With the end of 2014 quickly approaching, most music writers – myself included – have been busy agonizing and wailing over the order and participants for their year-end lists. In my experience, metal — much more so than with pop or hip hop music — is much more album-driven than single-driven. As a result, it stands to reason that the vast majority of year-end retrospectives are written about whole albums rather than individual songs. As a change of pace, I’ve decided it would be good to highlight a single song. A song that stood apart from all others. The best song of the year: Primordial’s ‘Wield Lightning to Split the Sun’ from Where Greater Men Have Fallen.
What struck me immediately is just how self-assured the song sounds. It’s as if Primordial knew they were crafting something incredibly special and timeless as they were writing and arranging it. The song opens with tom drums pounding and acoustic guitars, clanging with strength, passion and poise, all of which are defining characteristics of the band as a whole. It’s all very simple musically, but it also does a tremendous job of setting the stage, and building to that early cathartic release once the rest of the band join at full volume.
The tempo and rhythm of the song would have fit in well on Borknagar’s The Archaic Course, which would make this track somewhat atypical when held up next to a discography that features a lot of triplet-based 12/8 and 3/4 signature songs, but that only helps it stand out from an already impressive songbook. The rhythm guitars focus around only a couple of refrains for the entirety of the song’s seven-plus minutes, while the leads add variety by alternating octave melodies and floating, the slower soloing meant for melodic enhancement rather than showing off technical skill. Now, I’ll admit that, based on the purposely dry description I’ve just provided, ‘Wield Lightning to Split the Sun’ might seem rather unremarkable. It’s true that all of the individual components I’ve just provided could be used to describe any number of songs throughout rock n’ roll history. What I aim to show is that the musical qualities that make this song special are more abstract than quantifiable. The magic of ‘Wield Lightning to Split the Sun’ instrumentally is in its ability to stir the imagination with a relatively simple tune. Simplicity is the song’s overall theme, in a way.
Lyrically, Primordial outshines virtually all of heavy metal. Vocalist A.A. Nemtheanga has an incredible talent for coming up with meaningful and sometimes even gut-wrenching words to accompany the music, which is already at a high emotional potency. With ‘Wield Lightning to Split the Sun’, he makes a compelling case that modern life is made more difficult than it needs to be.  Initially, I thought that perhaps these lyrics might be interpreted as expressing a spiritual tie with nature, but instead it’s a separation from spirituality and a pragmatist’s belief in the simple joys of nature that guide this song. In that way, ‘Wield Lightning to Split the Sun’ has served as a reminder that the absence of the esoteric does not indicate an absence of profundity.
A lot of A.A. Nemtheanga’s lyrics warrant discussion and interpretation. Whether that means deciphering them incorrectly, as I had originally, or even just reading the way he explains his meaning; the point is that his words deserve reflection, which is disappointingly rare in extreme metal. 2014 is a year in which, more than ever, the shock and resonance of theistic satanism and blasphemy have been greatly diminished. Death and violence are now generic methods of lyrical self-expression and catharsis. It all seems so trite, as the world becomes ever-more jaded and cynical. Or, perhaps it’s just a matter of getting older. A.A. Nemtheanga found himself embracing a ‘harsh pragmatism’ with age, which is easy to understand. What’s difficult is relating to someone screaming about their hatred of Christ, or any other divinity, when there’s plenty to be worried or angry about in the real, physical world. The here and now is cruel enough without the hereafter. ‘Wield Lightning to Split the Sun’ is a song about finding some joy in the world in spite of the pervasive cruelty that resonates in a jaded and cynical world. That is why this song is the best song of 2014.
Who would pray to anything but the mountain
And wish for anything but lightning to split the night
Who would praise anything but the sun above
That brings each dawn and our radiant day
What man places faith in his heart
Above the animal that rages deep inside
What man asks forgiveness yet
Lies to himself his whole life
Let the animal hunt on the mountainside
And let lightning split my heart in two
Let me howl at the moon with desire
And stretch my arms wide to embrace the sun
Return to the earth that bore me
For there is nothing more