Just last week we covered Manimal and their crusade to recreate Judas Priest‘s Painkiller for the umpteenth time. Now Primal Fear magically appears as if summoned from some classic metal purgatory to defend their title of Lead Priest Imitator Supreme. Yes, it’s true, Primal Fear forged a long and semi-storied career by aping the better angels of the Priest catalog. It’s probably no coincidence the band came to life shortly after frontman Ralf Scheepers was denied the chance to replace Rob Halford in that legendary metal troupe. The extensive use of metallic eagles on their album covers may be another hint if you’re not buying the conspiracy theory. Anywho, Rulebreaker (because “Jawbreaker” was taken) is their 11th album and guess what? It sounds like vintage Priest again, albeit mixed with a goodly portion of tasty Accept-isms. And much like the typical Primal platter, it’s brainless but ultimately fun and catchy metal fare draped with nostalgia and drenched in cliche. Hey, they wouldn’t still be writing albums if no one was buying what they were cooking, and I’m not too proud to admit I eat this stuff for breakfast, brunch and dinner. Let them eat old school metal, I say.
As always, the writing is kept simple, metal and geared toward involuntarily horn raising. Take a song like “The End is Near” – it’s got the most basic of metal riffs backing Scheepers as he screams, rasps and rages against the dying of the light, but lo and behold, the song is addictive and enjoyable as hell. “Bullets and Tears” is a tad more anthemic and melodic but still rocking, with a big chorus and Scheepers’ helpful warnings to avoid “flames and asses.” The title track is simplistic and dumb but so damn hooky you’ll secretly love it while publicly condemning it, and the ESL afflicted, testosterone-addled “Constant Heart” wins the coveted Painkiller Award with some scorching metal scorchery.
The band pushes themselves a bit with a nearly 11 minute epic titled “We Walk Without Fear,” which is surprisingly diverse and interesting with some nice crunch and nifty vocal hooks. The sweetest cherry comes with the obligatory power ballad “The Sky is Burning” and with a title like that, you know it’ll be big, overblown and more dramatic than a gaggle of teen goth chicks. Sure, it could pass for something off the Skid Row debut, but let’s not split hair metals here. It’s good stuff!
No duds raise their ugly heads, but “At War With the World” is somewhat generic and closer “Raving Mad” feels a little underwhelming, though it gets by on numbskull appeals to the early 80s.
Ralf Scheepers looks more jacked up than usual in the promo photos and video, and that carries over to his vocals, which are more angry and screamy this time. I mean that in the best possible way of course, as he frequently sounds like the mutant love child of Halford and Udo, and though science may be appalled at such a notion, metal fans should rejoice. He definitely delivers the goods and screams for vengeance on every song and impresses as always with his power and range (it still boggles my mind Priest picked Ripper over this guy). Songwriter-for-hire Magnus Karlsson and fellow axe Alex Beyrodt do a solid job with the guitar histrionics, walking the line between worshiping you-know-who and dabbling in Euro-power. I hear more Accept than usual in the riffs but the core sound is still intact and highly functional. The band is tight and they know this kind of stadium metal inside and out. They’ve somehow managed to keep album after album of the same material consistently entertaining and engaging, and they deserve major props for that.
Primal Fear may be a one-trick-priest, but it’s an enjoyable trick for old folks like me who still love that classic metal style. This is a stronger, more consistent album than 2014s Delivering the Black and even features some minor traces of innovation. I’m resigned to the fact I’ll buy whatever these Germanic metal mavens churn out and if you like your metal uncomplicated, meaty and catchy, you best do the same. At the very least they showed Manimal what’s what and protected their sacred turf for yet another year.