O Discerning Portuguese Metalheads, Where Are Ye?
Primordial, Ceasa and The Ransack at the Hard Club, Gaia, Portugal, on February 16, 2006
by: Pedro Azevedo
It has been three years since my last gig review, and in that period I only attended a meagre number of local shows. Therefore I realize I am not in a position to criticize anyone for not going out on a wintry Thursday night to catch a gig. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel abashed and appalled by the measly crowd of about one hundred souls that gathered to see Primordial -- especially after being told that Edguy and Dragonforce had pretty much sold out the venue the previous week. Has the metal populace around here not heard that Primordial's _The Gathering Wilderness_ was elected CoC Album of the Year for 2005? Are they not paying any attention?

In all seriousness, I was very disappointed that such a talented band failed to draw a far more significant crowd than this. Sure it was a Thursday night, and Primordial did come down to Portugal last year, but they didn't play any shows in the vicinity of Porto at the time -- and this is the Hard Club we're talking about here, which may be unknown for nearly all of you reading this, but happens to be an outstanding venue. The few who made it there eagerly awaited Ireland's finest to appear on stage, but first there were two little known support acts to suffer through.

While my previous sentence pretty much indicates how much of a mood for watching support bands I was in, local act The Ransack at least delivered a vibrant little set. Originality is hardly their forte, with a lot of riffs and breaks reminding me of something or another that I could never quite name, but they partially made up for that with their enthusiasm. Usually quick, propelled by intensive use of the kickdrum, their material is based on what sounded to me like mostly technical death metal riffage and medium pitched growls. They looked young, and if they are able to develop into something more distinctive in the future, I wouldn't be too surprised to hear about them again.

Instead of Moonsorrow and Mourning Beloveth, both of whom I would be extremely interested in seeing live, and who happen to be about to embark on an European tour with Primordial, it was Ceasa who got the support slot tonight. While there were some similarities between Ceasa and Primordial -- both are Irish, both use a mixture of clean and harsh vocals, both use Celtic and Pagan themes -- they never threatened to warm up past the "we're only here as a support act" stage and challenge the headliners in any way. The first track or two were particularly uninspiring, but fortunately things only improved from that point onward. Despite a number of odd passages in some songs, Ceasa started to become a more pleasant way to pass the time about midway through their set. Using some unusual riffs and arrangements, it was mostly a simple case of hit and miss; Primordial seemed to be on everyone's minds however, and they soon appeared on stage.

The problem is that Primordial weren't on stage to perform their set just yet. They were forced (by circumstances unknown to me) to settle for a rushed ten minute sound check just before they were scheduled to play. With this pseudo sound check completed, they went back behind the curtains, the lights dimmed, and a recorded intro began -- hardly promising or awe inspiring stuff. Then Alan Nemtheanga joined the band, bald head covered in various paintings, fixed his eyes on the crowd, and took control for the duration of their set.

Even Nemtheanga would find it difficult to overcome certain technical difficulties however, with the mic dying on him midway through a song. The fact that one of their guitarists was missing (replaced by someone I didn't know) was not a great help either. While the substitute guitarist did a decent job, the guitar sound just wasn't clear enough for me -- which wasn't exactly a surprise, given the whole sound check situation. I felt this was detrimental to their performance, as the guitar lines are fundamental to Primordial's music; but the determination they showed to overcome this and deliver a good performance is a massive credit to the band, and indeed their performance was great. With Nemtheanga's huge stage presence, Simon O'Laoghaire's superlative drumming and the guitar lines being half heard and half remembered, Primordial's set somehow still managed to be a joy to witness. An excellent setlist helped turn the whole thing into a memorable gig in spite of everything.

Opening with the first couple of cuts from their last album, "The Golden Spiral" and "The Gathering Wilderness", they immediately won the small crowd. Nemtheanga prowled the stage, raised his hands to the sky, went down on his knees, and delivered a potent and spirited performance. Primordial then came up with a tailor-made surprise for me, in the shape of old personal favourite "Autumn's Ablaze" from their _A Journey's End_ album. This was followed up by the strong "The Burning Season", first released in an EP bearing the same title and then included in their _Spirit the Earth Aflame_ album, and "Sons of the Morrigan" from _Storm Before Calm_, the only less remarkable track.

Things rapidly improved with my two favourite Primordial songs successively played: "The Coffin Ships" from _The Gathering Wilderness_ and "The Soul Must Sleep" from _Spirit the Earth Aflame_ -- with the heart-rending guitar solo that forms the backbone of the latter song's second half unfortunately being partially lost in the mix. With this pair of songs Primordial's performance peaked in terms of emotional charge, and the band took on a more aggressive stance from that point onwards. The powerful "Fallen to Ruin" from _Storm Before Calm_ heralded the old "To Enter Pagan", originally from their _Dark Romanticism_ demo. The setlist was temporarily wrapped up with another excellent song, "Tragedy's Birth" from CoC's 2005 Album of the Year _The Gathering Wilderness_, before the band came back by public demand with only one guitarist to deliver the very fitting title track from _A Journey's End_.

It is hard to criticize a gig when the headliners happen to have such outstanding songs to draw from -- not to mention a nearly flawless setlist -- and also put in as much effort as they did to make the show worthwhile. Only some technical difficulties prevented this gig from fulfilling the entirety of its huge potential, but even so, this was a memorable night without a doubt. May Primordial come back soon.

(article submitted 20/2/2006)


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