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This Irish band is huge worldwide - so why isn't this recognised at home?

Primordial launch their latest album with a metal festival in Ireland later this year.

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THEY SELL OUT venues around the world; they headline festivals across Europe; their fans will travel miles to see them.

They’re the biggest contemporary Irish metal band, but they’re not a household name here.

Meet Primordial

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Primordial are a Dublin group who have been going since 1987 and have eight studio albums. Their black metal sound has seen them headline gigs around the world, but they’ve never been huge in Ireland outside the metal subculture.

That’s not something that bothers lead singer Alan Averill (whose stage name is Nemtheanga). As he told TheJournal.ie, the band have always set their sights outside of Ireland.

We spoke as they geared up for Redemption Festival, a weekend event that will see Primordial, Necros Christos, Dead Congregation, Malthusian, The Ruins of Beverast and Wizards of Firetop Mountain, amongst others, take to the stage at The Academy in Dublin’s Middle Abbey St.

“We never really did the provincial town thing”

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Primordial didn’t spend their time playing in small bars around Ireland – as Averill put it, “we never really did the provincial town thing”.

They generally make an album every three years, and play a headline gig in Dublin. In an effort to make things more special for their fans, many of whom travel to see them, they put on events like Redemption Fest.

That means they get to bring some of their own favourite bands with them, bands they have a “musical kinship” with, said Averill.

The days of us travelling to play to Galway and play with 200 people with a local Metallica covers band are 15 years out of date.

When Primordial started, they didn’t share in “the ambitions of somehow trying to appeal to an A&R man from a mythical label in the UK”.

They made their demo for £50, and sold copies through the post to people as far away as Peru and Siberia.

We completely circumvented nearly all the rock-and-roll aspirations of the old scene.

They cut their teeth playing live abroad.

“We realised that the metal scene was so culturally peripheral that there was no point [in staying in Ireland].”

“We view the mainstream musical scene with utter contempt”

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“Irish society is an innately conservative place where we pretended to be open minded when we had money. The Ireland of 1989 was a far more open place than 2009,” contended Averill, who views the mainstream musical scene “with utter contempt”.

Primordial are “the biggest Irish band since Thin Lizzy at the time of Thunder and Lightning,” said Averill.

We sell more records than most of the bands that are on the cover of Hotpress.

And yet they don’t get a huge amount of media coverage here.

“Heavy metal is treated like some sort of leprous hunchback,” said Averill. “I don’t give a f*k really but it says it all really.”

Personally I think it’s almost the victory of mainstream pop culture in the extreme. It’s not just music – it’s cinema, it’s literature. It’s the selling of products for 12-year-olds to adults.

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Primordial’s musical peers include the band Enslaved, who’ve won Grammies in their home country and produced music for films and Norwegian TV.

“Nothing like that happens here,” stated Averill.

People genuinely investing in subculture for the most part accept that they are on the periphery of Irish society.

Does he think there’s the potential for change?

I’m doing this for 24 years – of course it’s not going to change.

In the late 80s, his secondary school had “20 – 30 different teenage subcultures”, but Averill believes that today there is “generally nothing but Celtic tiger cubs brought up with a very entitled sense of [belief]“.

Life before the internet

1522658_756500944369244_7036579791048851063_o Source: Facebook via Into the Void

When the members of Primordial were teens, in the somewhat unimaginable but completely real (trust us, we lived through it) pre-Internet days, music required investment.

Investment not just of money, but time. Being into metal meant tape trading, ordering by post, travelling to see bands or accepting you’d never see your heroes live. To an extent some of this hasn’t changed.

It also meant saving up for months for albums, and struggling to find a place to rehearse, which “engenders in you a feeling of resistance, which I think is gone in most teens now,” said Averill.

They are encouraged to be transient and not take things particularly seriously. In Ireland, nothing changes. We are a nation of pub philosophers, and I always completely stood in opposition with that.

Into the Void

That tape-trading, DIY ethos is continued by Darragh O’Leary with his Invictus Records label (though he’s moved from tape to CDs and vinyl). He also runs Into The Void in Temple Bar, a dedicated metal record store.

He describes the metal scene here as “a lot smaller and more insular” than in other countries.

“In a lot of cases it’s more retrospective,” he said of the live scene.

A lot of people go crazy for bands who were around in the 80s and then reformed for a nostalgia trip. For contemporary bands who are just ploughing away there’s a lot more going on underground in the UK, Europe etc.

But he added that there are a lot of smaller promoters who are putting on shows in Ireland: “The biggest problem is there isn’t the audience there.”

What Primordial sing about

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In other countries, “they know the cultural influence of black metal – the great cultural zeitgeist. Here it is treated as a joke,” said Averill. Thin Lizzy’s influence on metal, such as the twin guitar playing, is often downplayed outside of metal communities.

Even on sites like YouTube, where the comments tend to err on the side of negative, Primordial’s (unofficially uploaded, it has to be said) videos attract positive feedback:

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Their songs address the subjects of empire building, coffin ships and famine, and historical battles – but not the typical ones associated with Irish music.

People who think Primordial are a ‘fantasy’ metal band are wrong. “There is no escape, no fantasy, no myth. It’s all steeped in very brutal direct imagery.”

Source: wGMDftw/YouTube

On the latest album, which is due out in November, they look at Ireland’s “lack of direct rebellion, lack of resistance and our incredible sense of gutlessness”.

Averill wonders where are the bands railing against the poverty, violence and religious oppression in Ireland.

I know bands that grew up behind the iron curtain who had to make their own instruments.

“We represent the real alternative”

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Averill is “fine” with Primordial being on the periphery of Irish society.

“I don’t care any more. We do represent the actual real alternative to whatever Irish mainstream society considers an alternative – whether people acknowledge that or not is not really my concern.”

With tickets selling for Redemption Fest to people as far away as America, it’s clear Primordial’s reputation is underestimated in domestic quarters.

“Internationally they would be a very popular act – they play a lot, they play prestigious festivals,” said O’Leary. “They’re a pretty big name in Europe. Domestically, I wouldn’t know exactly how they would be received in a broader sense. We have no natural metal media, no rock media. The mainstream media in Ireland isn’t interested.”

It’s not like Primordial is a brutal death metal band. There’s a lot of depth in the band. So if people were to listen to it objectively, they might see something else in there. There doesn’t seem to be the will or the want to approach it from a different level.

10559967_818664538152884_6657461707719002615_n Inside Into The Void record store Source: Facebook

“In some cases people can be a little bit put off – they think metal has some kind of gang mentality, and it does to various degrees. People who are into it, they can be die hard,” said O’Leary.

MetalIreland.com is where the die-hard and new fans can go to find out more about Irish metal – and proves that even if the audience is small, the support within the subculture is strong.

As O’Leary said of metal:

It’s not this elusive strange weird music thing that exists over there that people can’t get into. Sometimes people’s own preconceptions inhibits them from looking any further.

Source: Cruachan Official/YouTube

Above: Irish metal band Cruachan, who recently played in Ukraine.

The small support for metal isn’t going to stop O’Leary doing what he’s doing.

If more people took the risk in going to see [Irish metal bands] and checked them out, we could have a much stronger domestic scene which benefits everyone across the board. It would be an economic investment.
Creatively it encourages creativity and I think that’s hugely important that we don’t have one dimensional form of music creativity in Ireland that’s championed and supported.

Redemption Festival takes place at the Academy in Dublin on 28 and 29 November.

Do you listen to Irish metal? Have any favourite Irish metal bands? Tell us in the comments.

All photos courtesy of Alan Averill

Read: Why aren’t all musicians getting paid for playing at Irish festivals this summer?

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