Next review: » Primal Fear - New Religion
Released: 2007, Frontiers Records
This may seem like a strange way to start off a review, but: Thank you Glenn, Ken, and Ian. Thank you for delaying so long in selecting a replacement vocalist for Rob Halford and, when you finally did pick somebody, picking Tim Owens. Had you gone with a certain particular other choice or taken less time in making your decision, we might never have seen the formation of the German Metal Commando squad known as Primal Fear - and in hindsight, that would have been a real loss to the world of metal. Yes, the Teutonic titans are back with a new album, a "new" guitarist (okay, technically a former guitarist - namely Henny Wolter - returning to the fold), a new label, a new mixing studio and engineer, and a whole new level of diversity in their music. With all that in place, the title NEW RELIGION seems incredibly appropriate. The album takes the musical experimentation of prior release SEVEN SEALS to the next level, moving further away from the Priest-cloning of the band's early albums and establishing themselves as an even stronger and more mature act. The changes may catch listeners who are expecting more-of-the-same syndrome off-guard or might even cause the less open-minded to write the album off at first listen. Neither of those possibilities are surprising, for NEW RELIGION is definitely a 'grows-on-you' type of release...but once it does start growing, it takes root very deeply and won't be pulled out any time soon.
Production is superb. Every instrument is perfectly balanced, drums are thunderous and clear but not overprocessed, guitar tones are the heavier than ever before, Mat Sinner's bass lines are as strong as ever, and the vocals are easily the best-sounding I've heard on any Primal Fear release. Opening cut "Sign Of Fear" is a slow-builder, starting off with dramatic echoing chug riffs and some wicked drum fills from Randy Black before launching into a heavy-power riff-fest reminiscent tempo and structure-wise of "Nailed To The Gun" from the first Fight album. Appropriately enough considering that comparison, Ralf Scheepers goes into full Rob Halford mode with a flat-out vicious-sounding stratospheric-range vocal performance. Scheepers has truly outdone himself on this album - more powerful, more energetic, more emotional, and more melodic than ever before. It doesn't hurt he's got good lyrics and some excellent songs to work with, like following uptempo cut "Face The Emptiness," a power-packed melodic burner with some cool symphonic keyboard backing lines, great melodic verse lines, and an absurdly catchy monster of a chorus. This is definitely a cut made for live performances - should definitely get audiences rocking along. Next up will probably be the biggest complaint point of a lot of critics, as "Everytime It Rains" features Primal Fear's first vocal duet with Simone Simons of Epica. Yes, with its rain effects in the intro and outro, drum machine beats, classical-instrument synth bits similar to the ones employed on the title track of SEVEN SEALS, backing keyboard lines, and highly melody-driven tradeoff verses and dual-vocal chorus, this particular cut does indeed sound more like Within Temptation than classic Primal Fear. That said, it sounds like a really, really GOOD Within Temptation song - the guitar lead is short but effective, the music is well-written, and Scheepers again dazzles - this time with an excellently melodic and totally believable emotional performance - and blends flawlessly with the nicely-done clean-sung and soprano lines of Simons. The title track is up next, and if the previous cut left any sort of sour taste in your mouth, this one will wash it right out and then slap you in the face a couple times just for good measure with its downtuned wall-of-sound crunching guitar attack, CRUCIBLE-era Halford-like vocal viciousness, and excellent scream-along chorus. Then there's the epic "Fighting The Darkness," which turns the tempo back down and turns up the atmosphere and dramatics to maximum with layered keyboard, guitar, and multi-vocal melodies, a long instrumental passage featuring heavy symphonic arrangements and great guitar work before returning for a reprisal of the gigantic choral theme of the first portion. Lest fans of earlier Primal Fear begin to worry by this point in the review they've been abandoned, "Blood On Your Hands" roars out of the speakers like a particularly sadistic lost track from the NUCLEAR FIRE sessions, featuring a chorus that stylistically sounds oddly like the verses of Slayer's "Behind The Crooked Cross," great lead tradeoffs, and even a few moments of Randy Black launching into blastbeat drum forays. "The Curse Of Sharon" is another surprising entry, an addictively-catchy upbeat midtempo rocker that for some reason almost sounds like it could be a metallized version of a long-lost 1950's classic rock song. Not my favorite on the album but definitely a fun tune to listen to. Another fast track is the hard-driving "Too Much Time"...and of course the inevitable Priest reference has to be mentioned, so here it is...the verse rhythm and vocal structure is semi-reminiscent of the middle portion of the classic "Rapid Fire" and the section before the solo tradeoffs calls up memories of Halford's "Screaming In The Dark," but it still manages to be different enough to avoid being a clone. "Psycho" is another one for longtime fans, a midtempo killer with mean-sounding headbang-worthy crunch riffs, a catchy melodic prechorus and power-screaming chorus, and a classic Primal Fear lead break trade segment. "World On Fire" is classic melodic power metal - straight-ahead driving riffs, plenty of melodies and strong guitar harmonies, huge choruses, and the album's most intense guitar soloing. Final cut "The Man (That I Don't Know)" is a slow and very dramatic 'balladish' track with huge symphonic arrangements, guitar leads that range from shredding speed bursts to some emotive bluesy playing, and an extremely strong vocal performance from Scheepers, probably his best on the album and possibly even his best to date. All of what he does on this track sounds exceptional, but his a capella closing of the final chorus is positively skin-shivering.
