DATE OF INTERVIEW:
2nd February 2008
ALAN 'NEMTHEANGA' AVERILL
Since their impressive debut album, 'Imrama', on Cacophonous Records in 1995, Primordial have continued to make and release innovative and seminal music, while managing to perpetuate a loyal and dedicated fanbase. Over the years, and despite the press' attempts at constrictive labelling, the Irishmen have always eschewed metal's ever growing profusion of subgenres and risen above its ephemeral trends. And now with the band's latest release for Metal Blade, 'To The Nameless Dead', receiving widespread rave reviews from both the underground and mainstream music press, it seems 2008 might very well be the year when Primordial finally achieve some long deserved greater commercial success, which would be an admirable achievement for a band that has never compromised their original metal aesthetic or creative vision.
Having been a fan of the band since their Cacophonous days, I seized the opportunity of interviewing Primordial frontman Alan 'Nemtheanga' Averill in London before a rare UK gig at Camden's Underworld venue. Hooking up with Andy Turner from Metal Blade outside the Underworld a few minutes before 5pm, we walk into The World's End pub which is located next door, and he leads me through the kitchens, and down some stairs into the venue. We then walk backstage and wait for a couple of minutes in a small room, until Alan finishes his current interview. When 5pm arrives, Andy beckons an interviewer from an adjacent room, then takes me through to meet Alan. After introductions are made, the Primordial frontman grabs a sandwich from the fridge and, as he sits down, with an allotted interview slot of only half an hour, I waste no time in beginning my questions. Laid-back, philosophical, and intelligent, Alan eats his sandwich as I quiz him on a range of subjects including the new album, secularity, globalisation, and his artwork. I begin by asking his opinion on the overwhelming critical success of 'To The Nameless Dead'...
METAL DISCOVERY: ‘To The Nameless Dead’ has received stunning reviews from the media, with most proclaiming it’s the best Primordial album to date. How do you rate your latest album against the other 5...and EP?
MD: Primordial’s musical influences have been well discussed in the past, but are there any particular writers - of prose or poetry - that influence your lyrical style?
ALAN AVERILL: Erm…well, I don’t know…at the time, you just do the best that you can, and then you don’t analyse it, and second guess it, and see…but listening back to everything, which I did reasonably recently, yeah, it’s a strong album - it has really strong energy, the songs are good. Maybe it is the best one…I don’t know; I probably won’t know until years after we finish doing whatever it is we’re doing.
AA: Well I suppose when I was a teenager, I was quite book-ish, and I suppose what you would call…I wouldn’t say intellectual, but I was always interested in writing and everything from science fiction stuff to…I suppose somebody like W.B.Yeats or William Blake would’ve been quite an influence when I was a teenager, but you just try and find your own voice with things, you know. Whereas maybe on the first two albums there are some rather complex metaphors that trip themselves up, you begin to realise that if you wanna try and actually say something that people understand you should just fucking say it straight away and not use metaphors…especially seeing as most people who buy the albums don’t speak English as their first language.
(Alan Averill on the problematic of what constitutes the individual in contemporary society)
"The concept of individuality is difficult in a world where everything seems to be compromised and every left of field counter-culture seems to be subsumed by the mainstream and spat back out..."
Alan backstage at Camden Underworld, London, 2nd February 2008
Photograph copyright © 2008 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Of course, so a play on words would be hard for some people to get. You often include a lot of exposition with the lyrics in the CD inlays, with suggestions as to the songs‘ meanings - is it important to you that people listening to Primordial grasp those suggested interpretations and understand what you intend the songs to mean?
AA: Totally, I mean, I think that there’s not an air of finality about it. It’s not like me saying this is exactly what it means, but it’s a pointer in the direction which says that this is somewhat of a general theme of the album and this is what is behind this song. I think that Primordial is the kind of band that people who really love the band appreciate the fact that there’s an extra amount of effort gone into…if you are willing to scratch the surface with the band then you can be rewarded, you know. Like I said, I’ve been saying constantly, if I stood on stage and sung about zombies, life would be far easier, you know what I mean, but I just couldn’t fucking do that, and…
MD: There’s no integrity in that…
AA: It sounds maybe a bit over serious, but if I look back when it’s all finished in ten years and I have kids and they say so this is what you fucking wasted your time doing - you have the chance to communicate something, in some small degree to a certain amount of people, then you shouldn’t waste it. And I think that Primordial is inextricably linked to our cultural awareness or something like this, and our history and politics, so it has to be this way. So that is the reason I try to put this extra effort into the meanings for those who want to find them. I don’t mind if someone wants to drink beer and headbang to ‘Empire Falls’ ‘cause it’s a cool riff, no problem…
MD: Yeah, it’s fucking great for that too!
