Spirit the Earth Aflame (Re-issue)
The burning spirit of the Celts
I’m a little embarrassed to admit this but I have to come clean and say that I’ve never really heard any Primordial before. I know they are an act that is held in particularly high esteem by many people but they are just one of those bands that never quite made it onto my radar over the years. What better place to start then than the re-issue of Spirit the Earth Aflame - an album that is considered by many of their fans to be one of Primordial’s most pivotal albums.
In spite of the fact that there is a lot of love out there for this album I have to say that I wasn’t instantly enamoured with it and still wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am unequivocally smitten with it. Things start off in great fashion with the album-titled opening track whose dreamy strummed chord pattern, tribally inspired drumming and spoken word vocals serve to not only create an atmosphere thick with folk inspired yearning but also leads impeccably into Gods to the Godless - the track where my initial good run with Primordial took a jarring stumble.
The opening few minutes of Gods to the Godless are nothing short of excellent. The laid back and slightly melancholy main riff is glorious and the clean sung vocals of “Naihmass Nemtheanga” are fantastic. What’s the problem then? Put simply, everything was fine until “Naihmass Nemtheanga” threw in his raspy black metal vocals because, to be perfectly honest, I don’t much care for them in the slightest. While I’ve most certainly heard worse vocals in my time I have a lot of trouble reconciling his with the underlying music on Spirit the Earth Aflame - it’s not quite a chalk and cheese situation but it is definitely border line for me. Thankfully the black metal rasps make only very limited appearances throughout the album (I’d say roughly 75% of the vocals are either clean sung or spoken) so my aversion is tempered while the power and effectiveness of his non raspy vocals are more than enough to make up for my distaste.
Where this album truly shines is in its ability to weave together each of its songs to engender and nurture an extremely expressive and rich atmosphere that errs on the side of doom while also expressing shades of staunch solemnity and even pride. No matter how good the music on an album may be (and in this case it really is very good) it is ultimately worth nothing if there isn’t an emotive underpinning for the listener to latch onto and I see now why so many people are drawn to this album and, I suspect Primordial in general. This is an album that is simply begging the listener to return time and time again to bask in its ambiance and depth and no amount of lauding over it on my part can come close to matching its true effect which is something that can only be achieved by hearing it for yourself.
Less clear to this reviewer is the overall value of the included bonus disc which features nine tracks with the bulk comprising live cuts and the rest being made up of b-sides and other odds and ends. For the well established Primordial fan I’m sure this disc will be held in a higher esteem than it is for someone such as me who is only just beginning their journey with the band. I certainly wouldn’t argue against the inclusion of this second disc because I suspect that those already sold on the band will love it and those of us who are relatively unfamiliar can get an insight into the band as they once were as opposed to who they are “now”. Those already owning this album, however, will probably see little necessity in picking up the album again on the back of this disc I suspect.
While I did have some issues with Spirit the Earth Aflame they were far from weighty enough to detract from the overall experience I had with the album and the sense of enjoyment I gleaned from it. Many bands straddle the fence between black metal and folk but Primordial have somehow taken those well worn elements crafted a sound that’s wholly their own which is both a rare and thoroughly refreshing experience in and of itself.
(Metal Blade Records/Riot! Entertainment)