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Solo projects tend to exist for two purposes, one being so that a member of an established band can do some heavy experimentation, the other being so that a member of an established band can do some light experimentation. A good example of the former would be that of Timo Tolkki’s various non-metal ventures or Oliver Hartmann’s self-named AOR project. The latter style could be observed in a number of projects undertaken by members of Sleep which have pretty close ties to their older material, or for a more obvious example, Tom Petty’s albums “Full Moon Fever” and “Wild Flowers”, which featured all or most of The Heartbreakers and didn’t really sound all that stylistically different from what was done on the full band’s renowned releases.
In every respect, Ralf Scheepers has taken Tom Petty’s concept of doing things all but exactly the same but putting himself out even further into the limelight to a different level. His self-titled album could easily be the next in a succession of solid Primal Fear albums since Nuclear Fire, complete with the Magnus Karlsson and Mat Sinner. The sound is all but a complete hybrid of the high orchestral keyboard tendencies of “Seven Seals” and the modernistic reinterpretation of Painkiller that was “16.6 (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead)”, touched up with an even more Zakk Wylde-like set of riffs out of Karlsson and some slightly more impressive dueling leads with the accompanied efforts of Sander Gommans.
The natural question that comes to mind is “How does it come out?”, and the answer is about as solid as well tempered steel. The only thing that really seems to separate this from the last 3 Primal Fear offerings is the prevalence of guest slots, of which there are several auspicious moments. The most surprising and enthralling combination is Ralf’s duet with Tim Owens (formerly “Ripper”) on “Remission Of Sin“, the same man who beat him out for the privilege of fronting Judas Priest. Whether this was simply a curious venture for two vocalists who sound all but exactly alike vocally (Owens is a bit more forceful and gritty, while Scheepers has a more operatic yet slender sound) or a show of good sportsmanship on Ralf’s part, the song slays in the same fashion as a number of mid-paced riff monsters from Judas Priest’s metallic 80s albums. The lead guitar slots put on by Kai Hansen and Victor Smolski are also extremely well done, showcasing how the instrument can sing consonantly instead of simply shredding in a frenzied fashion all day.
Apart from the impressive group of musicians in congress on here as either guests or session members, the material on here is pretty damned tight in itself. For those who remember the long succession of bludgeoning speeders in the mid-80s vain that makes regular appearances on Primal Fear’s studio efforts, “Locked In The Dungeon” and “Back On The Track” are instantly recognizable and full of energy, while “Play With Fire” takes a similar route yet almost sounds intense enough to have been on “Nuclear Fire”, the band’s crowning achievement to date. The slower paced material such as “The Fall” and “Doomsday” tend to get a bit more symphonic and reminiscent of “New Religion“, but also feature a slight Ozzy Osbourne touch in the riff department. Even the ballad work, which is a bit heavy at 3 out of 12 songs, is well accomplished and showcases Ralf in his ability to tone it down and simply sing when called for. The closing song “Compassion” is not really a metal ballad and is almost more akin to a folk rock tune, but it works well for what it is despite being a bit out of place amongst the rest of the album.
It is a pretty safe bet that anybody who follows Primal Fear or enjoyed Ralf’s work with Gamma Ray in the early 90s will like this, and some who may not be familiar with his 80s band Tyran’ Pace will be treated to one of their memorable anthems “Saints Of Rock” reinterpreted into something closer to Ralf’s current projects. By all standards, this is simply a Primal Fear album under a different name, and I will personally be thinking of it as such despite the lack of the band’s signature eagle mascot on the cover. For as the bald headed madman features here said a few years prior, metal is forever!!!
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on February 22, 2011.