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Primal Fear's early works tend to be a well kept secret amongst the German speed metal revival, becoming almost akin to Paragon's just under the radar status. This is often attributed to a combination of highly derivative stylistic tendencies and a virtual sameness from one album to the next, becoming a hyperbolic slam at times in the form of an accusation of repeatedly plagiarizing "Painkiller" by some. However, a more curious pair of ears will note a very subtle progression amid the vast array of German influences at play from Accept to early Helloween and rightly conclude that this band has gone through a few changes, many of them corresponding to the frequent lineup shifts in the guitar department, usually in the form of detailing since both Ralf Scheepers and Mat Sinner have tended to steer the general stylistic direction of the band.
Arguably the most distinct sounding of the earliest offerings in this band's early catalog is the latter offering "Black Sun", which stands as the technical zenith of said era (and arguably the band's entire career in spite of Magnus Karlsson's reputation as a master shredder). Within the predictable structures of signature crunching riffs and massive sounding choruses (painted over with a healthy amount of Halford inspired high register gymnastics courtesy of Scheepers), an intricate interplay of atmosphere and elaborate lead guitar lines come into play that rivals both the elongated melodic instrumentals sections of Murray/Smith and the flashy lead guitar work of Downing/Tipton at the close of the 80s. Likewise, the tempo factor has been somewhat relaxed to a larger level of mid-tempo fair, in contrast to the riveting speed metal fest that was "Nuclear Fire" and the plainer speed work of the first 2 albums.
It has been suggested that this album saw Primal Fear incorporating more of an overt Accept influence, and the musical facts seem to mostly confirm that assertion. Particularly, one can't help but note the parallels with "Metal Heart" and "Russian Roulette" that swoop down during the ultra-catchy rocker "Revolution", as well as the somber half-ballad "Magic Eye", each featuring an arena oriented sensibility that is quite similar to the mainstream 80s metal flirtations just before Udo exited his former band in the late 80s. Naturally this is coupled with the occasional keyboard chime in and Ralf's more adept clean vocal abilities. "Silence" goes a step further and literally listens like it was pulled out of the 80s and given a somewhat harder edged guitar sound by injecting an early 90s Zakk Wylde element in the form of frequent guitar screams and frequent fills.
Nevertheless, this can still largely be considered a typical Primal Fear album once the afterburners kick in, which is not a rare occasion on this album by any standard. Vintage speed metal infused winners like "Mind Machine" take a few liberties with modern recording practices, but consistently dredge up those fond memories where Priest burned up the scene with "Ram It Down" and "Metal Meltdown". The title song and the melodically contoured nod to Helloween "Lightyears From Home" also cook at an impressive rate while managing to inspire the would be listener to sing-along, though likely on a lower octave to avoid a bitch of a soar throat the next morning. But the climactic zenith of this impressive excursion into 80s revivalism comes in the form of "We Go Down", a song that plays up some interesting atmospheric elements that are somewhat reminiscent of the "Painkiller" signature anthem "Nightcrawler". There's a bit less wild shredding on this one, but it more than compensates with a double dose of energy out of Scheepers who all but perfectly channels Harry Conklin on this one.
While I tend to reserve the title of best album for this album's predecessor "Nuclear Fire", one can't help but notice that this album stands as a unique offering among a largely similar sounding collection of works. A lot of this likely owes to increased songwriting input and production duties out of Henny Wolter, whose extensive work through the 80s and 90s likely steered this album into a somewhat more lead guitar oriented endeavor. His exodus would see the band adopting a much darker sound with a stronger emphasis on heaviness and punch rather than high end flair, a trait that tilts this album a bit closer to the character of somewhat lighter bands such as Gamma Ray and Iron Savior, something made all too obvious by the band's election to employ an instrumental intro and outro not all that far removed from the 80s offerings of Helloween. Suit up you iron clad metallic eagles, for the black sunlight will show us the way to another speed metal conquest.
[new review, first one written on March 17th, 2004]
Primal Fear just keeps ruling my world more and more...even when they're not releasing new shit! I just realised that 72% does not do this album justice at all; while not *quite* the all-out rip fest that is 'Nuclear Fire', this still far exceeds anything, say, Hammerfall can claim. The thing is, that back in early 2003, my addiction to this band had reached its absolute peak after having bought their three first albums one after one consecutively, and I had fallen so deeply in love with their formula, that I just didn't want it to change, not in the least bit. So now came the time to pick this baby up, limited edition w/ slipcase and all, and...well, change was just what was I was about to face. A little bit, anyway.
