Dark Songs of Erenn
CoC interviews Alan Averill Nemtheanga of Primordial
by: Pedro Azevedo
_A Journey's End_ [CoC #33] still is definitely one of the albums that I find most remarkable in my collection as far as musical personality goes. Primordial's latest full-length effort is unlikely to seize the listener upon first spin, but it can grow -immensely- on any fan of doomy music if it is given the chance. By mixing complex songs full of marvellous details that reveal themselves with repeated listens and three shorter songs that really inject variety into the album, Primordial have created one of those albums in which every song clearly seems to be there for a specific reason and not just because they had some spare riffs they could use for another track. The following is an in-depth snail-mail interview with the Irish band's charismatic vocalist Alan Averill Nemtheanga.

CoC: Many bands out there just want to put together some musical ideas, a band name and cover art that will capture the potential buyers' attention, and release albums. _A Journey's End_, however, seems to have been made in a different way. I think there must have been a lot of thought and care put into lyrics, cover art and, of course, music in order to make it all work together. What was the process that led to this final unity of music, lyrics and artwork?

Alan A. Nemtheanga: You are right pretty much. A lot of time, thought, arguing and deliberation goes into the songwriting. We are pretty slow songwriters and this is really due to our attitude towards the songs. We never let anything we aren't totally happy with into the songs. There are albums worth of discarded riffs out there! We try and approach the songs as a whole particular feeling or atmosphere rather than simply riffs juxtaposed together. As for the lyrics, I simply write when I feel the need or the urge to write and I try and place the lyric or words most fitting to the music's atmosphere in rehearsal and gradually it all comes together. Things like artwork are really my department, so to speak; generally I either have too many ideas or we are so concentrated on the music that after recording we are left with very little visual compliments. The process that leads to all this is unwavering commitment to never compromise our music and our vision, irrespective of trends or scene changes. We play whatever the fuck we want... exclusively.

CoC: Please tell me more about the album cover. What does it represent within the album's concept and how did you find it? It seems to have a certain antique look to it, or else it has probably been made to look that way, and seems to fit the lyrics and music in a way.

AAN: Strange you should mention this. Actually, originally we had a different cover and we had all settled upon it, but Misanthropy [Records] hated it and put pressure on us to change it... and my biggest regret with _A Journey's End_ is that I listened [to them] and changed it. The original cover was more suited to the lyrics. The cover you see is a very quick job by master Stephen O'Malley and, while not being exactly as I wanted, it does reflect the sombre, natural and earthy feel to the music. It's a photo from the turn of the century, even though it doesn't look like it. Some people call it "The Brown Album"! The logo should be in gold and be much bigger, which is also very annoying. The vinyl version [on Hammerheart Records] will have the original cover.

CoC: There has been, in my opinion, quite a progression in your music since the _Imrama_ days, even though it was a good debut album. How would you describe that progress?

AAN: There was a long gap between albums and it's natural that we would evolve as individuals and musicians. I am still very proud of _Imrama_ and it was good for its time and the circumstances under which it was conceived, but it has its flaws! As musicians we have come to understand music theory and structure and have a greater understanding of what it takes to write a Primordial song. As people we have also evolved, how we look at the world and how we relate to each other as individuals has grown and evolved. Our songs now are more mature and coherent than before... with a greater compliment of light and shade. We have come to understand that the violent parts shall sound even more so when placed with sombre and melancholic movements. We are always evolving.

CoC: I was quite glad to still find some harsher vox on _A Journey's End_, which in my opinion work very well with the clean vocals, which have also improved. Will you keep using them in the future?

AAN: Like I said, light and shade! I try and utilize as many different vocal styles as possible, I try and enhance whatever atmosphere that particular song may have. There are many different vocal styles on _A Journey's End_ and in the future I will do anything and everything that adds to the music. Primordial will always also have harsh vocals... that is something I will never leave behind. Our roots are black metal, and there will always be something of that in the music. Like I said, whatever suits the music the best...

CoC: Your clean vocals on _A Journey's End_ are often among the most emotional I've ever heard. What overall feelings and experiences do you try to portray through your vocals? Where do they come from, what is it that generally inspires you?

AAN: Thank you. Basically, the lyrics are a very personal thing and this "personal" quality is something that very much goes into the singing. Basically I try and put every part of me, to put my soul into the songs. That is what you are hearing. I'm just trying to enhance the atmosphere in the most fitting way possible. Whatever the lyrics may be about is what I am trying to get across. The passion and conviction. To properly explain my inspirations is a long and very detailed text... and I wouldn't want to bore you! What you are generally hearing is the way it is. I do get inspiration from other singers, I'm -totally- in awe of Eric Adams [Manowar], David DeFeis [Virgin Steele], Johan Langqvist [first Candlemass album], Messiah Marcolin [Candlemass], Ronnie James Dio, etc, etc...

