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Interview: Primordial (Alan Avarill)

Pure metal...interviews

Doing an interview with Primordial's frontman Alan 'Nemtheanga' Avarill was something that I had been looking forward to for quite a while now.

Following the release of the band's sixth studio album "To The Nameless Dead" and their live appearance at the London Underworld, I managed to catch up once again with the Irish bard, and though the interview was interrupted by several colourful interruptions by various people availing themselves of the venue's backstage area,

I believe that I have managed to get Alan to share some important thoughts with regards to the band's latest effort, their general aims and also to share with him a few observations of my own.


Alan, I have been 'chasing' you for the last two and a half years in order to make this interview, so the fact that I am finally here with you makes me feel really happy indeed. I am also happy to see that Primordial are finally getting the recognition that they deserve as a band, yet at the same time I am angry because it took the music industry quite a long time to realise what they had on their hands. Why, in your opinion, did we have to wait till the year 2008 to see things changing for the better for the band?

Alan: I think that one of the most important reasons, something that no one can underestimate, is the label that we're on! It has made a huge difference in taking the band's name to places that it has never been before and maybe because for years we were not from a 'fashionable' enough country - you know what is like, for people to pay us some attention and maybe what goes around comes around.

You put your years in and all of a sudden people think 'Jesus, that band has been around for fu*king years - maybe it's about time to pay them some respect and pay some fu*king attention'...I don't know - all of a sudden festivals want you and you are offered this and that but also I think it's the whole resurgence in 'pagan metal' (note: Alan's voice indicates a certain unease in using this term) which is now the most fashionable thing. That thing also helped us well, you know?

That's an interesting comment you just made with regards to the so called 'pagan metal' scene, as, in my opinion, Primordial is a band that never used imagery and lyrics to the same extent as other more commercially-driven bands to bring this 'pagan' element home. That, to me, sounds like a good reason for having gained the respect of music fans throughout the years - don't you agree?

Alan: (laughs) maybe you're right. I mean, we were always quite serious, never wanting to rely on things like wearing kilts and all. We always wanted to be like the dark underbelly of all that stuff and if we were to use the influence of Irish music it would be more in terms of the chords and the structure of each composition as opposed to the typical and obvious things that other bands do.

We never wanted to do things in a more obvious way and maybe that's why we do get the respect from people who know about metal, you know, the Black Metal people, the Epic Metal people, the Doom Metal people - they all think 'this is a band that has a certain level of integrity', you know? We never jumped on any kind of trend either, you know? Maybe that is also the reason.

Being the lyricist of the band, where do you get the ideas which will eventually become the words that accompany Primordial's songs? Do you only have people of your country in mind as a potential audience, or do you agree with me when saying that your 'messages' apply to a more universal audience?

Alan: You are right in what you're saying and that is totally the point that we are trying to make. Primordial is not an exclusive but an inclusive band in that respect. Our music works with regards to concepts of loss and identity and cultural/historical/political awareness - these are themes that you should be able to 'see' from wherever you're 'standing', you know?

That is why Primordial was never one of those bands that didn't just sing in Irish or refer to Irish mythology as a main subject. As I said, the universal theme is more important to us - it's about that level of 'inclusivity', I guess, as opposed to saying to people 'this is where we're from, this is all about us and you have to make the 'leap of faith' and come into our world'...I think you're right!

Ok, let's focus a little bit on the band's latest effort "To The Nameless Dead". I believe that there are quite a few similarities between this album and its predecessor, namely "The Gathering Wilderness" as both albums share a certain musical connection, yet I have to admit that this time round you sound more confident and mature as a band.

Alan: That's something that people who have liked the band for years have said to us. They said: "it sounds as if you are coming from the fringes of the scene into the centre of the scene and people can't not pay attention to you anymore because this album is both commercially and sonically perfect".

Every song is memorable, the sound is sounds really, really confident as opposed to obscure and bleak as most of our past efforts tend to be. It really makes a big difference!

(note: by this stage, the door of the backstage area has opened more times than I remember and Alan has a quick chat with Roibeard O Bogail- fellow Irish and frontman of the opening Doom/Folk outfit Mael Mordha. Alan brings to our attention an army belt with a Soviet buckle that he recently purchased - an item that gave him much delight, it seemed!).

Alan (continues): Yes, we do sound more confident and that is probably why magazines such as the German Metal Hammer and Rock Hard feature it as number one in their polls. It's because not only a Power Metal fan can relate to it, but also a Black Metal fan and a Doom Metal fan can relate to it.

It's hard to criticize it in that respect, but that hasn't been done this way on purpose- it's just the way that we made it. We never thought: "hey, let's make an album that sounds like this" - it's just the way it went, you know? It's weird, man - all of a sudden these people who never paid any attention to us, like the guys from Kerrang magazine mention "Empire Falls" as one of the ten songs that you "must hear"...I don't know - we're too old, too Irish and too stubborn to be phased by any of this. We just do what we do and if people like it...the most important thing is that people who loved the band before still like this album, you know?


When I saw you guys in Dublin a couple of weeks ago, you mentioned that that specific gig was a 'victory' for Irish Metal, which makes total sense to me. What I really liked, though, was the atmosphere that was created - one you would normally find amongst friends, rather than the average 'dry' relationship between a band and its fans. You must have really enjoyed that.

