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Primal Fear has pretty consistently exhibited an 80s speed metal orthodoxy that would make the likes of Iron Savior and Gamma Ray appear innovative, but their earliest albums is where this tendency all but shouted overt throwback from the proverbial mountain top. Just about every imaginable cliche heard in the mid 80s out of the likes of Running Wild, Judas Priest, Accept and a number of lesser known acts of a similar persuasion. This music is, by all reasonable standards, fun and competently accomplished, but those seeking a modern approach to metal music that wasn't drawing heavily from the past, this is probably the last place to go for that. Even from a lyrical standpoint, the drive of this band's interests is pretty well boxed into the same realm as latter 80s through "Painkiller" era Judas Priest, delving mostly into celebratory metal praising and Sci-Fi concepts.
If first impressions held sway, one would have to liken "Jaws Of Death" to a musical homage to the "Terminator" movies, kicking things off with a familiar percussive pulse that parallels said films theme song and the sound of an air-raid siren. When the first full length song "Final Embrace" shows itself, fans of this band's later material will note a more mechanical feel. This is partially due to the loud, pervasive drum sound which is pretty top-heavy and reverb-steeped, not all that different from common production practices from about a decade prior to this album's 1999 release, accompanied by a somewhat smoother and less pervasive guitar sound. However, the songwriting is also notably predictable, rarely deviating from the typical formula one comes to expect out of an 80s band. But this song proves to be quite a skull-crusher in the riff and vocal department, drawing pretty heavily from the "Painkiller" formula and adding a somewhat more anthem-like character to it during the chorus.
As things progress, variation from one song to the next proves to be very minimal, almost to the point of the band announcing themselves as a one-trick pony. Songs such as "Save A Prayer", "Into The Future" and "Play To Kill" largely play off the same cruising approach as that of the first song, but definitely showcase a solid vocal and guitar display within their formulaic style. The lead guitar work is arguably even more fancy here than on anything put out by Downing and Tipton, and seems to be drawing just as much from Zakk Wylde's and Vivian Campbell's screaming harmonic happy approach. Perhaps the lone departure from the all riffs and speed formula is the slower, Accept infused crusher "Under Your Spell", which kicks off with a haunting atmospheric keyboard intro before laying on the hooks with a vengeance. This song points pretty clearly towards the more elaborate and effective formula that would be incorporated on "Nuclear Fire" and stands as the masterwork of this album.
It's a foregone conclusion that liking one Primal Fear album will lead to liking all of them given their tenacious commitment to stylistic consistency, but some shine more brightly than others, and "Jaws Of Death" is among the lesser impressive works out of Scheepers, Sinner and company. Things tend to run together a bit here, though individually these songs do stand quite well and remind of the good old days when leather jackets and lighter illuminated audiences were the rule. There is a very well done cover of Rainbow's "Kill The King" that comes along with this package that showcases where this approach to neck-wrecking traces its roots, and also shows how radically production practices have changed in the 20 years that lay in between then and when this album was unleashed. There are times when the steel-clad eagle flaps his wings with an unrelenting fury, but here he is largely content to glide in for a snack of nu-metal trustees and other undesirables.
[new review, first one written on March 15th, 2004]
Great sophomore effort here from the German metal masters; the boys get their act together a bit, and put the pedal down a little harder as well. The songs are a bit faster and the guitar tone is of a both heavier, sharper, meatier and best of all more *distinct* kind than that of the debut. More spectacular guitar playing is also shown due to the addition of Stefan Leibing, half of what would make up the amazing guitar team of him and Henny Wolter on the next album. The rhythm playing isn't particularly technical, but rather the relatively simple songwriting is executed with an excellent sense of groove and melody, which is partly reason to why I love this band so damn much.
