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Unless said band is Motorhead or AC/DC, virtually every band throughout human history has had major changes to their sound. Nowhere is this more evident than with Primal Fear. They tried to get a little commercial with the release of "New Religion", but their 2009 album, "16.6 (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead)", is a mixed bag of "New Religion", and the band's signature sound. There's a few things to be bashed with extreme prejudice, but there are also things worthy of being classified as "amazing". For this reason, "16.6" is definitely not Primal Fear's greatest album, not by a long shot.
As a matter of fact, "16.6" shows some signs of Primal Fear returning to their roots as they climb out of the hole of radio-friendly sound that they had dug with "New Religion". One of the many songs that confirm this is the basic, yet hard and grinding "Smith & Wesson". Sure the riffs might be a little basic, but since we've had similar riffs coming from Primal Fear even on their best releases, we should be used to that sort of thing at this point. The song's sheer aggression in both the riffing and the lyrics show the power of Primal Fear's signature sound, the complete polar opposite of what the previous album was. Then there's "The Exorcist". Not to be confused with the 1973 horror film of the same name, this song is fast and driving, all the while delivering an aggressive and powerful sensation. Then we have the speedy and elegant "Riding the Eagle", which sort of has a Helloween-like feel to it, especially during the chorus. Even with that being said, Primal Fear's sound still manages to blaze through, giving us one of the best songs since any on "Black Sun" or "Nuclear Fire". Another excellent example is "Night after Night", which despite being a little mid-paced, contains enough grinding force to be a good song, not to mention the pivotal riff that occurs in the beginning.
Unfortunately, this album is not without its flaws, one of the biggest being the use of synthesizers. Now, synthesizers aren't bad when used sparingly, or when they actually contribute much to elevate the sound. It's just that here, the synthesizers try to supplement the sound, but in a way that makes them more geared towards the pop/trance sort of crowd. The very first few seconds of "Soar" give you an idea of what to expect. The synthesized drumbeats immediately ruin the song outright, but they're present in some parts throughout it. The sad thing is that the song doesn't sound bad without the drum machine. In fact, without it, it would be another great song to recommend. It's got that aggression and power that put Primal Fear on the map, as well as a faster tempo. But they just had to add that drum machine, for what reason, I might never know. The worst offender, however, would make "Soar" sound like "Mind Machine", and that song is "No Smoke without Fire". What a horrendous excuse for a power metal song. It has a decent intro, but once it gets into the first verse, it all falls apart. Like "Soar", it's got a drum machine that completely spoils the fun. To make matters worse, the tempo that it plays is rather slow. It's as if they wanted to be the next Disturbed. So sad.
Then there's songs that I would consider to be in between. "Black Rain" doesn't really sound like anything Primal Fear would do, since it's got one of the guitars synthesized to resemble a sitar-like sound to create a Middle-Eastern vibe. Not that that's so much of a bad thing, but the guitar could've just stuck with playing a riff based on harmonic minor scales, which also carry a Middle-Eastern vibe, and the results would be the same. It's also got a bridge that consists of military "walkie talkie" dialogue that breaks into the solo. I really don't get the purpose of that, but it still sounds cool to some extent. The song isn't bad, but it would've been excellent if the tempo was way faster than it is during the verses. That would've given the song the setting that it needed for its subject matter, and still come out a proper Primal Fear song. Yes, ballads do exist on this album, and they certainly can't be any more redundant than "Hands of Time". On the surface, it isn't a terrible song, nor is it a good one, but we get this silly tambourine that appears throughout the chorus. Not even kidding, people, a tambourine. It wouldn't be a proper ballad that would bring tears to peoples' eyes and capture the imaginations of many if it didn't have tambourines. Tambourines!
"16.6" is a hit and a miss. On the one hand, we get signs of Primal Fear coming back to their original, more powerful sound rather than a commercial breakthrough to be the next In Flames. On the other, we get songs that hearken back to the days of "New Religion", an album that is more or less abhorred by diehard fans. I'm conflicted on whether or not to recommend this album to anyone, 'cos it's got some amazing stuff but it's also got some pathetic numbers. If anything, I'd say it's Primal Fear's best attempt to sound commercial and still sound awesome. Knowing the fact that many bands like Celtic Frost tried this and failed, it's clear to see that such an undertaking is no easy task, especially when your fans expect more power.