Alan: Totally. People can relate to us in that a kind of a modern metal scene where much of it is an obstruction, so much of it is meaningless, so much of it is just plastic and hollow and doesn't seem to stand for anything, there seems to be a groundswell of people who are just sick of that and are moving away from it. Maybe to them Primordial has kind of become a standard-bearer for just a bit of honesty and integrity and if you feel like that...

(note: once again, we are being interrupted by numerous people barging in and out of the backstage area - people with whom Alan has short conversations)

Alan (continues):'s just a case of people empathising with your music and being able to relate to the subject matter and realising that you are singing about them and their fears, concerns and beliefs and non-beliefs that they might have, you know?

We are not difficult people to approach or talk to - people know that the honesty and integrity that comes together with the name of the band is not contrived. There are a lot of people that are moving away from that mainstream sh*t - trying to find 'real' bands is very important to them, you know?

Tell me a few things about the sound that you achieved for the new album - a very important feature of "To The Nameless Dead" and a 'popular' discussion topic amongst music journalists. Tell us a few things about this 'going totally analogue' approach and also comment on your vocal technique, seeing as you sound now more mature and confident as a singer than ever before.

Alan: When we started recording "To The Nameless Dead", we got up in the mornings, would jam out in the big barn and play songs to each other and I remember our engineer saying things like: "oh, another Bruce Dickinson".

He was joking, of course, but I remember him saying to me: "oh, I am going to really push you this time to see how far you can go". It just really worked out this time, you know? The guy we worked with was totally on the same page with us, the people we worked with in the studio and the guy who was recording us...

(note: guess what - we were once again interrupted by new 'tenants' of the backstage, but at that stage I was kind of used to this, so I patiently waited for them to go away, hoping that the rhythm of the interview would not be completely lost by the time we started again).

Alan (unfazed, continues): ...Dave, the guy who owns the studio, was really cool. He used to be in Hawkwind and Chris, the guy who recorded the album, was similarly good. We explained to him that the overall feeling is more important than the individual sounds, so we asked him to fire things at the old compressor and listen to similar recordings together.

I spent a whole morning with him listening to albums like "Overkill" and "Bomber" (both by Motorhead), Emperor's Return (Celtic Frost) and "Mob Rules" (Black Sabbath). I told him at the time: "Listen, I know that you cannot get that 80s sound, but let's go to the old compressor and try to make the drums sound natural".

We did things like the metal bands of old, as much live as possible, very few overdubs. Even some vocal parts are first takes, not go back and fu*k up with everything - just try to capture a live atmosphere and it is really possible to do that, you know?

We tried to stay away from the computer as much as possible - not using them at all is impossible nowadays, but we compensate by using a lot of old gear, such as amps and stuff - that really helped.

Did you find the whole process of recording in analogue as more problematic than doing things in a more conventional way?

Alan: Actually, things were probably easier this way.

You reckon?

Alan: Well, technically...technically I suppose it was...hmm, this time round, the atmosphere in the studio was more relaxed, seeing as we were away from Dublin and all the chaos that surrounds it. Where you wake up in the morning and you're working and doing all sorts of stuff and you are concentrating on the album without any disruptions, not having people barging or calling in, you know - it's just there. You are capable of concentrating for a whole day, every day and that really makes a huge difference.

Alan, I somehow feel that the band's next effort will be very significant in establishing what will be the musical direction that you guys will follow in the years to come. Do you agree?

Alan: I really don't have a clue where it goes from here! There is an air of commercial finality about this album and there is no way that we can make another album that gets better reviews and gets a better price than this one.

People from Metal Blade say things like: "This album sets you perfectly to go into the charts, sell thousands of copies and bla bla bla..." and I say to them: "As long as the next album goes out in 2011 or 2012, then we're OK" (laughs)...I don't know - we haven't even talked about it, have we? (note: Alan poses this direct and quite delicate question to the band's founding member and guitarist C.MacUilliam - one that the fair-looking axeman gently declines to answer for us).

We don't think about things like that until all these gigs are done and we starting asking each other whether there are any new riffs around. When we did our first album, we never believed that we would eventually make six, now that we made six I cannot see us making ten but you never know, do you?

I noticed that you have actually recorded last week's gig in Dublin. Do you have any plans for releasing a live recording of the band in the near future?

Alan: We did record it, but we did not have our original bass player with us so we cannot really do anything with it - it's just for a little 'snip' for the Rock Hard magazine. Well, we will hopefully do a live DVD somewhere...just play festivals, maybe go on tour at the end of the year or something like that.

There is no grand scheme or plan to this band. I mean, if you spend any time with any of the five of us long enough, you will know that there is no master plan there for you to discover, you know? Well, Ciaran, do you have a master plan as to what happens with the band? (note: Ciaran laughs and says something that I didn't quite understand, but Alan interrupts him and continues). You see, he has an entire Excel spreadsheet worth of that (laughs).

On a more personal level, what are the goals that you have set as an individual for the years to come? I am aware that you plan on continuing your studies at University level?

Alan: I like to constantly be challenging myself, not be apathetic about things. Musically speaking, I am going to do another Void Of Silence album and also an album with a band called Price From Revenge and will try to keep up working on things and try to conquer my own laziness (laughs).

I am also half way through a University course - have been doing Journalism, Politics, History and also Radio production - all sorts of stuff. More or less my twenties I opted out, so I have decided to become more engaged with things, work a little bit harder and do many different things.

Alan, I wish every success in all your endeavours. Thanks for doing this interview.

Alan: That's cool - cheers, chief!


Interview © February 2008 John Stefanis

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