This is definitely the most basic, "meat and potatoes" release of their (so far) five-album catalogue. On the bright side, it's more coherent than the debut, meaning there are no silly "stunts", or just complete abortions such as "Formula One" or "Tears of Rage" (a fucking KEYBOARD ballad, for your information if you didn't read my review of the s/t) to be found here, but on the contrary, the album doesn't produce as much in the way of true stand-out numbers as albums directly before and after do, which is why the final score ends up lower than both. At times, there's a telling that the band is trying to mature and expand their sound a bit - see the chorus of "Nation in Fear", some orchestration in "Under Your Spell" and all of "Into the Future" - but none of these moments really belong among the best parts of the album. The band is still best off sticking to what they do best, and better than anyone else today: screaming German heavy (/power/speed) metal riffage, with solid Halford-like vox, and with double bass layered on top (during the fast numbers). And about the drumming - although Klaus sure sticks with that double bass a lot, he puts in a VERY competent performance on here - his fills are extremely well placed and executed, without necessarily resorting to complete over-the-top-ness like power metal legend Jörg Michael (of a shitload of bands, look him up). See for example that little fill just before the last chorus in "Final Embrace", it's catchy as fuck and helps keeping up a good flow. An improvement over the debut.
Highlights: "Final Embrace", which is the obligatory direct-hitting and totally catchy speed metal opener that PF does better than any other, and especially standing out is its emotional and sorrowful (really!) chorus. The best song on here and clearly a highlight of their entire career. "Church of Blood" with its swift, heavy and churning main riff alternating with the groovy mid-tempo verse - the formula of first playing only bass and then the guitars come sliiiiiiding into a crunchy, catchy groove halfway through it (as utilized on "Running in the Dust" a year earlier). Also check out that absolutely crushing riff in the middle, and how the drums effectively build it from random fills to slow pace and then finally mid-pace...once again: SO. FUCKING. CATCHY. It's precisely those little details within their songs that display good musicianship and well done execution that makes this band so special, apart from writing some of the best damn riffs in business. "When the Night Comes" - Nightcrawler summed it up perfectly; it has "a striking sense of atmosphere and groove". By the way, just listen to the guitar tone alone for a second...so beautifully sharp and crunchy like nothing else, but as the review title indicates, it is only 'Nuclear Fire' TAKING SHAPE... "Fight to Survive" - just really solid overall and features some very interesting and fun experimental riffage at the 2.03 mark.
There are no real throwaway tracks to be found anywhere on this album, something that neither the preceding nor the following album can claim, in fact. Really most everything on here is worth hearing if the band's style appeals to you at all. The best is yet to come, however...in form of the next album.
For only being Primal Fears second album, they definetly know how to leave kick ass impressions on the power metal scene. I have been searching for another great power metal band, but most of them sound all the same. This band, and album, are what I have been looking for! Musically, this album kicks ass. Lyrically, this album kicks ass! Sure it may sound like your average power metal, but it is much much more!
Probably the best part of this album is the guitars. The riffs are well desined and displayed on this album, giving it a deistinct Judas Priest or (Enter Power Metal band name here) sound. What makes this better then all the others are the well written solo's and riffs. Like for example, the opening to When the NIght Comes. The riffs are very catchy, just like most power metal songs, some being very fast, almost a hint of speed metal. But the lyrics definetly define this band as power metal.
That leads me into the singing. What can I say about the singing, it's almost near perfect. It can seem wavy at times, but for the most time its all out there grab your nuts and scream high. It reminds me alot of Halford, which is a plus. In fact I think the singer was going to be in the new line up for Judas Priest, but Ripper Owens got there first. The singing also has a lot of Gamma Ray style, like on the song Hatred in My Soul. Another great thing about this album is the sound effects and intro, Jaws of Death. Nicely performed and makes a clear distinct jump into a fast kick ass song! Even the bass and drums stand out, in there own glory (best seen on the song Church of Blood).
I see no reason why fans of power metal should not own this album. It is probably Primal Fears best, and all in all, a nice piece of metal. I recommend it to power metal fans, if you don't like power metal, you may not care for it. Songs are very catchy and just plain out bang your head power metal! They also do a nice Rainbow cover!!!!
