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Primal Fear is something of an affair in transcending the past while, in many respects, also reliving it. It resembles the former in that all the members currently in congress have come to something of varying improvement from their previous endeavors, while it manifests the nature of the latter in how it tends to listen musically. This is an institution as well as a band, and it follows a very rigid orthodoxy that innovates more in how the final production quality comes out rather than what parts are being used in its construction. They are unquestionably German not only in nationality, but also approach, and that even holds true with the Swedish newcomer to the fold Magnus Karlsson, whose previous works have tended to exude a heavy yet simplistic riffing approach in line with what was pioneered by Accept 30 years prior.
This band’s 9th studio album “Unbreakable” boasts a title that is in line with the orthodox speed metal tendencies of the band, and proves to be a bit more conservative of an affair than the last album with Karlsson at the guitar, let alone the stylistic departure that was “New Religion”. All the usual “Painkiller” trappings are on display alongside a somewhat older and slower “Balls To The Wall” tendency on the side, culminating in a mostly fast and Sci-Fi oriented listen with occasional fits of metal worship. Naturally there’s also some sappy balladry that goes with having Karlsson along for the ride and actually writing a fair amount of the material, but while the ballads found on here are just a tiny bit sugary than they’ve tended to be back before 2007, this is a solid fit of fist pounding metal that largely conforms itself to the standard set by the early efforts of this band.
Right from the first blistering speed riff set of “Strike”, which is preceded by an orchestrated instrumental prelude that could be right out of the latest superhero movie, it’s clear that the goal here is a heavier, meatier sound that hasn’t been witnessed from this band since “Devil’s Ground”. Anyone who’s felt the jaw-busting punch heard out of guitar oriented German power metal bands like Iron Savior, Paragon and Grave Digger will definitely find a wide array of bare-bones, riff-heavy treats to enjoy on here. Indeed, “Give Em’ Hell”, “And There Was Silence” and “Marching Again” offer up some prime time glory along the lines of a youthful Judas Priest blasting out “Freewheel Burning” meshed with a slight tendency towards a Helloween sound when hitting that obligatory chorus refrain.
The guitar work is a bit busier than past efforts, likely due to the inclusion of both Karlsson and 80s shred veteran Alex Beyrodt, but even with the more virtuosic solos Ralf Scheepers’ primal wail and gritty shouts dominate the mix. Sometimes he literally gets so dangerously high in register that one might want to lower the volume in spite of the majestic nature of the music just to avoid having the car windows shatter. He shows a fair amount of versatility on the ballad “Born Again” and offers up a crooning voice for the serene verses, despite that the song is a bit dry and formulaic. But the pinnacle of his vocal work, and also the best song of the bunch are found in “Unbreakable Pt. 2”. It’s not the most intricate song on here from a riff standpoint per say, but the chorus just runs rings around the ears while Ralf just unloads the raw emotion like no tomorrow.
The rank and file Primal Fear fan that maybe didn’t take as well to the past 2 albums after Mat Sinner and company left Nuclear Blast will find something much closer to the good old days. It doesn’t quite hit the zenith that was reached on “Nuclear Fire”, and it does come off as a tiny bit ballad-heavy for a speed metal album, but it’s got everything a growing German metal fan boy needs. Close hailing frequencies Mr. Chekhov and prepare to fire photon torpedoes!!!