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Interviews : “Personally, I want to see a Bunyip” – An Interview With Alan Averill “Nemtheanga” (Primordial)

By on July 6, 2017

When many think of blackened folk metal bands or the idea of ‘Celtic metal’, a name that often comes to the minds of metalheads is that of Irish natives, Primordial. Having existed in one capacity or another since 1987, Primordial is a band that has transcended the boundaries of its genre in a scene that was initially very reserved and proudly underground. Not seeking to remain as just another underground band, however, over the years, Primordial have continued to push those boundaries further and to demand as much of themselves as they do of the world of extreme metal.

With 2014 seeing Primordial release their eighth full-length album, Where Greater Men Have Fallen (through Metal Blade Records), and what is to date their most recent, the past few decades have been kind to the Irishmen.

Metal Obsession had the profound pleasure to speak with enigmatic frontman, Alan Averill “Nemtheanga” (who has been with the band since its earliest on-stage incarnations in 1991), on the eve of Primordial’s two-date Australian tour of Sydney and Melbourne, respectively. This will be the band’s very first time performing on our Southern shores! Despite a congratulatory introduction noting the 30-year-anniversary of Primordial as a band and how surreal it must be, Averill is quick to dismiss this and to follow with the idea that three decades of Primordial as a band is, in fact, quite the misnomer.

“Not really,” he opens of his feelings towards the surreality of the anniversary. “The band started in ’91 properly, not ’87. It’s misleading.” He then humours the situation with, “People think we are in our 50s, we aren’t! ’87 is when Ciáran [MacUiliam] and Paul [Pól MacAmhlaigh] started jamming together as kids. But they did make a really crude death metal demo in ’88, so it is kinda important, but it’s not 30 years in reality as Primordial.”

Kicking off tomorrow night (Friday, July 7) is the first in Primordial’s two-date Australian tour, covering Melbourne and Sydney, respectively. Previously, it was mentioned in statements by the band that geographical and economic difficulties were responsible for withholding Primordial from touring here in past years. What about this year, I asked, made it possible for Primordial to overcome these previous hurdles, and how excited was Averill and the others to bring their unique brand of music to us very grateful Aussies?

“Well, you have to thank Ben from Mournful Congregation for putting his neck on the block and organising this. The problem often is we aren’t a die-hard “kult band”, where some maniac is going to sell a kidney to bring us down here, ya know? And we aren’t quite big enough for the Behemoth promoters to take a punt on us. That said, we are, without a doubt, more of a pull than some bands who’ve gone down there. Who knows, really? It’s taken a long time, but here we are. I’m sitting in Melbourne right now answering this,” he confides.

Curious, I mused over whether any Australian sight-seeing was on the cards for Averill and the and, and what they might hope to see?

“Everyone asks me this. Do you want my day-to-day itinerary?” He jests. “‘Some of us will; some of us won’t’ is the short answer! Personally, I want to see a Bunyip… half-dog, half-onion.”

As mentioned before, Primordial’s most recent album was 2014’s Where Greater Men Have Fallen, an album which received strong reviews and praise across the board at the time of its release. I wondered if there was anything Averill could share about potential plans for the next record, and if writing, whether has indeed begun, where the next album may be heading in terms of its themes?

“Yeah, we have moved beyond talking about talking,” Averill notes. “So now we are talking together in a room with instruments. Soon, we might even plug them in and play something. After the summer, we hope to get a shift on and make something happen. I tentatively say people can expect something in the first 5/6 months of next year.” Jokingly, he adds. “Then we will see you in Oz for the tour in 2035.”

Considered as one of the earliest founders of the Celtic and folk metal movements, and now nigh-30 years into a shining career, I pondered to Averill if he ever finds himself still being influenced by those old bands who had first inspired his vision for Primordial — the likes of Bathory and Celtic Frost, etc.? If so, what would he then say he’s most taken from them over the years and what continues to bring him the most inspiration?

“Well, you see this is also misleading,” Averill admits. “The modern folk metal movement is a musical spin off of late-’90s power metal, mostly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excitable scene thats heart is in the right place, and we know, and have played, with many of those bands. I have a lot of time for all the guys and girls from bands like Ensiferum, Korpiklaani and Finntroll. People expect me to hate them, but that’s far from the truth. But a lot of modern folk metal – bands influenced by the ones I mentioned – and modern power metal have totally different roots to us. We came from black metal, without a doubt – that second wave – but we were more inspired, for example, by Hammerheart-era Bathory than The Return-era Bathory. In time, we wanted to write big, epic momumental songs. Bathory showed us the way, and, of course, add in Maiden, Sabbath, Metallica, Frost, Venom, and really, the whole energy of that second wave of black/death/doom. Being part of that was massively inspiring. The Irish traditional element is underpinning the music: in phrasings, timings, signatures, drinking notes, etc.”

Following on from this point, it was fascinating to understand how, in a scene that now possesses a significant number of bands that delve into the old ideals and themes of pagan culture, mythology, and heathenism, how it’s becoming less and less uncommon to find bands who choose not to adopt this. With that said, does Averill find it difficult being in a band in today’s market to remain relevant and to stand out in a pagan-driven music scene? One that, arguably, could now be considered oversaturated in many ways.

“Yes and no,” Averill ponders. “I can see in Europe and North American people are still gravitating towards bands with some cultural and historical inheritance and relevance. People are coming at it from different angles, but at the heart of it is a dissastiaction and alienation from modern society and what it represents. People may scoff at an all-ages bouncy castle of a show (like some of the newer folk metal bands), but don’t forget, at the heart of it is something important; that people seek to find a grounding in this modern world and discover their roots, ancestry and mythology. And if Finntroll is the gateway drug, then all the better.” He then asks, “So, to my mind, considering the importance of the subject, shouldn’t it be saturated? As many people as possible should be moving towards the subject. We are one of the originals of the species; we come from a slightly different place, and sometimes the kids hate us, but over years they come round. We are like a dusty old monolith in the corner of that scene. Eventually, the people come to scrape off the dust and read the names of the dead on there, and find their relatives carved deep in the stone.”

As we wrapped up the interview, one final question for Averill had to be asked: what kind of can Melbourne and Sydney fans look forward to hearing?

“Who knows,” he offers, mysteriously. “A bit of everything, I think. But it will be long… so strap yourselves in.”

Primordial begin their two-date Australian tour with local acts, Vomitor and Nocturnal Graves tomorrow night in Melbourne at Max Watts, before wrapping up on July 8th in Sydney at The Bald Faced Stag. Presented by Black Conjuration Fest, grab your tickets via the links below:

Melbournehttps://maxwattstickets.oztix.com.au/Default.aspx?Event=70094

Eventhttps://www.facebook.com/events/238405096606664/

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Sydneyhttp://www.moshtix.com.au/v2/event/primordial/93168

Eventhttps://www.facebook.com/events/782359778577746/

About

Jonathon is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist and music journalist. Thanks to the influence of the music he grew up with, he has always possessed a keen interest in metal and rock. He is also a huge fan of mythology, legend, and folklore from all across the world. You should follow him on Twitter.