Alan Nemtheanga of Primordial has become the extreme metal scene’s official opinion machine. Be the issue this or that, you can guarantee that in some point a magazine or other party is asking what this outspoken Irishman thinks about it. And usually Nemtheanga has a good view on that issue: he has seen enough of this world and its darker side to have a perspective on things, and the wide knowledge about history, culture and politics gives a strong back-up. And you can’t forget that he is a singer in one of the most profound and impassioned metal bands of today!
So although this whole interview was more or less improvised, it turned out well. Of course there are some themes like Blood Revolt (whose debut Indoctrine, unleashed not until 2010, is a tricky but striking piece of extreme metal), but otherwise, just one couch, two guys (okay, Mikko Kuronen of Qvadrivivm was also there) and lots of words. No more to say, sink your teeth into this!
As you have noticed, I wanted to get closer to David Tibet as a person in my Current 93 interview. Now this is my second attempt, trying to reveal the man behind Primordial, Alan Nemtheanga: a man with many words and opinions, closer to Black Metal than ever, both musically and ideologically. Read on and take notes about the end of the Western civilization and the suitable soundtracks framing this destruction…
It’s 23th of February in 2007 and Jyväskylä is freezing cold. A few hours before the tonight’s gig. How are you feeling?
– Heh, well, in pain. The last night was a bit too intense. I can’t do my fist and my elbow is hurting. I got thrown out of the bar in Helsinki…
Is it typical for you to get in trouble?
– Not typical, usually I drink to a certain point and have a good time, but usually I don’t go over the line and become aggressive. But I think that I was drinking Jägermeister and energy drink, and I drank one bottle of Jägermeister during the gig and some Finnish drink which I don’t know, so it made a slightly different reaction. With whiskey I’m usually okay.
So you are sometimes aggressive after that certain point?
– Usually I’m relatively good-natured but sometimes I get a bit aggressive. But I’m not one of those people who people know that if he drinks too much he’s going to kill someone. We all have friends like that, but I’m not one of those.
What kind of preparations, rituals, meditations do you have before the gig?
– When I’m getting all the stuff and make-up on I do some vocal scales and drink something hot, lemon or something. And then there’s the usual band bonding going on, but nothing special, just focusing my energy.
So is it easy for you to get into that certain mood, or is it sometimes like “naah, I don’t want to this”?
– Hardly ever. I can count with one hand those gigs which I didn’t like. I remember one gig in Portugal, and the night before the gig I went fucking drunk and mental and I really felt that I can’t give people that proper Primordial that they are waiting, but usually it’s not hard to get into that atmosphere and those songs we play.
So is it usually the physical state which goes wrong?
– The mental state that you need for those songs, it always comes when you start to sing. You remember what they mean to you, and although it may sound pretentious, but you become that song. So it’s very rare that I would be somewhere outside when singing our songs. It’s more like Jekyll and Hyde, or something.
You took the audience well when you were performing in Nummirock, Finland, a couple of years ago. Are you always so interactive with the crowd, because some bands can be good on stage, but they are very introverted and just playing for themselves, not for the audience…
– It’s always that way. If someone is taking all the trouble and effort to come to our show, it’s our duty to be active. The last night in Helsinki was very active and the crowd allowed taking them where we wanted to. Often bands stand onstage and think that there’s a barrier between them and the audience, but generally if you come to see Primordial, you usually see the world like we do, so there’s no point to alienate our crowd. The feeling of the songs becomes reality, and also it’s an old school metal thing. You don’t just stand on the stage. I have been at gigs where the place has been smaller than this room, people are everywhere and the crowd is singing, and I like it. Of course playing in a huge tent or open-air is different, but you just have to project yourself in a different way, or you find yourself running everywhere like a Black Metal Bruce Dickinson…
You mentioned that equipment, studs and spikes and masks. What kind of role do they have to you?
– Well, I’ve been doing them from 1992, and it helps focusing your energy. It’s not like you are becoming a character, a character is in you already like in Jekyll and Hyde, but it’s more like a ritual what you do before going onstage. It projects something common with the music, and I have also been attracted to that style, I am a fan of Celtic Frost and Testament, I’m not interested on standing onstage with a Metallica T-shirt on. Even when we were playing gigs in 1992, we never wore band T-shirts on stage. Of course it’s odd that I’m nearly forty and I can’t stop myself painting my face, heh.
– So it’s a performing ritual. And when the people see me and I see them, it’s a strong connection; usually they are like “what the fuck” because they didn’t expect anything like that, more like a style of My Dying Bride or something.
Usually in Black Metal all the bullet belts and spikes refer to persons going to war: they have their swords and axes onstage. Do you feel same way: when you go onstage, you are going to war?
– Yes, in a way, it’s like preparing for something, it adds that ritualistic feeling. And of course it’s an old school metal thing, a heritage or something. As said, I have always been interested in Celtic Frost, Possessed and Bathory… And Sabbat – when I saw Sabbat in 1989, that was a changing point for me. They were all having swords and leather gauntlets and medieval shirts, and before that I hadn’t seen a band that would do that.
