style that arguably came to full fruition on their breakthrough release ‘The Gathering Wilderness’ in 2005.

Primordial‘s fifth album is truly a masterpiece and a release that serves as a personal landmark for my own exploration of metal. Why? I think up until that point I’d focused so much on keeping genres separate and in ‘true’ categories without a ton of love for the odd mutants that cropped up. The vagaries and greys seemed even more important though the capriciousness of ‘The Gathering Wilderness’ wasn’t such a surprise, Primordial had been working up to that level all along. So, if you fell out of love when Primordial eased the brakes to a full-stop on their black metal instrumentation, ‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’ is no different in that respect and represents the fifth iteration in an unstoppable streak of epic pagan heavy metal records with slight folk/black metal influences. There is a strong need to justify this description but how bland are endless discussions of genre nuance? Very. Epic in structure and song-length, pagan in it’s inherent philosophy, heavy metal to the bone, folk (look, you don’t hear Death in Junea little?) and black metal when a burst of intensity is needed. Primordial‘s core conspirators are relics of an age still capable of differentiation and thusly remain an original, unique conception.

‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’ more or less revives the mood of their sixth album ‘To The Nameless Death’ and, though I disagree, most folks feel like 2007 was the band’s defining moment that has carried it’s weight in gold over the last decade. While it is true that all changes have been slight across the last ten years Primordial‘s greatest asset is in their modern treatment of epic heavy metal and the steadily intensifying eye of the storm remains A.A. Nemtheanga. Nemtheanga’s voice is entirely his own and a distinctive instrument in creating memorable song structures. His vocals are most often in service of a larger, arcing melody, another small change in the years since his doom metal side-project Dread Sovereign began and lead to the ultra-epic and satisfying gloom of ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’.

‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’ is less a funeral and more of a Solstice-like mix of folkish heavy metal tunes and some epic doom metal influence. Whereas most comparably epic doom/heavy metal wrestles with iterations of Candlemass riffs, ‘Nordland’ imitations, and progressive rock structures, Primordial are firmed in their modern sound by neofolk vocal patterns and a sound that escapes much of the norm. This is surely due to the satiation achieved in side-projects such as Dread Sovereign‘s epic doom as well as Twilight of the Gods‘ direct Bathory tribute. In this way Primordial manage something transcendent of direct comparison and work only off of their own body of work.

As an experience out of time and place, and beyond set expectations, ‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’ was initially daunting. The full hour of 5-11 minute tracks, that are largely doom-to-viking metal in pace, had to be eased into with patience, especially when transitioning from the burst of death metal releases and funeral doom at the end of March this year. I bought the album and listened to it sporadically across the space of a full month and found greater redeeming value in the mood and composition with each successive listen. It may not be the sort of experience I like to leave on repeat for 3-4 hours at a time, but the one hour statement that Primordial make on ‘Exile Among the Ruins’ is enlightening, regal, and emotional in it’s ‘epic’ delivery.

The obvious singles, each with corresponding music videos, are in fact the standout tracks here with “To Hell or the Hangman” the most urgently memorable song of the bunch. As a full listening experience it was initially more worthwhile to sample songs piecemeal but as each became more familiar their relation in a full album listen became more important. “Where Lie the Gods” and “Sunken Lungs” gave me more of what I wanted in terms of resemblance of ‘The Gathering Wilderness’ so I’d tend to perk up to those, along with the more obvious and moving standouts “Stolen Years”, “Nail Their Tongues” and the meditative title track. Though Primordial has been one of my favorites for nearly fifteen years, 2018 has already been a nigh constant strong showing for metal and ‘Exile Amongst the Ruins’ an impressive set of songs even without legacy appeal. The experience will undoubtedly retain high value alongside the rest of their discography.


Artist Primordial
Type Album
Released March 30, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on Metal Blade Records’ Bandcamp! Follow Primordial on Facebook
Epic Heavy Metal,
Pagan Black Metal,
Folk Metal

For the damned adrift. 4.25/5.0



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