The second part in the catalogue of the Gods of generic metal is entitled Jaws of Death. This is a step backwards and forward for the band at the same time. The songwriting in itself is far more original and creative than on the self-titled debut (though they’re still ridiculously generic, but that’s part of their charm), with some pretty varied ideas here and there.
The bizarre opening melody and chorus line of Into The Future mixed with the crushingly heavy riffwork and double bass on the verses makes for a pretty interesting tune. Then we have Under Your Spell, which I’d classify as a ballad, though it definitely moves into heavy territory at times, with some nice riffs in the instantly recognizable Primal Fear style. Their riffs may be very cliché and give a certain “I’ve heard this before”-vibe, but you can recognize them very easy, and not only thanks to the distinctive ripping guitar tone they us on pretty much all their albums.
Nation In Fear and Fight To Survive also has some interesting moods and feelings that move away from the safe territory they stayed within on the debut. But are all these changes for the better? I guess so, since they couldn’t have just gone on making the same song over and over. But they haven’t really mastered the experimentation in the songwriting on here yet, so some parts of several songs come off as quite forced and not too well thought-out. Into The Future again – the previously mentioned bizarre opening melody and chorus line is interesting, but at the same time, it doesn’t quite work. However, most songs on here are still pretty good, and it’s a rather consistent album once again.
Some songs that stand out would be Church of Blood, with the groovy bass-highlighted verses (they have to do one of those songs on each album, and those always turn out damn good) and one fucking killer main riff. Headbang!
Previously mentioned Nation In Fear is also very good- the melodic, powerful chorus is extremely well done, and is just what makes this band so much fun.
“Nation in fear! Why are we fighting? Nation in fear! The world in the eyes of a child!” Cheesy as hell, but a total blast to sing along to. And so is the shouted “One nation! One nation!” part right after the chorus. More killer riffs are to be found here as well.
Fight To Survive has another brilliant chorus line that sticks to your mind, and an overall great vocal performance by Ralf Scheepers, who keeps impressing with his completely over the top vocal style.
The best song on here, however, and where Ralf shines the most- that’s easily the opener (after the dumb chorus), Final Embrace. The insanely powerful feeling the song gives off is something Primal Fear specializes in; they know just how to give you just that feeling. The way the riff starts subtle and builds up in intensity halfway through the verses is extremely well done, but Ralf is the highlight of the song, and he really makes it what it is, with a vocal performance filled with emotion and power. He may be completely over the top, he may overuse the falsetto, and he may be a Halford clone- but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t have the balls of molten steel combined with a lethal emotional touch to make up for all that.
Other songs worth mentioning are Play To Kill (catchy as hell, and another nice, heavy riff) and When The Night Comes, which has a striking sense of atmosphere and groove.
When it comes down to it, this is definitely below Primal Fear’s debut album, but there’s some very good material. And the songwriting in itself took a step forward, they just hadn’t gotten down the skill yet – however, they certainly did in the next album.
Another noticeable change they made with this one is that the riffs are in general far heavier. Just look at songs such as Church of Blood, Into The Future and Play To Kill and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Pretty fun and enjoyable stuff, although at times I miss the melody-madness of the debut. But still, a very strong album here- if you enjoyed the first, then you should pick this one up as well..
No, this album also doesn't sound like Painkiller. However, when it gets good, it sounds like Walls of Jericho. The choruses are far, far better than on the debut album, and there is more than one good song on here. There are quite a few.
The best song on here is the first, "Final Embrace" (the title track being just the obligatory intro, as on most every German speed metal album). "Fight to Survive" and "Save a Prayer" stand out as well, with choruses that just plain sound right, as opposed to the wrong-sounding-at-times choruses that sometimes still abound - "Play to Kill" and "Into the Future" are pretty much a bit silly, as is "Nation in Fear".
"Kill the King" continues the Primal Fear tradition of average covers. The Rainbow song is best redone by Heathen. So overall, while this album has its moments, it is still inconsistent, and just a bit modern-sounding at times. But when it's doing well, it's totally fucking dead on. If Primal Fear could get their shit together for an entire album, they could put out a masterpiece.