Let’s take a look on your new projects, on the fields of Black/Death Metal. For example you will be making a guest appearance on the next Marduk album. What was the motive behind this?
– Well, I have been friends with them for a long time, with Morgan and Arioch as well. They are into Primordial and I like Marduk also – it’s not one of my favourite bands, but with a new singer they have much more potential, and when you hear the new album, you will be quite surprised I think. First it was just an idea: he had this song called Opposer/Accuser, which he wrote basically for me, having two characters in that song, and I sing like answers in that song. And it worked very well, it was very challenging and interesting to with other musicians. But people were first like “are you going to make Black Metal vocals” and my answer was “why should I? Arioch has a voice of Hell, you can’t compete with him and I have never heard anyone singing like that”. So it was interesting, we are also very like-minded individuals, me, Morgan and Arioch.
For me Marduk are one of those few stubborn bastards in Black Metal, fistfucking God’s planet all night long. How do you see them musically and ideologically?
– Yes, and in the end Legion was turning Marduk a bit to a pantomime. His vocals were good as well, but at some point you need change like that. And Morgan is Marduk for me at least. You can get a wrong impression when you read the most stupid Marduk lyrics, but he’s a very intelligent guy, he has tons of books and CDs and he knows so many things about history, he can say “here’s a church from 1444 and here’s a grave from 1466” and so on, full of geographical and historical facts. And when I asked why nothing of this is on Marduk albums, the answer was because Legion wrote almost all the lyrics. The thing is different with Arioch, he’s writing better lyrics, and if you have listened Funeral Mist and read his lyrics, this new album will be from the same – his – angle: Religious, orthodox Black Metal feeling.
Another thing is this band with you, Vermin and J. Read (Revenge, Axis Of Advance) called Blood Revolt.
– This will be one of the most interesting things and it will fuck with many people’s heads. Revenge fans maybe can’t believe they want to make an album with me and it’s the same thing with Primordial fans. Basically I’m really into Revenge and J. Read is into Primordial, and now we are working with an album. We have four songs so far, and they have Axis Of Advance stuff, crazy tempo changes and speeds and stuff, but also epic, slower moments which remind me about slow Deströyer 666. Some of the songs are so fast that it’s difficult for me to sing on them, but the main thing was to try how it sounds with normal vocals – very brutal normal vocals but still normal vocals.
– Like Morgan and Arioch, also Read has many similar views and ideas with me. He’s one of the most stubborn people you can meet and won’t compromise one fucking thing in the music he makes. So there’s a common ground with Revenge and Primordial, most of the people don’t hear it song-wise, but the common feeling lies under the surface.
You mentioned this common goal and vision on your homepage. What kind of vision will Blood Revolt have?
– Musically the main goal was to make an uncompromising album which is like a fist in the face of normality and mediocrity and the plastic, pathetic state of death metal. But we are trying to make on as big a label as possible, not some underground label with a thousand copies.
– The lyrical theme, which is my handling, follows eight stages of total social alienation of a man – from losing his job, not being able to feed his kids to urban and social decay, to the alienation from his culture and society. And this all is a descent to madness and he ends up killing himself as a suicidal bomber. This shows his total mental breakdown. I have ideas to make a song about how to make a bomb, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to do that… However, this story can be about anyone. It can be about Timothy McVeigh, about Hamas.. It’s supposed to be a morality tale about how a normal person can go to a store with a gun in his hand and shoot eight people. How more and more people get alienated from society and have no voice, more like this will happen. This is inspired by Timothy McVeigh and Middle-East, but it can happen anywhere. It can be a right-wing group, but it can be someone who goes bombing some French company who owns the watering in Columbia. It seems that blowing up buildings is the only way to get people to listen to you nowadays.
So it gives you an opportunity to go beyond that point where Primordial usually stops?
– Yes, in that respective I am allowed to cross some lines, hailing military equipment as salvation and creating really violent images, things that I couldn’t put to Primordial. For example some of my inspiration came from the dead town centres in America, where Walmarts are stripped and there are just cottage shops and drug addicts… The old community is starting to pass away, so I try to picture that slow decay and a descent to madness.
We have mentioned war a couple of times, so are you more an observer, for war or against war?
– We are living the age which brings us a perpetual war, and this war is just war for material assets, for example USA and England went to the Middle-East just for the natural resources. And bombing Afghanistan – it’s not that they want Afghanistan, it’s that they want to build an enormous gas line. Although the world is full of books and films, people need to be informed, not just conspiracy theories but that pretext that we are living the age of a perpetual war. After 9/11 the world has become a much darker place and this is showing also in Primordial: the feeling of alienation and the feeling that you have no voice and that feeling of worthlessness – that whatever you do it doesn’t make difference. I for example can fully understand those young Muslims, who are blowing people up. We have no spirituality in the West anymore, we have replaced it with capitalism and materialism. Every action that American policy takes has a reaction on my life, on my state. We can’t be integrated, but people have to live together, be they Muslims or Polish or Russian.
– So I don’t have any difficulties to understand people who go and try to have a better living, but in twenty years… I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be. We Irish have an island mentality and it’s hard for us to accept changes. But it’s the same thing wherever I go, the old historical wounds between countries are reopening, and that’s what The Gathering Wilderness is about.