AA: Yeah, it’s okay for that as well, you know.
MD: I think I worded that as suggested interpretations because I never saw them as definitive…you know, this is how you have to get these lyrics. ‘To The Nameless Dead’ has, at least in my view, your most passionate vocal performance to date, and you sing with real, profound emotion - is this partly derived from the conviction of your own beliefs in the subject matters about which you sing?
AA: Yeah, when you mean what you say, and say what you mean, you have to sound like you mean it. I mean, technicalities are something I’m not interested in - thankfully I’m able to sing okay. You know, I’m not fucking Rob Halford; I’m not fucking Bruce Dickinson, but I do okay, and I do better thankfully every time every album comes around. I got to push it a bit further with this album but, yeah, it’s linked with the last question as well, when you’re singing about something you can relate to, then you have to sound like you mean it, and whether you’re in tune or not, it doesn’t matter to me.
MD: Are you trying to…or probably better phrased…hope that what you’re singing about can change people’s minds about certain things?
AA: Maybe, I don’t know. To me, it’s not entertainment, it’s art. To me, you have to hope that there’s some degree of transferral in that sense; that somebody will buy it and maybe think a little bit more about who they are or where they’re from, or how they can relate to where they’re from, and that kind of thing, and if they can impact some form of positive change on their surroundings and the people around them, and it makes them think, well then they could, yeah, great. We played at Arnhem Metal Meeting, you know, this is a sort of Miss World story, but a guy came up to me at the bar and said “Primordial really inspired me, and I decided to go out and work in the local homeless shelter, ‘cause I was sick of my 9 to 5 office job and I realised that if you’re not trying to help someone, you’re not working in any worth in this world.” He just said “fuck it, I’m gonna go and volunteer”, and I said “well, you know, that’s great, if it’s made you go and try and do something like that because the music has inspired you, well then that’s the point of it”.
MD: It must give you a real kick to hear people say things like that.
AA: Yeah, it’s great. Primordial will never be the biggest band in the world, and that was never our point, but the point that it actually means that much to some people is far greater than being a band who sells twice as much, and singing about nothing that people just listen to a couple of times, yeah cool riff, then put it back with the rest of the CDs, you know. We’re not an ‘I’ve got too much money in my pocket’ kind of band, do you know what I mean?
MD: Yeah, yeah, but at least with popular artistic forms of expression like metal, at least you have the opportunity to maybe change the way people think through your lyrics, rather than like an academic text which would be more preaching to the converted.
AA: Yeah, sure, I mean, yeah, I totally agree. To me, it’s a good medium, and the opportunity to waste it is huge. Even back when I was 17 or 16, I knew that I didn’t want to write the same old shite. You know, we’re not fantasists, and we’re not romanticists, we’re not…
MD: …like Finntroll singing about trolls!
AA: Yeah, yeah, it’s part of the Finnish black humour about their culture, their drinking culture, and Finntroll are surprised as anyone else by their success, but there’s a terrible disease at the moment I think in the metal scene, at least the over-ground metal scene. I mean you look at 10-12 years ago, the bands that were popular - Paradise Lost; Anathema; Tiamat; Samael; Moonspell; My Dying Bride - dark bands, now it’s all post-Hammerfall festival euphoria…
MD: Yeah, like Korpiklaani with their beer drinking songs - I’m sure Tankard will get big once again soon!
AA: Well, you know, fair play Tankard, whatever, but they weren’t fucking Celtic Frost, were they?!
MD: No, no, no - that’s a good point!
AA: And they’ll never be remembered as such.
MD: I’ve read on your MySpace page that you’re currently into the subjects of globalisation and multinationalism which you express lyrically in ‘As Rome Burns’ with themes of loss of individuality and autonomy as human beings, and the bleak, almost apocalyptic, repercussions this could have. How important to you is the notion of individuality?
AA: Well that’s a rather….
MD: …it’s a very broad question!
AA: Yeah, it’s a rather broad and rather metaphorical question. Obviously, if you are a questioner; if you are prepared to re-evaluate things, prepared to try and see that there’s grey, neither black nor white, and not accept the government or the media’s attempt to have us as some all consuming, all fearing, all medicated nation, and you’re willing to try and be prepared to step outside of that then I think, yeah, you could say you are an individual. The concept of individuality is difficult in a world where everything seems to be compromised and every left of field counter-culture seems to be subsumed by the mainstream and spat back out. It’s very difficult to know what is individuality…that’s a philosophical debate you could have for the next whatever few hours, but yeah, it’s just a question of awareness - question things, re-evaluate things, look at the world around you and say, well, not just a knee jerk reaction to things, not political correctness, just try and think why, why is this like that. I mean with Primordial, it’s not my pulpit, it’s not my soapbox, I don’t necessarily have the answers all the time, but you have to pose some questions, and ‘As Rome Burns‘, we here in the West have replaced any form of spirituality, historical ties, and cultural worth with decadence, opulence, and pure capitalism, and hand-in-hand with American foreign policy, Blair has walked us into this brave new world of perpetual terror and we’re going to have to accept the blame for that.
