Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Album Review: Primal Fear - Rulebreaker

I've been listening to, if not writing about, power metal for at least a decade now. In that time, I've gone through binges where I was soaking up as much of the stuff as I possibly could, and fallow periods where I wonder if the genre has anything left to offer. What's odd, now that I think about it, is that I've never gotten around to writing down any thoughts about Primal Fear, considering their stature in the genre. They are as big as just about anyone in power metal, and yet I can only say that I've heard one of their albums in full. For whatever reason, they have slipped past my attention most of the time, which makes "Rulebreaker" interesting. I can look at this long-running band from reasonably fresh eyes.

The knock I've always heard about Primal Fear is that they're more or less a Judas Priest clone, and it's hard to to agree with that as "Angels Of Mercy" plays. The song has the same driving, chugging riffs, and Ralf Sheepers' howl and phrasing are straight out of the Halford playbook. He goes for more high notes and shrieks than I prefer, but the song is an energetic bit of metal as we know it, so I can't criticize it too harshly.

"Bullets & Tears" is everything that works about this kind of metal. The riff chugs, but isn't concerne about hitting the lowest notes possible all the time, and then the chorus makes the best use yet of Sheeper's voice, giving him a solid melody to sing, rather than the simple barking he did through the first two tracks. He dips a bit too far into Udo Dirkshneider territory, where his voice sounds a bit cartoonish, but the song is wonderfully catchy and heavy, so it can be forgiven.

After another really good track, we get treated to "In Metal We Trust", which once again provides evidence to support my theory that anyone who isn't Dio who writes songs about how metal they are do so because they aren't the least bit metal. Metal is a terrible subject to write songs about, and this doesn't do anything to change my opinion. It's completely cookie-cutter in every way, and while it isn't offensively bad, it also doesn't make a case for ever being listened to more than once.

And after half an album of driving heavy metal, we get a ten minute mini-epic in the form of "We Walk Without Fear". It's a good track, albeit longer than it needs to be, but it serves as an awkward dividing line on an album that has two nearly identical halves. The placement is odd, is what I'm saying.

Essantially, "Rulebreaker" is an album that confuses me. In the band's ranks are Mat Sinner and Magnus Karlsson, who have written countless great melodic rock and metal songs for various bands and projects, and yet in their own band they tie their own hands to a generic retreading of what 'traditional' metal is supposed to be. If they were to combine their forces with the power of Sheepers' voice, they could write some truly remarkable melodic metal. Unfortunately, they skimp on the melodies here, which is a shame. The songs like "At War With The World", where they embrace their melodic roots, are fantastic. But there are only a few such tracks on the record, while the rest are simple metal pandering.

What Primal Fear sounds like to me is a band that has two creative forces that want to move in different directions, who split the duties to please everyone. That doesn't do either side any favors, and it makes "Rulebreaker" less than it should have been. There are some great tracks here, and Primal Fear is a talented band, but they don't make great albums, and this is no exception.

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