CoC: What's the story behind the remarkable "The Dark Song" of Erenn? And who, or what, is Erenn?

AAN: Erenn is Ireland... in old Irish (language). The lyrics are simply an invocation of our country by 13th century heathen poet Amergin Glungel. The words are mighty... dark, tragic and evocative, we had to put it to music. It says more about Ireland than I could ever... it is the perfect invocation of Erenn. Dark and tragic. I don't think you're going to hear a track like this on any metal album, really!

CoC: I find "Autumn's Ablaze" a very beautiful, emotional track -- your vocals and lyrics and also the music. Can you tell me more about it?

AAN: It's difficult to dissect songs or to take them out of context. "Autumn's Ablaze" uses the imagery of the passing of the seasons to convey a feeling of immense loss. It reaches the depths the soul can go in resignation and realizing that some things you may never have... to simply dream them is the only key. The feeling of being alone and questioning your worth, and your place in the world. However, it is not a negative or pessimistic song... it respects the beauty in the unattainable... from everything to a woman, a place, a time, an emotion. It does not have an answer, but it never really poses a question?!... Falling from grace is a beautiful thing to behold!

CoC: The title track's lyrics seem to be related to the political/religious situation in Ireland. What are your thoughts on this and on that whole situation?

AAN: Not really, I never really thought of it in that way until after the song was done; it seemed somewhat poignant. A slight reflection on our troubles. Again, this song deals with loss... seeing a people lose touch with their natural surroundings... wondering aloud is this what so many died for... for this society. An honourless society. But it is not an aggressive lyric. More a malign deep seated remorse at a people losing their fire! In a way, it is similar to what Ihsahn [from Emperor] is saying in "The Loss and Curse of Reverence", only not as bitter or aggressive. It is saying there are lessons to be learnt... but no one pays attention... and I am not a teacher. Let them be the architects of their own demise...

CoC: You use many Irish elements in your music, which certainly helps to make you quite a unique band. Besides the fact that those elements do strengthen your music, how important is it for you that people will recognise you as being an Irish band?

AAN: To be recognised as being Irish is a very important thing for us; whether we like it or sometimes not, we are seen as ambassadors or standard bearers for our country, being the most well-known band from Ireland. We are of course proud of our culture and heritage and of course living here does affect our music. We do have an Irish feel, but we don't like to be blatant and obvious about it... we are subtle. We like to confound people's expectations that we should be recycling Celtic myths and ripping off traditional music. We forge our own sound. Being Irish will always affect us and be a part of us, and we are comfortable and proud of that fact.

CoC: "Solitary Mourner" is a very unique, very emotional track which can really reach deep inside the listener. What were the ideas behind it?

AAN: I guess it is a little strange, I didn't really think about it at the time, but looking back "Solitary Mourner" is a rather public exorcism, and an uncomfortable listen for many people. The title "Solitary Mourner" is slightly lifted from a Leonard Cohen track called "Queen Victoria". The track itself has more than a little nod in the direction of Leonard, as he is a little bit of an idol of mine. I think that enough of me has gone into that song that I don't need to explain it, really. Let's just say it's a paean to loss, self loathing, dejection and depression. In case you can't hear it!... [Highly unlikely. -- Pedro] A suicide anthem for all the kids, huh?!

CoC: "Bitter Harvest" is indeed a rather bitter song, I'd say. Your vocals are more aggressive there than anywhere else on the album, moreso than on "Graven Idol" where you also use harsher vox; they are especially harsh towards the end of the song, where you practically scream out the last few words. That song's lyrics are also particularly intense, too. What made you choose to finish your participation on the album like that? What do you want to express with it?

AAN: The bitter tone of the lyrics lent itself to be screamed, and we will never leave those vocals behind. It wasn't on purpose, but it was good to bring the album to a close with something really aggressive and violent and then let the listener come down with "An Aistear Deirneach". "Bitter Harvest" is just my vitriolic, bitter and violent scathing attack on the grey mass of society. At the grey ugliness. It is inspired by a book called "Journey to the End of the Night" by Celine (Louis Ferdinand, French author) and it is a grim and depressing, yet compelling, littany of human failure, compromise, misery and dejection. "Bitter Harvest" is an open expression of contempt and misanthropy towards "them". Never let the bastards grind ya down.