MD: Well I guess we do undoubtedly live in a world of capitalism now, and people generally accept that - even those on the left, the liberals, whoever, and it’s like, what’s the best way to manage that form of capitalism. I think part of the problem is people have been conditioned and evolved to think in binary terms, so it’s either black or white - there’s no in between way of thinking.
AA: Oh totally, and what’s happening is that, essentially, the politicians in the 80s that gave over our political freedoms to the free market economy which was they let businesses en masse run politics, so essentially politicians aren’t the most important people in the world, the CEOs are, and that’s the way the world is, and if you’re on the wrong side, ie. from a poor country…you know, if you’re from some village in Afghanistan that’s been bombed, the UN aren’t gonna fucking save you. So why wouldn’t you want to kill every American or Westerner that you meet? You turn on Al Jazeera or something and Muslims in Europe are watching their religious brethren getting bombed and, you know, we don’t have any religious ties anymore in the West, so we don’t have any form of empathic response to that.
MD: Primordial are fairly unique in the scene in terms of the entirely original sound you’ve forged over the years, but the media still try to label you as black metal, folk, pagan or whatever. Does it bother you that your originality is perhaps compromised or not acknowledged through that kind of labelling, or do you not give a shit about being categorised as whatever?
AA: I don’t care; I don’t give a fuck. I mean, that’s what the media do, that’s their job. All of a sudden we’re the godfathers of battle metal which Metal Hammer calls us after six albums, but before they never paid us the slightest bit of attention. What do I care; I don’t care, you know. We do what we do, when we want to, on our own terms, without ever compromising…that’s our legacy or whatever.
MD: That kind of leads me onto my next question - do you think faith and morality can exist in a secular form with no ties to organised religion?
AA: That’s an interesting question because I often find myself for everyone and against everyone at the same time. Obviously I’m against Christians…well, I’m not against Christians, but…
MD: …against the ideology of…
AA: Yeah, obviously the ideology of Christianity is a fallacy, but that essentially was the spirituality that ties the West together, but obviously now that’s been outmoded by a post-industrial revolutionised world, you know, we don’t have a need for religion anymore because we don’t have want, and we don’t have fear, we don’t have poverty - well, we still do, of course we do, but in broad terms. We’re too well educated to need god anymore in that sense so, of course, in a secular world, what can bind people together? It’s difficult to say, but whatever it is, we don’t have it in the West. I mean, I don‘t really call it a pagan ethic or something like that I suppose you would call ‘green ethic’ would be the nearest equivalent in the secular world - how much of that can impact any positive change in society, I don’t know. Everything is being marketed in that sense though because that tells its own story.
MD: I remember reading ages ago that Dani Filth helped you get the deal with Cacophonous when Cradle of Filth were still signed to that label ’cause he was raving about your band to the label I heard - is that true?
MD: You did Black Christmas with Cradle at the Astoria as well didn’t you?
AA: Yeah. Dani was…when we used to write a lot, and when we did our demo in ‘93, we sold a lot of copies in England…hundreds, you know, 300 hundred copies probably in England. We even played in the Devil’s Church down the road before we even had an album out - a two day festival with Occult and Bal Sagoth and stuff, and Dani came down, and Neil from Cacophonous was there, and we sort of hammered a deal out of that. But yeah, he had a great deal to play with us in getting our first album out.
AA: Yeah, ‘95, yeah.
MD: Are you still in touch?
AA: No, I haven’t seen him in years. The last time I met him was maybe 2001 or something.
MD: Do you follow their career still?
AA: No. I remember he said something to me…he showed up at the show with a multi-coloured Cradle of Filth t-shirt, and I said “man, that’ll fucking never sell”, and he looked at me and he said “man, underground this, underground that, but all the bands we love and aspire to, they all haven’t made fucking money” - don’t tell me Quorthon didn’t make fucking money, fucking forget it, you know, then he says “I’m gonna do everything I can to make this band big”, and he did. Musically, it’s fairly redundant, I don’t find anything to listen to in it but, maybe the first demos and album are okay, but…
MD: He has a good vision though and still…
AA: It doesn’t bother me, they do what they want to. The same with Dimmu Borgir - if you don’t want to listen, don’t buy it, you know.