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[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.