Spirit The Earth Aflame (Reissue)
posted on 7/2010 By:
Heritage is something of crucial importance to Primordial, and it's not limited to lyrics of Celtic history or the spent blood of their native Ireland. Musical heritage, while less overt, is equally important, as shown through their apparent debt to the Viking-themed works of Bathory. While the most well-known album of that era, Hammerheart, has been updated and in many ways surpassed by the epic work of Moonsorrow, it is their most often overlooked album, Twilight of the Gods, which is in many ways carried on by Primordial. Their classic Spirit the Earth Aflame may not sound directly like it, but the unabashed cultural pride, mixture of sorrow and triumph and epic gray atmosphere all very much carry on the spirit of Quorthon’s sprawling masterpiece.
Honoring the past would mean nothing without a signature sound, and anyone who has ever heard Primordial knows that they have one of the most recognizable. At the base is a top-notch rhythm section, anchored by now-former drummer Simon O’Laoghaire. (His ousting is pure tragedy, however necessary.) Simon's work is merely one part of how the band utilizes a methodic nuance from the bottom up, and he remains one of metal’s most inventive and selflessly understated skinsmen. Next are the guitars, which on Spirit the Earth Aflame focus on slowly blackened strums, galloping epic riffs and the occasional folk lead that plays tandem with the top of their layered metal cake: Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill’s irreplaceable and wailing vocals. The man stuffs more emotional complexity into one line (such as the beginning of “The Burning Season”) than nearly every other vocalist, of any musical style, could stuff into a lifetime of recordings. He is, in a word, peerless.
This outline of Primordial’s sound could be used to describe most of their work, particularly that which has followed since this album’s original release, but Spirit the Earth Aflame is possibly the band’s most holistic slab, flowing as a complete piece but containing some of their best individual songs. After the title track sets the haunting stage, “Gods to the Godless” (a song deserving of the same massive praise commonly reserved for “The Coffin Ships”) sees every Primordial characteristic at full strength. Beginning with clean guitar lines that predict how the song will shift and swell as it goes along, it continually builds without a hint of awkward transition or songwriting incident, with each band member unselfishly playing their role for the good of the composition. This sort of “melodic foreshadowing” is one of the band’s greatest strengths, making their music continually rewarding to listen to, and ensuring that the listener’s taste for these songs grows with their perception of them. Other tracks, such as the galloping “The Soul Must Sleep” or epic “Children of the Harvest,” share this quality. The chants and lone lead guitar line which introduce the latter are only part of an album finale which will etch itself into your musical memory. And perhaps Primordial’s highest quality is that none of this seems even the slightest bit calculated--just perfectly natural and brutally honest.
Although this Metal Blade reissue was most likely made to improve availability and increase revenue, one holds a small amount of hope that the bonus disc was intended to give fans a taste of the band’s own heritage. Contained are very early black metal live tracks (including a cover of a non-Viking Bathory song, of all things), b-sides to The Burning Season EP, and other scattered rarities. The nine songs range from the merely curious to the very welcome, and they help to make this the best version of a classic album. For those who already own it, however, this reissue is certainly only for the utmost of completionists.
Spirit the Earth Aflame has always been in a funny spot in Primordial’s history. It was neither the album that put them on the map (Imrama) nor their most universally beloved masterstroke (The Gathering Wilderness). But in a career of triumphant wins it is yet one more, and an ideal starting point for any poor souls still unfamiliar with the band. If you’re also missing Bathory’s Twilight of the Gods, pick that one up as well. Aside from the history lesson, you’ll permanently improve the net value of your music collection by several points.
If that seemed wordy and overly-fawning, it is only because this was the first Primordial album I heard, and it holds a very special place in my personal history with the band.
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