– So back to your question: I’m active in the sense that I’m aware of my opinions and thoughts, and I do see things that move me and that’s why I’m talking about them in interviews etc. Maybe after this someone is starting to think that he/she should use his culture in a positive way or notices that Palestines are human beings, not just demonised by the media. It’s hard to just throw your hands and think it’s all fucked up anyway, but I don’t know if I want to bring kids to this world.
Can you even see that things could get better, that there would be some change in politics or in the minds of people? Or does it just getting worse and worse and worse?
– It’s good that people are more aware of things; the world has become a smaller place because of all the information. It’s no more like during the cold war when you just had America and Russia. There was this one line and people didn’t question things. The geopolitical landscape has changed a lot, but I don’t know if people can do anything about the situation anymore. Like I said, we have no spirituality in the West, our religion is materialism. It’s hard to see what you could to do to change things in a positive way. For me we are living the end of our days, this is the period when we can see massive changes during our lifetime. We have lost our power to America, and they know it and they keep it to themselves. They want to keep the security and the lifestyle that they enjoy and when they do it, they don’t want anyone to stand in their way.
Well, let’s imagine that all the materialism and capitalism would be swept away and replaced by religion. Would the change be to better or to worse?
– It’s quite unlikely obviously, but you can see that in the countries that have grown economically, they don’t have a need for religion or god. The exception is the USA, where you can see fundamentalist Christianity rising. It’s so fucking scary… There are states that are full of churches, 120 churches in a row. I don’t know have you seen the document called “Jesus Camp”, but it represents groups who have enough money to bother anything. They are xenophobic racists, Christian fascists who have their own armies. But I don’t think that the West would embrace any form of religion anymore.
I guess we can’t ignore your heritage and home country in this point. Many people consider Ireland being a quite religious country, but is it?
– First we have to remember that Ireland was a very poor country in the late eighties and early nineties, it was like a second world country. While people were poor, they still got their religion. Then in 1991 and 1992 the first cases of abuse within the church in the previous 50 years came up: there were big institutions where children were raised by Christian brothers called teachers because the families didn’t have money to raise their children, and basically these Christian brothers and sisters of mercy had systemically abused thousands of children over these 50 years – and the old government – closely linked to the church – had swept everything under the carpet. Then these stories rose and Ireland became more and more economically powerful and so no-one under 35 years old went to church anymore. No respect for the church, no respect for the priests. There were even years that no-one applied to be a priest. In a sense you can say that you get what you deserve, but the biggest joke was that all the money that the church paid to the abused children was taken from our taxes…
How was it when you introduced yourself to bands like Darkthrone etc.? Were you raised in a religious environment?
– The interesting thing is that my mother was a Catholic and my father was a Protestant, which wasn’t very accepted in Ireland, but for example my father was more an atheist than a Protestant, so they just left me alone and saw what I come up – and there wasn’t a long way to wearing a pentagram and an inverted cross around your neck. So I have never been into church, and it’s the same thing with my family and relatives. I haven’t got a mad religious aunt praising about Jesus.
What was like to be a metalhead in Ireland in the eighties?
– I found metal music at the age of ten in 84/85, so I was a teenager at the end of the eighties. People wouldn’t believe what was it like, but it was a fucking rough place. There were fights all the time. There was a group called “scumbags”, a totally underclass society just watching football and fighting, and when you went out on Saturday night, you were in a fight in 10-15 minutes. Scumbags fighting with punks, punks fighting with metal heads, punks and metal heads fighting with scumbags, and then there were Smiths fans and straight edge people and so on… I was living in a good area, but there were places where they beat you, pulled you down and cut you hear. Going to a gig was always crazy; you needed to have a big gang around you because of the scumbags… We all got grown up at that time, but I don’t say it was all bad, at the same time there were lots of bohemian culture and shops, and in the end people were very friendly.
Did you ever think that “this is not my thing, that I should be something else, something normal”? Or is it so that if you are born metal, you are metal forever?
– I definitely think that way. When I was fourteen, I was making tape trades and my own fanzine and I knew that this was my thing, although I knew that some of us will fade away and some will stay this way. I was always actively engaged with music, it wasn’t enough to just listen to a new Iron Maiden album.
And now you are sitting here, in Finland, Jyväskylä, preparing for the gig. Is it weird?
– But this is the reason why I have been doing all these things. We play music because we have to. The culture and the music live in a symbiotic relationship; it’s not just that there’s a bunch of lads who happen to have couple of bad Slayer riffs. When we started in 1991, things were really difficult: no instruments, no gear, practising in shitty bedrooms. When I answered the ad for the singer, the ad was visible just for half an hour, then it was covered by other ads. I was the only person who answered to it and I got into the band because I had a Rotting Christ shirt and long hair. I couldn’t really sing, but it was meant that we all should be in that band. The sense of achievement and the sense of having gotten where you are through your own talent is very rewarding. To be here now, that’s a joy, but often we sit down and think where have we came from, and we see that this has been a long and interesting journey.