Spare a thought for Primordial frontman Alan ‘Nemtheanga’ Averill who, mid-scream at last week’s Bloodstock Festival, Derby, England was robbed of his powers. In comic book terms, this was like grounding Superman and surgically enhancing him the old lead contact lenses. But more remarkable is that he lost it in the first place, like, even when they nail the lid shut on our Alan and lay his body to rest we’d like to think his vocal cords would be in working order and capable of fetching top dollar on the black market for those seeking a transplant to amplify themselves from wee timid mouse voice to stentorian voice of ye gods.
He’s now thankfully “more or less back to normal”, which means he’s back to his typically loquacious self. Averill’s one of those guys who is a super-human conversationalist. The following is pretty much the entirety of a transcript from like a 15 minute interview, which was just really a howdie to see how Primordial were getting on recording their seventh album, the epic Redemption at the Puritan’s hand (which was being recorded in rural Wales in the middle of Winter, with Chris Fielding on recording/Lemsip duties). This shit’s too good to sit on a tape and too much/off-topic to squeeze onto a page. That’s the way it goes sometimes.
It must be difficult to see who your peers are now—you’ve transcended pure black metal ages ago—do you see yourselves as part of any scene?
Alan Averill: It may sound trite but we quite honestly never cared or never thought too much about it. We are lumped into a lot of different scenes. A lot of it came from that Second Wave of black metal, and that underground scene that we were part of, via some very crude death metal when we started. That’s where we came from. The whole pagan metal scene or whatever means to us just being influenced by Skyclad and Bathory. If you look at the lyrics of Primordial, there are very, very few you could say are pagan. There are a handful. If you want to say “The Golden Spiral” is about living in harmony with nature or something, in a very simplistic kind of way that could be considered to be pagan. Whereas only a couple of songs, maybe “Sons of the Morrigan” or “Children of the Harvest” are actually directly about mythology. That was just something I was never interested in writing about. We created a broad palette for ourselves to work with, in that we could more or less do anything. I mean, to me, the most important thing is that it’s dark and it’s metal. I don’t think it has anything in common with a lot of the current folk metal trends, other than maybe being different ways of people trying to get in touch with their culture.
I guess folk metal would be a kind of horrible thing to be part of, in terms of the commercial Ewok metal, loincloths and lace-up shirts.
AA: Well it’s always the way, the most popular bands are the ones that the critics hate, especially for the last ten years, in the noughties or whatever; mainstream metal has just been an abomination compared to the ‘80s or ‘90s. And unfortunately, most folk metal is the soundtrack for teenagers’ gaming. It’s a logical continuation from power metal which, ten years ago, was ruling the roost. It faded and a lot of those people moved on. Of course, if there’s a groundswell, a movement of people towards something such as folk metal and whatever and it’s making them, even a small percentage of them, think about their history and culture, then that is a good thing. Musically, I don’t find anything in common with it. It’s missing all the darkness, the tragedy and the true might of just, actually dangerous heavy metal. It’s missing that. And I think that is something broader, as most modern mainstream metal is a great reflection of how modern society is, and in Western Europe we have almost eradicated poverty—in a sense, and perhaps maybe in 1986 heavy metal was a more rebellious, working class thing. Nowadays it’s a more a coffee table, middle-class preserve, and that is reflected on the safe sound of the music.
Anyone who picks up an instrument for a living nowadays is going to be, income-wise, working class at best.
AA: Well at the end of the day there’s just very few bands that are going to make a living from just playing metal. I mean, for me at least, nearly all modern mainstream metal bands nowadays are generally worthless. All the music worth listening to is in the underground, and there is a small movement of people moving away from the big festival fodder to find something more interesting, but it’s just a case of trying to find something with a good meaning. I mean, Hammers of Misfortune, there’s a band who has to do it because they love it, because there’s no money in it. There are no other avenues open to them. There will be very few avenues open to anyone in the future. There won’t be anymore rock stars. Judas Priest are retiring in the next year, and in the next 10, 15 years all these old bands will be gone. Iron Maiden, Kiss, Motorhead, AC/DC: all the old stadium-fillers will be gone. Who is going to fill a stadium after that? The answer is no one.
Festivals will just downsize, though, and there’ll be more market for the likes of Roadburn, Maryland Deathfest, etc.
AA: Well yeah, hopefully it might spell the end for the big cattle market festivals. They’re not going to get 100,000 people in. I don’t know; it’s hard to say. We are living in a very strange time where the future for musicians is incredibly uncertain and incredibly difficult. Music might only be one of ten skills that you will have to master to even scrape a weekly wage.
With Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand you’ve made an effort to sound analogue and raw: is there a sense of trying to record an album with the same natural production values as ’80s metal?
AA: We try, we try our best. We don’t always succeed but we do our best. It’s hard to sound like British Steel 30 years after the album. It’s hard to sound like Moving Pictures. It’s hard to sound like Heaven & Hell. That kind of sound is almost a lost art, and try as we might we can’t quite unlock that door. The problem is that most music is now made for iPod headphones, to get technical about it. The frequency range is maxed out so there are no dynamics whatsoever, and everything is just made as loud as possible, and this is just crushing the dynamics of music. We try—and obviously we have to have something loud to compete—but we don’t want to take it too far. On the other hand, we have to say this: if a band is only given a couple of grand by a label to work with, what choice do you have but to record at home on your Pro-Tools rig or in the rehearsal room? The return on bands selling now is so low that they are not being given the money to try recreate that [sound]. I mean, it’s impossible, take the last Necros Christos album, you can’t tell me that was made for more than a few thousand euros and that sounds analogue, excellent. But there is a whole new generation of musicians who’ve grown up and all they do is trade files and chop things up on home versions of Pro-Tools and they rarely rehearse and can barely even play.
