When discussing Gods to the Godless, the new live album from Pagan metal trailblazers PRIMORDIAL recorded at Bang Your Head festival in Germany, frontman A.A. Nemtheanga promised two things. Firstly that this album would have “blood guts and passion” and that it would be truly “Live and Dangerous”. And he was not wrong. Blood, guts and passion seep through every sonic pore of this album.
PRIMORDIAL have already earned a formidable reputation as a live band (indeed, their live shows are nothing short of phenomenal) and this album does a great job of capturing the intensity and power that radiates from a PRIMORDIAL show. This is partly due to the fantastic sound mixing. PRIMORDIAL, like DARK TRANQUILLITY or GOJIRA, are a band that function like a well-oiled machine. Every band member makes himself indispensable to the experience, tuning into each other to create a sound more like a force of nature than a collection of instruments. For this to work, ever instrument needs to be heard clearly, and the sound engineers do a brilliant job of ensuring exactly that.
Furthermore, the additional reverb that comes from blasting out of the festival speakers only serves to strengthen the show’s atmosphere, and few bands can build atmosphere like PRIMORDIAL. In fact, every member of PRIMORDIAL demonstrates his musical prowess in spades on this album. Simon Ó Laoghaire‘s drums sound genuinely thundering, reverberating beautifully to help give their songs a truly epic feel and fuses with Pól MacAmhlaigh‘s bass to make to make a truly fierce rhythm section. The fantastic guitar work of Ciáran MacUiliam and Micheál Ó Floinn really comes to the foreground, the echoing tone of the speakers adding a more resonant, ghostly tone to the rumbling lament. And then there are A.A. Nemtheanga’s vocals. One of the most distinct and atmospheric vocalists, and uniquely charismatic frontmen, in the entire genre, the anguished fury of his snarling wail and demonic growls translate brilliantly to a live setting, particularly when combined with his crowd control, which manages to be so incredibly inviting and fiercely commanding that you are just as drawn in as the audience. He emotionally throws himself into every single song (just listen to his impassioned delivery of Bloodied Yet Unbowed and eternal highlight The Coffin Ships), howling like a vengeful necromancer on a cliff amidst the musical storm, attempting to raise the spirits of his dead countrymen to wreak vengeance on the world that has so wronged them.
When these elements all come together, every song actually sounds mightier and heavier than its studio counterpart, every one performed so well and with such passion that it is hard to pick real standouts, especially when the setlist is this fantastic. With the exception of the title track, every song is a highlight from PRIMORDIAL’s last four albums, all of which are wholly brilliant to begin with. Admittedly there are a couple of mistakes here and there, although this might have had something to do with PRIMORDIAL only learning they were being recorded after the show, and the consequential lack of self-consciousness only helps the passion flow stronger. And that is part of the live album’s charm. It’s passion over perfection.
The only real flaw in this album is the lack of the crowd’s participation. The crowds cheering and singing along have been mostly turned down, which is fair enough for most of the songs but when they are invited to participate in the songs it becomes a little disappointing, as there are times when hearing crowd participation can add strength and power to a song (pretty much any video of BLIND GUARDIAN performing Valhalla is a good example). Especially, the clear sound of hundreds singing along to the big build-up in As Rome Burns would have been incredible.
In summary, Nemtheanga delivers on his promise. This is PRIMORDIAL, live and extremely dangerous. Despite the occasionally detrimental tuning out of the audience during the sing-a-longs, it is still a stunning, emotionally charged performance by one of the most unique bands around and an absolute must have for any PRIMORDIAL fan, that more than deserves a place in the pantheon of great live metal albums.
Gods to the Godless is out now via Metal Blade Records.
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