Words: Alan Daly / Pictures: Olga Kuzmenko
Such is the relative rarity of a Primordial show on their native soil that a four hour round trip is required to catch the Celtic black metallers performing live this Spring, and making the best of the pre-Brexit travel ease, we cross the border to Belfast to the familiar Limelight 2 venue. Formed more than thirty years ago in Dublin, Primordial were the first of their genre to emerge from Ireland, and have amassed a sizeable following on mainland Europe and worldwide meaning that Irish fans are more likely to catch the quintet at a Summer festival than headlining at home.
Tonight’s is an early show, and penultimate act The Crawling are already on stage by the time we arrive at 7pm. There’s a respectable crowd gathered, but still plenty of space to get to the front, which is surprising as we expected to see more local support for the Belfast-based trio. Having formed less than five years ago, they have just two full-length studio albums from which to draw their setlist, and they choose three each from Anatomy of Loss and Wolves and the Hideous White. They start with the pummelling intro of the hooky title track to the latter which was released at the tail end of 2018 and was awarded best Irish album (and best Irish album artwork) of the year by Metal Radio Ireland. Their doom metal is delivered in a haze of fog and dim lights, with lead vocals from Andy Clarke sounding like Satan with a sore throat. The Crawling are a well-chosen warm-up for tonight’s headliner, and whilst it’s not the first time the two have shared a bill, it probably won’t be the last.
Back in Northern Ireland for the first time in more than nine years, Primordial have no less than three albums of unheard (live, at least) material to choose from, and fans are eager to consume. Indeed the show kicks off with ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’, from their 2014 release of the same name, and eight minutes later, straight into ‘Nail Their Tongues’, the opener from their newest offering Exile Among the Ruins. Yes; epic tales of oppression, struggle and torture are the unsurprising order of the day from the Celts.
As always, long-time frontman AA Nemtheanga sports deathly corpse paint, and commands the stage draped in chains, a hangman’s noose and wearing trousers that could well have been borrowed from a decaying cadaver. He is flanked by his unassuming bandmates; founding members Ciáran MacUiliam on guitar and Pól MacAmhlaigh on bass, along with Micheál Ó Floinn on guitar. All are dressed conservatively in black jeans and t-shirts, with clean un-tattooed skin, making Averill’s contrasting appearance and menacing stare all the more intimidating. Between tracks, he takes time to thank the audience for their patience and support, introducing tracks, and to occasionally slug from his bottle of red wine.
The setlist continues, drawing equally heavily from the new album and To The Nameless Dead, released in 2007. Two tracks from The Gathering Wilderness are also included, with the live debut of ‘End Of All Times (Martyr’s Fire)’, a surprising treat for the hardcore fans in attendance who have waited 14 years for the occasion. The energy grows quickly as the show progresses, and it’s not long before the floor becomes a heaving mass of bodies, with arms and elbows flailing in every direction, even upwards upon regular encouragement from Averill. On stage, the performance is enthusiastic and impeccable in its delivery, and the seasoned musicians show no signs of weariness. After more than ninety minutes, and twelve tracks of the best of Irish black metal, Primordial wrap things up with ‘The Coffin Ships’ and ‘Empire Falls’, before promising to return sooner next time around and taking their leave to a massive bualadh bos*.
I’m not sure why Primordial do not play more shows at home, but next time they do, don’t miss out on the opportunity to appreciate one of Irish metals greatest ambassadors. Tar ar ais go luath!**
* bualadh bos = round of applause
** Tar ar ais go luath! = Come back soon!