Primordial
How It Ends

In the end, how do you want to be remembered?

Will you be remembered at all?

The ultimate weight of our own legacy hangs like a formless specter, bearing down on us with every waking moment, growing heavier and more gnarled with every step towards this life’s inevitable conclusion. And that’s kind of a bitch, ain’t it? The idea of spending any of your very limited time in this existence worrying about what people are going to think when you’re gone – it’s not just wasteful, it’s pretentious. Who are any of us to assume anyone is going to be left thinking of us at all when we go? And what’s more, why should they? Life goes on.

Until, I suppose, it doesn’t.

Nearly 30 years in, Primordial have already well cemented their own legacy. Their pedigree, their importance in the development and progress of not just Black Metal, but all of extreme music, is unquestionable. With nothing really left to prove, it seems the only thing left to ponder is, appropriately, “how does it all end?” Primordial mastermind A.A. Nemtheanga (AKA Alan Averill) himself has made suggestion that we’re in the twilight of Primordial’s time, so it’s fair to start wondering how such a legendary act wraps up three decades of truly inspiring and original work.

How it Ends may not be the band’s actual swansong, but if it’s any indication of how the band will ultimately see itself out, we can assume this – 30 years is a long friggin’ time, and as has always been true of Primordial, they’re not here for your instant gratification. You will have to work for it a bit, and while I understand that sort of listening experience is not for everyone, I also think in this case, it’s well worth the effort. Every Primordial album is an experience, as much as they are simply a new collection of songs, so your best bet is to sit down for a concerted listening sesh if you really want to get the full effect.

 

Of course, Nemtheanga’s commanding presence is the first thing that always jumps out upon first listening, and it’s no difference here, but credit must again be given to guitarist Ciaran MacUiliam, who’s flying solo now after the departure of longtime fellow axeman Michael O’Floinn. There’s no drop off in the quality of riffs or, in what has become an increasingly more prevalent part of the band’s sound, the classic Heavy Metal-inspired melodies that always have me daydreaming about road trips inside a wizard-mural-painted Astro van. And the leads here are mighty! The harmonies on “Ploughs to Rust, Swords to Dust” and “Traidisiunta” effectively pull off the effect of both putting a swell of pride and bravado in your chest, while still feeling mournful and pleading, befitting an album exploring the world’s downfall in all it’s facets. To that end, “Pilgrimage to the World’s End” is just one of many prime examples of a song perfectly crafted around an album’s theme – a slow burner that plays out more while sitting down at the fire, listening to some epic tragedy woven and performed by a well-seasoned bard. You can feel the dread of impending doom, the dirge of hopelessness in Nemtheanga’s voice as he tells his tale of desperate, abandoned humanity.

It’s also true that, to this point in Primordial‘s career, Nemtheanga has become an absolute master of using his voice to convey emotion and emphasis, and so much of this album really relies on the listener taking extra care to focus on not just his performance, but the actual lyrics themselves to capture the full effect. This can be seen as a detriment to some, understandably. This is not a casual listen. These are long tracks – and there are some lengthy stretches where it feels the instruments are there only to serve as backdrop for Nemtheanga to take canter stage. It probably feels that way because… well… that’s pretty much what’s happening! That said, it doesn’t mean the rest of the band is mailing it in – not even remotely. I’ll put it to you this way: Michael Jordan is one of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball. His individual talents are undeniable. But as good as Michael Jordan was, even he could not enjoy his level of success with just any surrounding cast. It took 7 years to find the right formula that finally unlocked Jordan’s full potential, and it truly took every piece of the puzzle to do their jobs to make the whole thing work. In that way, think of Ciaran MacUiliam, Pol MacAmhlaigh, and Simon O Laoghaire as Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, and Horace Grant (If I’ve lost you with all of this, I apologize but I promise this makes perfect sense. Trust me, I’m an internet blogger). They may not be the headline grabbers, but they’re all doing their part to make the machine churn. As mentioned already, MacUiliam’s guitars really set the tone, even at their most simple. The guitars aren’t competing for attention or trying to blow you away, they’re helping to set the stage.

“Call to Cernunnos” (an ancient Gaelic horned God of nature, animals, and fertility) plays out just as the title suggests, a called-out prayer to a higher power, seeking answers to the world’s problems. We’re talking rhythmic, ritualistic drums, and a joyous, uplifting riff that feels very much like an act of worship, like a congregation coming together to summon a higher spirit. But then, midway through, a noticeable shift in tone takes place – much darker and foreboding. The congregation is no longer praying in adoration, but because they need this powerful being to come to earth and reverse all the ills humanity have wreaked upon the earth. Again, nothing here is blowing anyone away, but it suits Primordial‘s intentions perfectly – everything working in harmony to tell a story. No wasted efforts, and just enough dramatic flare to raise the hairs on your arms every so often.

It remains to be seen when Primordial will call it a day, but while their time on Earth remains, we can rest assured that the band will continue to do things their own way – the way that has built them up to be one of the more revered and influential acts of a generation. Comparing this to any of their other work is inevitable, but pointless. At the end of the day, what’s true about How it Ends is the same that’s been true of Primordial‘s work for decades: there’s nothing else out there quite like it, and frankly, there likely will never be again. This may not have the immediate gratification you seek as a casual listener, but once you fully immerse yourself into the tales put together here, somber and foreboding as they may be, I think you’ll find How it Ends a real treat worthy of the band’s illustrious career.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
October 16th, 2023

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