Album Review: Primal Fear - 'Rulebreaker'.
Anyone who’s never heard Primal Fear need look no further than track number five on new album ‘Rulebreaker’ for a distillation of what the band is all about. With a repeated refrain of “in metal we trust, in metal we live”, this mission statement, combined with its fist in the air delivery and a musical backdrop of double-kick drumming, improbable guitar heroics and driving basslines lays down exactly what the German band are all about neatly, in just over three and a half minutes. Playing the type of metal that is huge in continental Europe, but less so elsewhere, Primal Fear create the type of epic sounds and musical dramas where overblown theatrics are king, and subtlety goes right out the castle window.
Incredibly, ‘Rulebreaker’ is the Stuttgart band’s eleventh studio album. A long established act at power metal’s top table alongside the likes of Helloween and – fittingly, given that the count two former members among their number – Gamma Ray, Primal Fear have gotten their art down to a t. So when the press release that accompanies it states that ‘Rulebreaker’ might just be “their strongest album ever”, it’s a boast that for once, might just hold water.
‘Angel Of Mercy’ kicks things off, in a flurry of down-tuned guitars, hard hitting drums and the stunning vocals of Ralph Scheepers. A call to arms; “listen to the battle drum calling out your soul / when you hear the silence break, we’re going to take control!”, it sets the scene perfectly for what is to follow. ‘The End is Near’ follows, continuing in similar fashion, and again, it’s Scheepers’ incredible vocal talents and stunning range that stand out, effortlessly traversing the metal landscape laid down for him by the rest of the band.
Of course his isn’t the only notable performance, and although each band member is a master of their instrument, throughout its guitarists Alex Beyrodt and Tom Naumann who repeatedly shine, seemingly effortlessly filling the album with liberal harmony passages - such as on ‘Bullets And Tears’ and the title track - and solo wizardry.
Pleasingly, although all the usual power metal hallmarks are present, it’s not all one dimensional bombast, and it’s the deft touches that the band add, such as on album highlight ‘We Walk Without Fear’ that makes ‘Rulebreaker’ a much more interesting listen. The album’s centrepiece, with a running time of ten minutes plus, it’s an epic in every sense, from its preamble scene-setting keyboards, to its time changes and lengthy guitar passages. Adding further colour, ‘The Sky Is Burning’ meanwhile, is a balladic slice of heroism. With liberal clean guitars and a more laid back pacing, it offers the biggest respite from the metallic onslaught.
Expertly realised, perfectly executed and produced to a high polished sheen, Primal Fear have all the right ingredients to make ‘Rulebreaker’ a real contender for power metal album of the year. If that’s a genre that floats your longboat, you’ll find plenty to love about this release. In short - powerful stuff.
First published on myglobalmind.com, 14 January 2016.