Anthems baby, fucking ANTHEMS!! That’s what Primal Fear has been churning out since ’98 and that’s probably what they’ll keep churning out ’til they die (old metalheads never really die, they just become classic rock). While they began life as Germanic Judas Priest clones (mostly due to the Halford-esque vocal stylings of mega-voice Ralf Scheepers [Sheeples? – AMG]), they slowly evolved into their own sound, merging classic Priest, Maiden and Saxon influences with europower metal like Iron Savior and Gamma Ray (Ralf’s former band). In the process, they’ve become one of the most dependable, consistent stars in the heavy metal galaxy, releasing mindlessly enjoyable, rockin albums with moments of sheer metallic brilliance (basically, they’re the AC/DC of quasi-Judas Priest clones). Their ninth studio album, Unbreakable may be their best yet and packs one old-school, fist-in-the-air anthem after another. They know what side their bread is buttered on and they know their craft inside and out. There aren’t any surprises here beyond how catchy and consistent the songs are and the high level ofÂ classic metal enthusiasm they bring to the party. It sure ain’t proggy or forward-thinking, but this is metal-as-hell and that’s enough for Steel Druhm the Elder.
After a brief intro, things rocket off with “Strike” and it’s all Painkiller-style heavy riffing, wailing guitars and Ralf’s high register, rough but melodic singing. The vocal patterns are hooky and the dueling solos are appropriately soaring. Yes, Ralf still sounds a lot like Halford and some of these songs sound like lost tracks from the Painkiller and Defenders of the Faith sessions, but they’re good anyway, dammit! These cats have an ear for writing songs so simple, so addicting and so loaded with old-timey ethos, they become irresistable. Songs like “Bad Guys Wear Black” couldn’t be more simplistic in design but work so well, it’s perplexing. Even the chorus of “bang your head and never turn it down” doesn’t sound as silly as it should when these guys do it. That’s professionalism folks. At times, they ramp up the power metal aspects as on “And There Was Silence” and it works quite well. On “Metal Nation,” they manage a chorus so silly and cliche, Manowar themselves would point their swords at it and nod approvingly. My personal favorites are “Where Angel Die,” with its big sweeping chorus, and the title track, with a chorus that contains nearly every metal watch word (fist, fire, heaven, hell, fight, demons, war, etc.). Check it, they’re all there (*Manowar still nodding*)! Even the mandatory power-ballad “Born Again” works due to an manically overwrought, lighters-out chorus. Only the final track “Conviction” fails to totally grab me.
As always, Primal Fear‘s focal point is Ralf’s impressive, uber-metal vocals. Ever since he wrongfully lost the Judas Priest gig to Ripper [“Talentless Hack”] Owens (insert AMG’s rabid, anti-Ripper tirade here [Yeah, that was wrong. This guy is talented, unlike Mr. Owens who is a rank amateur. – AMG]), he’s seemed bent on proving he’s more Halford than Halford and honestly, he convinces me sometimes. His voice shines here as always and his performance is the main reason Unbreakable works. Right behind him is the memorable riff and solo work by the tandem of Magnus Karlsson (Allen/Lande) and Alex Beyrodt (Silent Force, Sinner). Every track benefits from their well-crafted riff patterns and flag waving solo work. When teamed with Ralf, they became a formidable metal attack. The production is loud and clear but not so modern that it gets in the way of the old-school fun. Ralf is upfront, as one would expect, and the guitars have heft, punch and crunch.
So, Unbreakable may be the best of the considerable Primal Fear discography. It’s a very addictive listen and I keep spinning it again and again. It is cheesy at times? Yes. Is it over-the-top? Of course. Is it a by-the-numbers heavy metal album straight from the Official Old School Metal Template? Bigtime. Regardless, it’s brainless, hyper-catchy metal and sometimes that’s just what the brain (and fist) needs. Now, point your swords and nod. Ralf n’ Roll!