CoC: Overall, I feel that every song on _A Journey's End_ has a lot of personality, the songs all have their own identity. Did you specifically want to make sure this would happen?

AAN: Definitely, each song has its own feel, Primoridal is definitely a band that you can put tunes to the names of the songs in your head. They are all memorable and distinct. We put a lot of work into the songs to make them so. That sense of identity is perhaps our strongest point... no two songs are really that similar.

CoC: I know you have left Misanthropy; for some reason, I felt your band, for several reasons, sort of fitted well with that label, or at least with it's name. What happened? What's the story behind your signing for Hammerheart?

AAN: Well, Misanthropy is folding... finished. It's being sold. [I didn't know that at the time I wrote the questions, obviously, but indeed, unfortunately, Misanthropy have confirmed that they shall cease their activities this Summer. -- Pedro] So, really, we had no choice. Besides which, things were not going very well and the label had painted itself into this "avant garde" leftfield label... that critics love but doesn't sell... and doesn't get tour support. It is better for Primordial to be on a more metal label as we are a live band... we want to tour and get out there, not only remain obscure and a musical elitist's choice. We want to get out there, play festivals, let as many people hear us as possible. We want to see the whites of people's eyes down the front, my friend. As metal was intended. Well, with Hammerheart, we know Guido for years and he's a good friend... and an '80s child also! We'll be OK there... however, no label is perfect, to say the least.

CoC: A new EP is supposed to come out on Hammerheart now. What can you tell us about it as far as the changes in your style and the contents (new material, something else) of the EP are concerned? Is there a release date yet?

AAN: There will be two new tracks and two reworkings of old songs. Overall, it's more uptempo, heavier, more direct and it has a greater emphasis on light and shade, i.e., when it kicks ass it does just that and when it's grim or melancholic it's just that. People, I think, expected us to go off in a sort of folk tinged Led Zeppelin avant garde direction, but if anything this is more metal than ever... but still very Primordial. I'm confident about it... it's very focused and together. Another new journey! It should be out in late May: _The Burning Season_.

CoC: What is the situation concerning your next full-length album?

AAN: We hope to do it in the Autumn and for it to be out at the end of 1999! It promises to be an epic work. More mighty and rousing than before. We'll see, time shall tell. It will be on Hammerheart Records.

CoC: In which ways do you think Primordial's music will develop in the future? Where do you think your sound is headed?

AAN: As I've just said, the music will take each one of our characteristics and work on it further, i.e., the light and shade of the music will be more extreme. A lot of diversity and experimentation, yet also more straightforward heavy metal sensibilities. More epic and barbaric, yet also more melancholic... and darker again!

CoC: What are your plans regarding concerts and perhaps touring?

AAN: We want to!... I've been in the band for eight years, Ciaran [Mac Uilmm, guitarist] and Paul [Mac Gawlaigh, bassist] have been playing for eleven years! We have paid our dues... we want to get to Europe and play. Hammerheart will hopefully sort this out. It has to happen this year. We are hungry for this.

CoC: Based solely on each band's characteristics, I think Primordial and Anathema playing live together would be an outstanding combination. What do you think about that? Any chance it will ever happen (if it hasn't yet)?

AAN: Actually, we've played with Anathema twice here in Ireland. That would probably work pretty well. I think we could really tour with anyone, except for brutal death metal bands or something. Rotting Christ, My Dying Bride, Moonspell, Katatonia... whoever. Anything, really!... Well, apart from Gorgoroth or Internal Bleeding or something.

CoC: Feel free to add anything left untold which you would like to make known...

AAN: Thanks for your time and your effort. We appreciate it. I wish you your will. Watch out for the new MCD and hopefully we'll see you down the front in Portugal or wherever you happen to be reading this. Until then. Hail and kill...

(article submitted 19/5/1999)

3/4/2012 P Azevedo 7.5 Primordial - Redemption at the Puritan's Hand
12/2/2007 K Sarampalis 10 Primordial - To the Nameless Dead
3/10/2005 P Azevedo 9.5 Primordial - The Gathering Wilderness
9/1/2002 P Azevedo 9 Primordial - Storm Before Calm
8/12/2000 P Azevedo 9 Primordial - Spirit the Earth Aflame
1/15/2000 P Azevedo 9 Primordial - The Burning Season
9/1/1998 P Azevedo 9 Primordial - A Journey's End
3/14/1996 N Bassett 8 Primordial - Imrama
2/20/2006 P Azevedo Primordial / Ceasa / The Ransack O Discerning Portuguese Metalheads, Where Are Ye?
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