Ha, how depressing!
AA: Everything about the music industry these days is depressing in some way or another. I have so many gripes with this, that and the other, and I am too old in a way. I know Primordial is not going to break it, so to speak, we do OK so maybe we should just be happy with that.
There’s no turning back now. Can you imagine just starting your career now?
AA: In a way I would hate to be a new band with aspirations for trying to do anything other than pay to play on a big stage at 11am, or release and album that sounds 2,000 copies. It’s going to be really difficult bands in the next 10, 20 years. Strangely enough, I was having a conversation with my friend the other day and he said, ‘I can’t wait for the day when all music, everything is free.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, man, who pays for gas for rehearsals? Who pays for strings? For instruments? Who pays for flights? If everything is free and there is no possibility of money are you telling me that a kid of 16 is not going to ever live the dream and not put down the guitar and, fuck this, puts up some shelves. Or some guy putting thousands of euros in and just thinking fuck it and going back to working in a factory?’ If you look at 10 years ago, the whole MySpace generation brought forth a crop of bands, admittedly bands I don’t like—namely metalcore, Job For A Zip-Up HoodiE, whatever…. But still bands who could sell 250,000 copies and still tour and make a living and everyone was happy. Now MySpace is dead.
The sacrifices are just getting greater—playing music is a second job to most underground bands.
AA: People just don’t care. The thing is, if you look at the bands in the middle section, bands such as Primordial, we have never tried to make a living but there are plenty of bands—Rotting Christ—who try to make a living selling OK, but what you are getting is that the big festivals are only paying money to the top five percent of the bands, squeezing all the middle and taking 30 per cent of their merch, over the 360 merch deals with the labels plus the fact that they are not selling any records to make any money from publishing or mechanicals. So, you’re in a rut where you are playing for free, for less and less.
You always seem to record in Ireland and the British Isles: does the weather help you focus on the melancholy vibe?
AA: It does focus you but I have to be honest with you, and to be really honest I have to admit I am fucking sick of the pissing rain, the wind and shitty weather. I said to the guys: ‘No more, ever again.’ I am going to do it on a beach, in a tent beside a calypso bar, and I’ll pretend to sing about all this shit because I just don’t give a shit. No, I mean, Primordial have never made an album when there’s been streaming sunshine outside. I guess the way things are in Ireland; the history, the economy, socially, and not to mention the fucking weather, all of these things have an effect. I’m just sick of it. I mean, it’s nothing to do with anything, but I think I got swine flu when I was trying to do the singing, so I was out of my head on pills and energy drinks, and I was sleeping the whole day, for four days I never saw any sunshine while doing the singing. I can’t actually remember doing the singing. In the end, probably, it helps the finished product but at the time you’re just thinking “Fuck this!”
Your chief muse seems to be Ireland and its past: do you consider yourself a patriot?
AA: I used to, but my opinions have changed in the last couple of years. There’s a song on the album called ‘The Death Of The Gods’, and there’s a line in it, ‘This is the death of the Republic, the senate has lost’ and then the next line is, ‘This is the death of the Republic, it’s with Pearse in the grave’, y’know, Pádraig Pearse, the great Irish Republican. My opinions have changed because I think, as an Irishman, we are the living in the time of almost complete devolution of Irish society. Our structure and basis on which Ireland was forged upon is unravelling it seems. We are seeing almost 100 years of political cronyism, mismanagement, incredible abuse by the Church, and the visions and dreams of the people, the great thinkers and movers and shakers with regards to the civil war and the rising in the late 19th Century, early 20th Century, all seem awfully redundant; because the dream of the republic is dead.
But that’s the same for any country post-revolution, surely, you have the dream and the optimism and eventually, like everywhere else the politics ruin it.
AA: See, I don’t know about that. If you took something like the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic or even the revolution in the Balkans against Communist oppression, I am not so sure if the people who are attendant in power in these states have misused the power as those in power in Ireland have. I mean, in a sense, since the 1850s, emigration has deprived Ireland of generations and generations of thinkers, maybe even the man who held the gun that shot the president, who knows, leaving the country in the grip of the Catholic Church and a sort of 50-something, intellectually stunted, socially backward group of men. There is also a part of me that’s come to hate the sort of Ireland inward mentality and also hate the backward Catholic mentality, so there is some small dig at that in the [album] title and in some of the lyrics. It’s just the backwater that Ireland became. And I’m saying things that people do not want to hear because Irish people have this parochial mentality, and the “Ah sure, t’ll be all right…. Ah sure, whit ye complainin’ about?”
Parochialism is always inherent to a degree in the politics of small countries, particularly in our part of the world.
AA: But don’t forget that Ireland’s revolution was completely fluked to be timed with the start of the First World War. I mean, are you telling me that if England wasn’t in the First World War Ireland wouldn’t have just been steamrollered over? Exactly. So obviously we can argue the whys and wherefores and well what if? There’s an awful lot of that. Everything was set up for this country. We were one of the first countries to declare democracy in the first 20 years of the 20th Century and survived, most fell prey to fascism or communism and we survived. Somehow it feels now like, to me, we are a failed state, a banana republic. That’s what it feels like.