Think strictly of metal bands which have been constantly active on the last 20 years. Very few (if any, to be perfectly honest) manage to do what Primordial have done: to remain with a firm foot on the underground while having such a fan base that it makes perfect sense to see them headlining a festival like SWR Barroselas or theDark Easter Metal Meeting while also being a part of Graspop. In the end this status is just a reflection of the constant high level of their releases, which has either increased or remained stably high with masterpiece after masterpiece. A reflection of relentless touring without going into auto-pilot and managing to dodge all attempts to restrict them to sub genres: black metal hasn’t really been enough for a very long time and folk metal sounds even sillier with regards to their sound. They are a metal band, and one of the most important ones of the past decades, end of story.
On May 2 of this year, Primordial will headline the second day of the 18th edition of SWR Barroselas Metalfest, making their long awaited return to Portugal after a five year absence, a period during which they released “Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand” and “Where Greater Men Have Fallen”. We talked with their singer and frontman, A.A. Nemtheanga.
Since your last time in Portugal, you have released two records which haven’t therefore been presented in a live setting to the majority of the Portuguese crowd. Can those attending the festival expect a set heavily based on them?
We have no idea really yet, we don’t write the setlist months in advance. I guess you will hear some newer songs of course and some old classics
Your relationship with Portugal has been documented (e.g. “Heathen Tribes”). Are there other moments in there that you remember?
Sure, of course. Portugal was one of the first places we ever toured, back in 98/99, so we have good memories. It was all a learning curve and was very important to us..
During the Eindhoven Metal Meeting, I seem to recall you saying something along the lines of “we are not a fucking request band” in response to a guy who kept shouting for some song. Is this approach to concerts, where a set of Primordial reflects the current state of the band instead of being a mere collection of past hits, part of what still motivates you to play live?
I said “do we look like a band who takes requests?”, not quite as extreme as you make it sound. It was more a little black humour. Our problem is of course that the songs are long and we have now 8 albums, so fitting something for everyone into a 50-55 minute set is almost impossible. However we are happy that we are not a band people show up to hear only our debut or second album….
Another aspect of a Primordial concert is the intensity of the performance. With the amount of times a song life “Coffin Ships” (just to name one of the regulars) has been played, one wouldn’t perhaps expect it to be played with the passion that it is. How does this feeling of remain intact over time?
We just say what we mean and mean what we say, if you have created something that means something to you then you should have no problem standing behind that right? No matter how many times. When I feel I am going through the motions I hope I quit.
Having been active for more than 20 years and looking back at the writing of “Where Greater Men Have Fallen”, has the way you guys approach the composition of a record changed a lot over time? From a personal point of view, how would you compare your writing of lyrics (either in terms of process or choice of themes)?
No, not at all. Exactly the same. We meet, we rehearse, we argue, we structure ideas and record them on our phones and go home and rework and listen. No big secret. I just write lines here and there, sometimes a whole lyric comes right out, sometimes I go back and find lines from 10 years ago and take them and use them.
In “Seed Of Tyrant” you address a disillusion regarding the proliferation of tyrants after the Arab spring. If we add to that the economic crisis we live in and the wars surrounding Europe, it seems the falling of the Western world you forebode in “To The Nameless Dead” is coming full throttle. Could you comment on this?
These are definitely darker times than even five years ago. “Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand” looked a little more inward, this album looks outward, at the state of the world. We are entering some kind of state of cultural, political, economic, intellectual, religious, secular devolution and the only future is one where the streets will run with blood.
Creatively speaking, does the fact that you now have Dread Sovereign to freely explore different aspects of your output help in any way with writing for Primordial? On the same topic, will we Dread Sovereign be active either with recordings or concerts in the near future?
We just did a European tour with Procession with Dread Sovereign so yeah, why not? We will keep on going, they are completely different bands. Dread Sovereign is more my vision musically and aesthetically. Primordial continues as it always has, I just add more string to the bow, however way you want to look at it.
Besides a prolific musician, you are also known for being a very passionate metal fan. You’ve often take the role of a DJ, for instance in the very old-school oriented afterparties at Roadburn, and helped spread the name of underrated bands through things like the video series with Brian Slagel from Metal Blade (made me discover Trouble and Omen – thank you!). With that in mind, I’d ask you to end this conversation by giving our readers something to go listen to – old or new, it doesn’t matter.
Ah you know…..what’s worth in life than the middle ground? Being non-committal? I’m either all or nothing generally. Loved or hated both are fine with me. Today I listened to some old Riot which I recommend in all eras! Treason and Mendes Prey for some old school NWOBHM and also the last Darkness album which I love! Via some MGLA… so take from that what you will! Just don’t sit on the fence of life :)
Riot • “Run For Your Life”
Treason • “Panic In The Streets”
Mendes Prey • “Running For You”
The Darkness • “Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us”
MGLA • “With Hearts Toward None VII”
Primordial • “Babel’s Tower”