Primal Fear – Rulebreaker Review

The title Rulebreaker is certainly an ironic one – Primal Fear is about as by-the-book as they come. If you chainsawed up a dozen European trad metal bands – and who among us hasn’t thought of doing just that? – and then if you somehow fixed them together into some monstrosity of metallic majesty, you’d pretty much have Primal Fear. An arm of Judas Priest, a leg of Saxon, a quarter of Accept, an eye of newt, boil and bubble, toil and trouble, and…

But that’s not meant to disparage these German veterans, because those are big names to toss around, and Primal Fear does as good a job as anyone in keeping up. It’s just that they fit snugly in the middle of the Venn diagram of traditional metal, and they don’t deviate from the program, then or now. They certainly don’t break any rules – their formula is all chugging riff, soaring vocal, pounding double kick-drum patterns, more than the occasional dash of symphonic pomp…

Trad metal often comes to down to a few simple factors, of which a killer vocalist is foremost. Vocalist Ralf Scheepers was allegedly in consideration for the Judas Priest job that eventually went to Ripper Owens, and if that’s the case, then it’s with good reason. Though, like his idol, he’s older now and not quite as sharp, Ralf’s Halford-isms are distinct and distinctly well done, and his prowess is Primal Fear’s most distinctive feature. He can scream; he can snarl; he can sing. He does a lot of all of it, and it’s always great. Here as on any album bearing the Primal Fear standard, his performance is the focal point. Standout moments like the soaring “Do you wanna die?” chorus in “The End Is Near” or the epic pomp of “I am alive / through fields of fire / will you remember me?” in “The Sky Is Burning” are just perfect power/trad, all sing-along greatness and powerful bombast.

Another one of trad metal’s qualitative factors is great songwriting. Now some two decades into their career, Primal Fear can certainly write a good song; history has proven that. In keeping with the irony of its title, Rulebreaker is no exception there – from “Angel Of Mercy” to the snarling “Raving Mad,” there’s no true duds. Sure, the halfway point gets bogged down a bit with some middle-of-the-road fare like “We Walk Without Fear” and “In Metal We Trust.” Both of those are fine tracks, but yet still not as good as what surrounds them, the former being one of Rulebreaker’s most symphonic moments, replete with keys and programmed pomp. But even those are fine, while the rest of the album is more than enough fun to put a smile on the face of any fan of traditional metal glory.

Truthfully, Primal Fear is the kind of band that almost needs no reviews, no critical appraisal. They do what they do; they do it well. They always have; it appears they always will. Its name aside, Rulebreaker doesn’t deviate, and it’s good that it doesn’t. If you don’t dig what Primal Fear does, you’ll remain unimpressed. They’re breaking no rules and yet still ruling in the process.

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

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