Germany’s own Primal Fear, one of the bigger and well known power metal bands, holds us in anticipation with their newest serving of ferocious European power metal; entitled 16.6 (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead). This new album will be Primal Fear’s 8th full-length release, and their second with Frontiers Records. 16.6 also marks the first album with new guitarist Magnus Karlsson (Allen/Lande, ex-Last Tribe), after long-time guitarist with the band, Stefan Leibing decided that it was his time to move on. Leibing had been with Primal Fear since their 2nd album, Jaws Of Death.
The first subtle signs of the band’s reinvention occurred with 2004’s Devil’s Ground, while further progression covered 2005’s Seven Seals. Experimentation on a few tracks came into play on that album, while more tentative changes occurred again with 2007’s New Religion, including combining female vocals with Ralf Scheepers on one track; and a few more experimental tracks, some of which missed the mark. Although most fans felt that New Religion was the bands first slip in quality and inspiration, the album ultimately received mixed reviews. It seemed that the band wanted to sound more chiseled, well-rounded, mature, emotional and in-depth; seeking to get out from underneath the “Judas Priest clone-band” label which some fragments of the metal media had pinned on them.
So now, the latest Primal Fear release has arrived and many will be asking the question; will they return to their early 2000’s glory, or will 16.6 continue the band’s current musical trend of recent years? Primal Fear may not have gotten the balance right between their direction of progression and old-school on New Religion, but they damn sure have on the new album, 16.6. This time round, the German Metal Commandos have got it right, with an excellent blend of current progression into what they want to be; and their classic old-school sound. This album sounds and feels like the band were much more confident and sure of themselves with this material, than they were with the last album.
A dark intro starts things off, building up to the opening track Riding The Eagle. The track is a great Primal Fear opener, speedy and melodic, with a catchy chorus. Ralf sounds stronger than ever as he charismatically belts out the tunes. In fact, throughout the whole album, Ralf never breaks out the insanely high pitched shrieks (ala Sign Of Fear style), seemingly more comfortable to sing at his mid-high pitched vocals for the majority of the release. Ralf also sings with a lot more melody and conviction on 16.6, putting to rest any rumours that his voice may be faulting after all these years behind the mic.
Primal Fear rip out some awesome old-school sounding tracks, including Killbound, which could have slotted in perfectly on Primal Fear’s debut album. Smith And Wesson is another classic sounding track, but with an obvious Sinner influence; while The Exorcist is a ripping old-school balls-to-the-wall track, full of power and speed and is easily one of the best on the CD. Soar is an interesting and quite peculiar track. Aside from being very good and catchy, it also contains portions of industrial metal guitar riffs, similar in sound to bands like The Tea Party and Korn.
Six Times Dead is another brilliant track on 16.6, containing a super-charged heavy stomping beat and riff which just keeps your head banging for the entire song. The semi power ballad No Smoke Without Fire is another standout, quite emotional, strong and sung very well by Scheepers. Lastly, another experimental track, Black Rain is quite epic and sophisticated, while the album closer, Hands Of Time is another soulful ballad, with the vocals being shared by four members of the band.
From the beginning of 16.6 to the end, it is obvious that Primal Fear have now confidently found their sound and structure that they have been working on for the last few albums. In an excellent return to form, every track is forceful, meaningful and wonderfully constructed; blending the best of classic Primal Fear with the arrangements and insights of their current progression. This release may have been a few albums in the making, but it is all definitely worth the wait. 16.6 is not another Nuclear Fire, Black Sun or Jaws Of Death, and neither should it be as the band has moved on and improved from that era.
All Primal Fears fans should go out and get this without hesitation; while power/traditional metal fans will also thoroughly enjoy what 16.6 has to offer.
Originally reviewed for www.themetalforge.com
Traditions are arguably the most effective way of educating, or otherwise communicating some part of the past to the current generation. In keeping with this, there is not really a whole lot of middle ground when it comes to a core audience of a particular style; they either tend to be in love with tradition and despise any attempt at augmenting it, or oppose it so vigorously that anything resembles 80s metal is anathema to their ears unless it was created during that decade. This is often why an established audience will look less favorably on a partial attempt to return to an established sound than they will an exact continuation of a new course, because anything will be interpreted as a betrayal, while an attempt to partially back pedal while still exploring new territory will be seen as a disingenuous attempt at making up.