Whereas 'Nuclear Fire' was the album where they attained a more distinct and less derivative sound, this album is where the band truly starts to cover new ground in their actual songwriting, stepping outside their "classic" formula from time to time. It brings more melody, epic values and also groove into the picture, naturally with less speed as a result. Definitely, this is the release that should get the band rid of any such notions as being a complete Priest rip-off, in case you ever thought of them as only that. Not that I don't see the connection personally, but hey, people seem to think Primal Fear is the only band in the fucking WORLD who sounds like Judas Fucking Priest, which of course is just dead, completely goddamn wrong, and you know it. Maybe a little more than average, but tell me of ONE single band of the genre "speed metal" formed post-1990, that the album 'Painkiller' has not had any influence on whatsoever. Or *any* metal band, for that matter, of any sub-genre on the planet, formed post-Priest, that Priest of any era has not left a mark on. "Man, all these bands are just ripping off Judas Priest!" So don't forget WHO it is they're paying tribute to. And by the way: WORSHIPPERS, NOT RIP-OFFS. Pardon the digression.
Back to this album now...so initially I found myself dismissing a lot of the material on here, as some of it doesn't carry the straightforward execution and the immediate catchiness of previous releases. Having developed a typical "don't mess with success" mentality over the band, I didn't really give these parts a chance, thinking of them more as "flukes" rather than "potential growers", the latter being something I never imagined a Primal Fear song could be anything like. Well, two years later and I've basically proved myself wrong.
In particular three songs on here display a new, more melodic and progressive side of PF that we've never quite seen before; those being "Armageddon", "Mind Control" and "Magic Eye". More lead guitar harmonies going on, complex vocal lines with additional multi-layering, and more technical drumming. "Magic Eye" seems a lot like "Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove pt. II", but again; less direct-catchy, more involved and complex, and also little more of that "epic" touch here and there. Sure, it's barely "progressive" to even recent-Grave Digger levels (and certainly nowhere comparable in epic values), but when speaking in relative terms, for PF it is still a notable step in a new direction, and one that deserves all embrace. Not only does it show a formulaic band being unwilling to spin wheels in one place, but also one succeeding at breaking the trend and still manage to sound good at it. The mixing job is a bit odd and on the raw side, and is sometimes not quite up to the job for these, more innovative parts (lacking a bit of clarity, needed for exploiting melody to its full extent), but for the same ol', straight-ahead parts it is actually an interesting new take. That sharp, vicious and distinct guitar tone, putting everything else in contemporary metal to shame (for example, 'Book of Heavy Metal' and 'Darker Than Black', as for albums from the same genre), still luckily remains, though.
Yes, don't worry, the traditional parts are still there and intact - like for example the album opener, the title track. Awesome riffs, glorious melodies, competent alternating between the melodic and the heavy...this is on par with previous openers and the most overtly Painkiller-esque track on the album. Then, check out the all-out riff fest of "Fear" - yes the "Fight the Fire" similarities are there, but surely it does sound like its evolution, its next logical step. More riffs, and thrashier and more technical ones at that. If you can look past the worst line ever, in the chorus (last line, check it out for yourself), it's hard to call this song anything but a winner. Basically the modern power-thrash sound at its very best - something PF usually does not fall under, however. Nevertheless, more thrashy riffs show up in the steady "Mind Machine", featuring Ralf and Mat singing duet in the verse.
"Lightyears from Home", "We Go Down" and "Controlled" - more solid speed metal blazers, the last one being pretty much a 'Nuclear Fire'-styled ripper, not far removed from "Back From Hell" and "Fire on the Horizon" (some of the weaker tracks on there, yes, but anyway), except it has this really strange triplet going on in the main riff - kinda weird, but interesting. Sometimes, the vocals tend to get a little too over the top and multi-layered for their own good (even moreso than on previous releases, I might add), but melody-wise, they're well above average. Oh yeah, and you like Sinner? Primal Fear's groovier, and less known older cousin, that is. Because there are more of those groove numbers than ever before on here - see "Revolution", "Silence" and "Cold Day in Hell". Quality slow-burn headmoving mania, and still every little bit as riff-oriented.
Amazing, that throughout the seven years and four more albums that have gone by since PF's self-titled first album, no one has come up with a better way play "throwback" metal than these guys. A few common issues among other similar bands include resorting to self-parody at it (Hammerfall, Dream Evil), lacking creativity (again; Hammerfall, also Godiva, Paragon), and/or an absent true "spark" or "spirit" and throwing in far too slick production to boot (later Hammerfall, Cage) - Ok, I've heard Primal Fear being accused of all that, true.
