Interview with Primordial: The State of Irish Deconstruction

When it came time for me to edit down the interview I recently conducted with Primordial frontman Alan Averill on the occasion of the release of their first live DVD, All Empires Fall, I had a couple choices to make. The original discussion, well over 3,500 words, would never fit into this column space, and resultingly, I had options as to how I wanted to frame the piece. The beginning was kind of generic interview stuff—how’s your new album coming along, etc.—the middle moved into a treatise on the state of the social order in the band’s native Ireland (it’s fucked), and finally the conversation wrapped with the revelation that even mid-size U.S. venues have been taking a cut of touring bands’ merch sales. All of it very interesting, all of it new information as far as I’m concerned.

I could have done a part of each, but it wouldn’t have made any sense to the reader. Ultimately, in the bit I think best serves the overall attitude of the band, I chose to print the portion of the interview wherein Averill describes the breakdown of Irish institutions and the economy, since that seems to be so much of a driving force behind Primordial and Averill’s attitudes on nationalism will no doubt play heavily into the lyrics on the band’s next album, which is set to be recorded next month for a fall/winter release on Metal Blade, who also released the DVD, and the band’s prior two albums, including 2007’s To The Nameless Dead, which was my pick for album of the year that year.

With all that said, please enjoy the discussion below and hopefully, like me, you’ll have the chance to learn something from it.

In one of your blog entries on the Primordial website, you discuss nationalism, and I wanted to ask you if you think it’s possible to be allied to a country but not necessarily a state.

Well, there’s a very different distinction between a nation and a state. The state is defined by a geographical boundary. You can have a nation which has no state, which could be Kurds or Armenians. A lot of things have happened in Ireland that have made me question my views on, at the very least, Irish nationalism. We’ve witnessed the almost instantaneous collapse of the economy and a lot of the social order that existed around it. The church has been exposed as nothing but a pedophile ring. The government who’ve ruled the country more or less since the inception of the state have turned out to be charlatans, liars and thieves as well. The property and banking sectors have collapsed. Basically all the old institutions, from the health board to everything, have collapsed, and I think traditionally I would have been against the state but for the people. Now I find myself being against the people as well.

The misdeeds of the state were perpetrated with the help of regular people, and I think the romantic idealism that existed in the late 19th Century/early 20th Century that surrounded the initial fight for, say, Irish freedom or whatever you want to call it, the establishment of that state never happened. The systematic murdering of the intellectuals of the time who could have brought about perhaps a greater state never happened. A lot of things have happened to change my views in the last while have altered my views of nationalism. It’s a recurring theme in Primordial. The whole last album is connected to this theme. It’s not nationalistic, it’s just viewing nationalism and how people relate to a piece of dirt they think is theirs. I think it is possible to relate to a nation without recognizing the state. It is possible to support a different view on political situations without being geographically or ethnically even part of it.

How do you see this change in ideology that you’ve been undergoing playing into Primordial, which is such a lyrical vehicle for that kind of thinking?

Traditionally, we always flew an Irish flag from the amps when we played and this, that and the other. One of the songs on the newer album is questioning the ethics of that. It’s questioning what exactly is it that you’re proud of this nation and state? It’s about the unquestioned inheritance of the misdeeds and heroic deeds of your ancestry, when realistically you’d probably not necessarily had anything to do with them. It’s questioning the nature of your flag, the nature of your nationalistic inheritance and that sort of thing in a different way to the last album. I think it’s important to come at things from different angles. I never run out of things to write about, which is good (laughs).

I know you mentioned the Catholic church before, and I’m on the East Coast of the U.S. and we had a similar kind of explosion of exposure of abuse a few years ago. It’s awful to read that in the news.

We have two huge reports, the Ryan and the Murphy Reports, that came in the last couple years, that basically expose the Catholic church in Ireland for a pedophile ring. Nothing short of that. And most of the problems throughout the rest of the developed world to do with Catholic pedophilia are Irish priests sent on missions, whether that’s in Africa or America. I think you’ll find lots of Irish surnames with those priests that are arrested in Canada and America. So we have to question why Ireland. Why not Polish priests? Why not Italian priests? A certain amount of it is the intellectually retarded, backward nature of Ireland. A lot of people aren’t happy with my views on these kinds of things because they don’t like to hear you knocking your own country, but it’s true. Ireland never really had the industrial revolution like the rest of Europe, and it was essentially an intellectual backwater, which since the inception of the state, has allowed its brightest and cleverest to emigrate because it had absolutely nothing for them. The people who could have potentially changed the makeup of Ireland were gone, leaving the country to the grubby hands of Fianna Fail, the ruling party, at the behest of the Catholic church.

And like I said before, I used to be for the people and against all these things, but now you realize that in small-town Ireland, while this was happening, everyone knew. The baker. The butcher. The doctor. The local this, the local that. Everyone knew what was happening. Now I find myself in the position that I’m against everything (laughs). We’re witnessing the absolute deconstruction of Irish society, which, standing on the outside of it, is very interesting, but it’s also a little bit distressing for a lot of people.

It’s a very strange to be a Irish person living in Ireland. We’re halfway down the spiral. We haven’t reached the bottom yet. There’s more coming. And it is some amount of it that will inspire the next Primordial album, but I don’t want the usual Christian-baiting lyrics that are archetypal in heavy metal, that’s not my style, so I’m going to have to come at it from some different angle. But everybody was in on it. Whether it was the church, who took in kids promising them an education, a better life, then basically farmed them out to farmers to work as slave labor and often to death. Ireland is like a failed African state, or the Ukraine in the 1920s. Under Lenin, there’s echoes of this stuff, collectivization. There’s a dark underbelly of Irish society that’s been exposed to people now, and it’s strange times.

Where do you see it going?

It’s only gonna get worse. The country’s fucked. The people are depressed. Sadly not aggressive enough and violent to go out in the streets and tear the place apart, which they have been doing in Athens, which I’d really like to see. Look, if the Simon Wiesenthal Center can pursue 80-year-old Nazis like Demjanjuk and put them in prison and our government is debating whether priests should even resign for harboring pedophiles, it says a lot about Irish society. Half these people should be strung up and should be in prison, and I think the general public are just so disillusioned with everything that they’ve just basically been lied to by every state and institution. Now that the recession has knocked us down to 27th most productive economy in the EU, everyone has to emigrate again. So yeah, cheery stuff (laughs).

Should make for a good album, if nothing else.

Yeah, well, you know, I’m a bit outside of it all, all the time. My upbringing is slightly different. My background is different. My attitudes are different, and so it affects me in a different way.

Primordial’s All Empires Fall DVD is out now on Metal Blade.

JJ Koczan has nothing to add, so he’ll just say “Quorthon forever” and leave it at that.