Primal Fear’s “16.6 (Before The Devil Knows Your Dead” is this sort of album, and as a member of that minority audience that doesn’t revere tradition to the point of slavishness yet still acknowledges its importance, I find this to be an album with a good amount going for it. There is obviously a strong element of the ambient and industrial elements of “New Religion” still present, along with a helping of groove based, slower heavy songs, but a concerted effort has been made here to ratchet the speed metal ala “Painkiller” back up to something that flirts with “Black Sun” at times. The guitar approach, in particular, has definitely maintained more a modern tinge, sometimes to the point of resembling metalcore sounds, and the solos have been somewhat toned down towards something less majestic and slightly more mechanical. But all of this, for the most part, works together in concert and yields a good collection of songs.
The place where the album really shines is when moderated elements of the atmospheric style of the previous two albums return with a slightly heavier guitar presence. This is well localized to the two longest songs on here “5.0, Torn” and the best song on the album “Black Rain”. Both of them take a few tricks out of the playbook that made “Fighting The Darkness” a new classic in Primal Fear’s collection, taking a few bits of Industrial detailing here and there to spice things up, but keeping things pretty well in a slower version of the Judas Priest paradigm. There is also a really healthy collection of straight up Metal anthems in varying tempos that come off as slightly more modernized versions of what was heard on the first half of “Devil’s Ground”, of which “Riding The Eagle” and “The Exorcist” really bring home the goods and blast out those Halford shrieks and pounding speed metal riffs like no tomorrow.
Naturally with many album that attempt to straddle the divide between tradition and innovation, there is a handful of bad apples in the bunch. The worst offender is “Soar”, which sounds like a nightmarish offspring from a drunk affair with nu-metal, albeit it is better than most of what I’ve heard out of any band in that genre as Scheepers knows how to sing and the guitarists can do something apart from pounding out 3 note drones and overuse the effects pedal. The album’s other heavily ambient song “No Smoke Without Fire” proves to be a somewhat uninspired half-ballad that sounds like a tired version of the title track on “Seven Seals”. But for the most part, this is a pretty consistent offering that doesn’t demand the skip button too often. Not the best thing the band has put out, but good enough for anyone looking for a little bit of innovation but not a complete genre abandonment.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 29, 2010.
After the mostly awful New Religion, I was prepared for Primal Fear to descend completely into suck, but here we have another album that while not bad, is still no match for the likes of Nuclear Fire or Black Sun. Ever since Seven Seals Primal Fear seem to have been foundering, flailing around in new directions on every song, as if trying to figure out what to do. It seems plain that matt Sinner is dedicated to trying for a more commercial sound, and equally plain that he has no idea how to do that, so he keeps trying little experiments from the modern-metal idiocy of some of the tracks on the last two albums, to the goth-rock of "Everytime It Rains". The good news is this album has some stuff that is better than the last two, but it's still not good.
Now things get going well with "Riding The Eagle", which is almost like a real Primal Fear song, and then they plumb the depths of music's anus with the horrible "Six Times Dead". These first two songs (I'm not counting the pointless intro track) pretty much encapsulate everything there is to know about this album. "Riding The Eagle" has genuine metallic riffs, even if the guitar tone is crap. "Six Times Dead" is just a bunch of stupid groove riffs with the worst chorus PF have ever produced. I really, actively hate that song. The album continues in this vein, with decent tunes like "Black Rain", and "Under The Radar", and then there are the crap tracks like "Soar", "Killbound", and the wretched "No Smoke Without Fire". Oh, and let's not forget the gut-churning ballad that closes the album out, because we know what all PF fans want is a limp-wristed ballad that makes Ralf Scheepers sound like he's had his nuts surgically removed. Oh yeah.
There's some decent stuff on here, but this is frigging Primal Fear – I have a right to expect better than ‘decent'. And when an album is less than half decent and more than half passive-aggressive bullshit, then that's not nearly good enough. Matt, I know you want to sell more records, but this shit you're making just sounds like ass, and all it's going to do is drive away all the fans you used to have. I can't really recommend that anyone spend money on this album.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com