Again, those who may have wished for a return to the more simplistic days of the early albums may be a little disappointed at first, but the songs on NEW RELIGION are insidiously good at working their way into the back of your mind and tempting you to take another listen. Heavy, energetic, epically dramatic and emotive with strong songwriting and an all-around stunning performance from one of metal's best singers, this certainly sounds to me like - much as I hate to repeat the hype - the beginning of a new era for Primal Fear and one of the best albums I've heard so far this year.
1. Sign Of Fear
2. Face The Emptiness
3. Everytime It Rains
4. New Religion
5. Fighting The Darkness
6. Blood On Your Hands
7. The Curse Of Sharon
8. Too Much Time
10. World On Fire
11. The Man (That I Don't Know)
Mat Sinner - Bass, Vocals
Ralf Scheepers - Lead Vocals
Randy Black - Drums
Stefan Leibing - Guitar
Henny Wolter - Guitar
Magnus Karlsson - Lead Guitar
Simone Simons - Vocals on "Everytime It Rains"
Released: 2007, Frontiers Records/Zink Music
Reviewer: Anders Sandvall
The time has come for this German musical institution to release their long-awaited new album. Between 2005’s SEVEN SEALS and now, the band released a compilation called METAL IS FOREVER. In addition, they have a new label and guitar player Henny Wolter is back in the game again. The Swedish guitarist Magnus Karlsson also makes a guest-appearance and for the first time in their career the band made a duet between Scheepers and the Epica singer Simone Simons.
Primal Fear’s music is still all about heavy metal with hints of Judas Priest. The band tried something new when they added strings and more keybords and piano to the music. Band leader Mat Sinner took on more of the singing parts and they have also given more space to play around with loops, keyboards and just strings. And believe it or not, this feels like they have taken the band to a higher level. Stefan Liebling and Henny Wolter play most of the guitar parts; Magnus Karlsson contributes lead guitars on two songs; and all of the orchestral arrangements were done by Mat Sinner and Matz Ulmer.
NEW RELIGION contains 13 tracks with the song “Fighting the Darkness” divided into 3 separate parts. As always when it comes to Primal Fear, the material is solid as a rock with no doubt. The songs are catchy and despite the slower tempo in certain songs it’s still really heavy. The album kicks off with the masterpiece “Sign of Fear” that sounds like Primal Fear in their older days. Scheepers is sometimes really high up in his register and the song has huge similarities with Judas Priest. “Face The Emptiness”, “The Curse of Sharon” and “Psycho” are heavy metal with somewhat-slower tempos and you can hear both keyboards and strings soaring over the heavy guitar parts.
In “Everytime it Rains” we have the band’s first duet and it’s an up-tempo ballad with heavy use of strings. Simons and Scheepers’ voices fit really well together. “New Religion”, “Blood on your Hands”, “Too Much Time” and “World on Fire” are also well-played and technical heavy metal songs with brilliant guitar riffs.
The beginning of the band’s grand opus “Fighting the Darkness” is an up-tempo ballad with, again, lots of strings and keyboards with Scheepers not taking on any higher notes at all. In fact, he sings more in his lower register on this album and that suits him fine. The second part of the song comes straight ahead; it’s instrumental and it sounds more or less like the first part. The last part borders symphonic metal before it calms down and turns into more of a ballad. “The Man (that I don’t know)” is another ballad with a lot of acoustic guitars that together with strings pretty much dominate the sound-picture.
Even if it’s interesting that the band dares to try new stuff, I’m not convinced that it’s the best for the band. It feels like the album has too many ballads for my taste and the overuse of keyboards and strings doesn’t make me happy. The production by Mat Sinner feels like it’s too focused on keyboards/piano and strings, but he should get credit for encouraging Scheepers to sing more in his lower register. This album might be Scheepers’ best performance ever.
I’m not convinced of this albums grandness as I was with the last one. True fans are not gonna be disappointed but I had hoped for a little more from Primal Fear to be honest. The tour is about to start and the album is available in a limited edition with two bonus videos of the songs “Sign of Fear” and “Fighting the Darkness”. Killer tracks are “Sign of Fear”, “Face the Emptiness”, “New Religion”, “Blood on Your Hands”, “Too Much Time” and “Psycho”.
1. Sign Of Fear
2. Face The Emptiness
3. Everytime It Rains
4. New Religion
5. Fighting The Darkness a
6. Fighting The Darkness b
7. Fighting The Darkness c
8. Blood On Your Hands
9. The Curse Of Sharon
10. Too Much Time
12. World On Fire
13. The Man (That I Don’t Know)
Ralf Scheepers – lead vocals
Stefan Liebling – lead guitar
Henny Wolter – guitar
Randy Black – drums
Mat Sinner – bass, vocals