But honestly, I'd like to hear Paragon write such an aggressive and straightforward yet melodic classic-styled song as "Final Embrace", that leaves you with more than just a "not bad, but it's already been done, and better" impression. I'd like to hear Dream Evil, even with the admittedly highly talented Gus G on board (shame he left, BTW), put out a solo like the one in "Nuclear Fire" - anything as much as even APPROACHING its proportions as a lesson in combining pure, blinding speed and glorious, warrior-epic melody. Hear Hammerfall bring the riffs on ONE FULL ALBUM as hard the first minute or so of "Fear" alone. A Godiva song stand for more than three listens, whereas with PF, especially on their later releases, there's quite often something new and interesting to discover that have may gone unnoticed during the first few spins - this very album provides a great example of just that, forcing me to not only change the score, but also write an entirely new review of it (plus that old 14kB mess needed to go anyway, it was one of the most boring and unreadable ever!).
Man, Primal Fear just fucking rules. A much weaker album would follow this one, but certainly not all is lost just because of that. I already can't wait to hear them once again deliver their perfect blend of the raging riffage of classic heavy/speed metal and the merry melody of modern power metal - the best from both worlds, of course.
"Metal eagles, flying side by side..."
In the year of 2002, Primal Fear ripped up the metal scene once again with another outstanding metal album. Compared to all there other albums this one is weaker in some degrees. On all the other albums power metal shown through each and every song, but on this album it has more of a traditional metal mixed with some power metal influences.
A lot of people I've talked to don't like this album compared to all the other Primal Fear album's, and I can't really see why! The production is top notch, no problems with sound what so ever. All the instruments are clear and noticeable. One of the best things I like about this album is the guitar riffs. There a lot of slow and steady riffs, but more fast action riffs to headbang and high pitched squeals and licks. The solo's are really impressive, but they have always been impressive with Primal Fear. The guitars also like to mix up some harmonic liks, like in the beginning of Lightyears From Home. They also use the guitar effects really good, like on Magic Eye, when the verse is playing, it's heavy even though the riff is clean with a cool chorus effect.
The first track on this album is just a instrumental, and kind of slow. Countdown to Insanity, doesn't have much guitars, a little bit but not to much, in it. It does have bells (probably an xylophone). It sounds kind of corny, but it leaves one of those impressions that make the album great. Plus after the song, it jumps right into a non stop headbanging delite, throughout the whole album. Two other things that really kick ass about this album are the drumming and the vocals. The drummer for Primal Fear does a really great job of making the transition between instruments happen. The guitars and drumming go hand in hand, and make the music of the album shine out above all others. The singing is really good on this album. With low tones and high pitched screames. The singer closely resembles Rob Halford, and actually sounds closer to Halford on this album then any previous albums.
If your looking for a good album to headbang to, get this one. Especially if you like power metal. You won't be disappointed. Some good songs to check out are: Black Sun, Lightyears From Home, Mind Control, Magic Eye, and Cold Day in Hell.
Black Sun is Primal Fear’s fourth and so far latest full-length album, and in my opinion also the weakest. While it’s not bad, it doesn’t really have the energy and catchiness of the earlier albums, with some exceptions.
Musically, they haven’t changed a lot, except for the fact that the Accept influence is more obvious here than on any other of the previous album. Many midpaced, groovy songs are found here. A few examples of this are Revolution (the obligatory midpaced verses with groovy basslines are found here) and Cold Day In Hell.
Personally, I don’t think they do the midpaced material very good, so that’s one of the main reasons why I like this one less than the others.
As expected, there are more dark songs on here than on any of the previous. It seems like they get darker with every album. Occasionally, they get some really killer dark songs like Armageddon, one of the main highlights here, and Mind Machine (insane use of double bass, heavy guitar riffs and killer high-pitched vocals make for probably the best song on here).
But sometimes, they turn quite weak. Fear, for example – Very nice riffwork in the vein of Fight The Fire during the intro, but then turns quite mediocre, and the vocal lines on there are really fucking boring.
But of course, there is also Primal Fear’s trademark uplifting songs like Lightyears From Home, We Go Down and the title track, and they are all killer, and easily among the best songs on the album.
Nonetheless, this album does end up as my least favourite album of the band. The vocal lines on most songs are not quite as memorable, the guitar solos don’t flow as well, the Accept-like songs just don’t do it for me, and some songs just don’t work.
Oh yeah, and we have one very big reason why this album ends up below the rest. The worst Primal Fear song so far: Magic Eye. Ralf’s clean vocals apparently attempt to be emotional but fail horribly, and the vocal lines during the chorus are absolutely awful.
Magic Eye is another one in the line of Primal Fear’s ballad-ish songs with occasional heavy riffs, and while it’s not really constructed too differently from their others, it just doesn’t work. At all.
So all in all, while this is not a bad album in itself, it falls short compared to the rest of their releases. But as on each Primal Fear album, we have a whole bunch of killer songs.
To name my biggest favourites, I’d say the title track, Armageddon, Lightyears From Home and Mind Machine.