Let me preface this review by making my bias crystal clear: a Primordial flag hangs in my bedroom, and when the album went up at midnight I bought it immediately and, despite having work in six hours, decided I had to hear it before I slept. Though my excitement carried me through the first two songs, Primordial lost me somewhere in the middle of the third track. Chalking it up to the hour, I decided I’d give it another shot when I was more awake. Unfortunately, my initial reaction persisted, at least for the first couple of listens. Most of my criticisms stemmed from Exile Amongst The Ruins being, as an album, very slow moving, and though I have no problem with glacial tempos and epic song lengths, several of the songs on this album just didn’t seem to click for me. Ideas felt like they were repeated for too long, the energy didn’t vary enough, and much of the middle of the album kind of blended together. Though Nemtheanga’s vocals are as fantastic as ever, I felt that the album’s production, especially in the guitars, failed to provide the power needed to match the emotion in his voice and the energy in the drum performance, and I felt disappointed, as I’m sure many did on first listen, that I hadn’t been given another Where Greater Men Have Fallen or Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand. After a few more listens, though (I’m on my eig- err, ninth run through as I write this), my notions of “what I expected from Primordial” fell away and the album’s melancholy began to speak to me a bit more.

Exile Amongst The Ruins opens with Nail Their Tongues, a classic Primordial anthem and the most “black metal” offering on the album, as well as my favorite; their usual epic stylings (with perhaps a hint of Candlemass in the guitars?) building towards cold tremolo guitars, furious blasting, and some snarling from Nemtheanga. To Hell or the Hangman keeps the energy high, if a bit static, and the later Sunken Lungs sees a return to this energy, but it’s the four middle tracks, and the Bathory-esque closer Last Call, that really exemplify the sound of this album. Where previous Primordial records tended to emphasize aggression, albeit aggression wrapped in grandeur, with an epic or two (Coffin Ships, Mouth of Judas) added for good measure, Exile Amongst The Ruins flips that ratio, with over half of the album’s run-time spent on slow tempos and lengthy ballads that showcase a darker, more brooding sound. Though some of these songs are a bit rough around the edges, and there are moments where some of the majesty Primordial is going for gets lost under the weight of song length (the end of Where Lie the Gods goes just a little too long, for example), I think their decision to shift focus away from the straightforward aggression found in albums like Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand towards this slow-burning rage is ultimately justified by songs like the title track and Stolen Years. As a whole, these slower tracks feel almost tired, at times, and while that weariness can be a detriment, especially if you aren’t expecting it, it also lends weight to the emotional content. Though Where Lie the Gods and Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed can feel a little plodding here and there, their lumbering provides the context for the excellent Stolen Years to hit home more effectively. I freely admit to not liking that song when I first heard it as a single, but after hearing it in the context of the album, I’m genuinely blown away by Primordial’s talent for channelling this kind of regretful anguish, and I feel comfortable labelling it the strongest track on the album. That distinction is a good representation on how I feel about most of the album, actually; though the music itself, in terms of song structures and production and whatnot, isn’t quite the same level of polished as their previous releases, the emotion they’re trying to convey is as strong, or stronger, than ever.

I don’t know that I’ll be listening to Exile Amongst The Ruins as often as I do their other albums, but I do think fans of the band, especially those who have been following them for a few releases, will appreciate Primordial’s attempt to evolve. Sure, this record is perhaps a bit too long, and sure, it isn’t their most immediately exciting music, but it offers a different take on their sound that I find worthwhile, and I am always in favor of artists moving forward rather than treading water and striving to recreate their existing work. It may be tempting to listen once or twice and then return to their more rousing, anthemic work, but I think it’s worth putting in the time to connect to the gloomy, melancholy atmosphere Primordial have created. Though I came to this album expecting massives doses of the righteous fury found in Empire Falls or No Grave Deep Enough, I’m ultimately just as satisfied by the mournful dirges that comprise the bulk of Exile Amongst The Ruins.