without Internet Explorer,
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...and I don't even mean it in an immediately-insulting sense.
I'll come up front: like the review title suggests this latest effort from Germany's spirited but ever-unoriginal Primal Fear is a sellout. I mean this in the most literal way possible: this music is processed, streamlined for mass appeal and with a focus on hooks over the driving riffs of their back catalogue. Take Every Time It Rains, featuring Simone Simmons: this is the kind of thing that you'd expect to hear on rock radio after Evanescence's Bring Me To Life.
With that said and with a mind to point out the good that Primal Fear's new offering brings, there's plenty of catchy sections on New Religion: The chorus lines of Fighting The Darkness, Face The Emptiness, the aforementioned Every Time It Rains and The Man (That I Don't Know) are all fairly hooky. It's the kind of thing that I can fall back on when I'm just in the mood to hear uncomplicated, catchy melodies. Because it's clear that this music was written in the pop mindset at heart, it's decent in that regard. This album passes on the 1-100 scale because I can't fairly evaluate it as a metal record, but as a rock album.
That said, I must ask, what the hell were they thinking? Here's a band that's built up a fanbase through years of churning out the same brand of heavy, driving Priest-derivative metal music, and now they completely forget who they're writing for. I wasn't much of a Primal Fear fan until 2005's excellent Seven Seals, with its greater balance of melody, power, longevity and tasteful usage of keys, I took as a sign of musical evolution within Mat Sinner's group. Stylistically when put into perspective with the band's discography, New Religion is just strange and misguided. Other than a few spots that throw back to the Primal Fear of old (Blood On Your Hands and a few quality solos on the album), the whole thing is very vocally-driven, with the rest of the band - yes, even Mat, with a new take of start-stop riffing during certain verses - seeming content to play the support role. When the band does start out on heavy riffing, it seems a pale shadow of the effective guitarwork on earlier albums, merely as a reminder of what once was.
The production is great, though. No complaints there. It's so slickly polished that you can see your own face in it. The vocal work deserves to be top-notch considering it's been placed as the focal point on this release, but unfortunately Scheepers' pipes aren't what they used to be. They're competent, certainly, but there are points on the album where he just sounds tired.
The lyrics. Oh, the lyrics. I had thought the "your life is just a piece of crap!" line from Seven Seals' Carniwar was pushing it, but they dared to push it over the brink on this album with the worst lyric I've ever heard - ever. Reader, meet "Your life will turn to doo!"...right. Just had to put that out there.
Evaluating this as a poppy rock/hard rock album with metal elements on some songs, it's not bad. It accomplishes what I presume it sets out to do: deliver a fairly easy-listening experience (Well, easy listening for those of us who are by far used to heavy riffs and piercing falsetto screams beating down our eardrums) that's catchy and poppy. Those two elements don't immediately count against an album, nor do they count for it. You'd best make your own judgment. I like this release on a personal level - I just find it difficult to respect it, as it represents a thinning of creative juices within the Primal Fear camp. I expect that time will judge it next to the Chameleons and the Risks of the metal scene.