Primal Fear – Rulebreaker
Frontiers Records – 2016
Last year (2015), I didn’t write many reviews because I focused more on my work as a filmmaker and ended up doing the most I’ve ever done as a director in one year. But when the latest CD from metal powerhouse Primal Fear came my way, I couldn’t stop myself from getting back to work as a journalist.
The fact that I made a movie with Primal Fear vocalist Ralf Scheepers 3 1/2 months ago does have something to do with it. Not only will I be forever grateful for Ralf being so tremendous as an actor in The Devil’s Five, but my family loved the man.
Primal Fear has a lot of live up to after releasing their previous masterpiece Delivering The Black. The orchestral notes blaring out at the beginning of “Angels of Mercy” signal that the band is back and not resting on their laurels. The triple headed guitar monster that is Alex Beyrodt, Magnus Karlsson and Tom Naumann claws into the tune just over 20 seconds in, like the metallic talons of the band’s bird/mascot (whose mug is the close-up on this album cover).
Ralf Scheepers sings like a man on a mission during this opening track. He exerts so much emotion into his delivery, it’s obvious he’s giving it everything he’s got, but always keeps his voice under expert control. What’s so great about this opener is that the drums and bass set up the foundation for Scheepers and the guitars take the lead. The deep backup voices underneath add immensely.
“The End Is Near” hits even harder than the first track with Scheepers elevating his voice up another notch. Bassist Mat Sinner really puts his foot down in this track and the infrastructure he creates can never be underestimated in terms of what makes this band kick ass. Primal Fear’s new drummer Francesco Jovino makes his presence felt in this second tune with pounding drums of all kinds. I dare you not to join in with a chorus that sticks further into you than the hook of Candyman. The guitar solo is a frantic fun.
The intro guitar rhythm of “Bullets & Tears” reminds me a little of the guitar pattern in Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law.” There’s an incredible marriage of Ralf’s voice with the rhythm guitar. It’s like they are synched together for the same purpose and complement each other big-time. It also displays the beautiful song writing ability of those involved and shows a producer paying attention to get this dual layer effect.
The repeated guitar part is wicked over the top of Sinner’s bass in the title track “Rulebreaker.” This song has a wonderful pocket groove that will get your head banging along to it. I attribute this mostly to the bass and Jovino’s percussion.
“In Metal We Trust” is a crowd anthem that even includes audience-like backing voices cheering along in within the mix. When Scheepers asks to “Raise Your Fists!” I doubt there won’t be anyone not following his command. The jackhammer double bass drums and tough guitar riffs should get everyone to follow along with this killer tune. The guitar solo section is awesome with a blinding flurry of notes that feels magnificent. In no way does it come across as self-indulgent technical show off spot.
Damn, after the moody cinematic intro (ticking clock, child-like toy sound), the formidable guitars working in tandem with the double bass kicks of “We Walk Without Fear” gave me goosebumps. Wow, this song is pure genius display of instrumental construction. The softer guitar tone is really effective at setting up the stage for Ralf to sing the story. Scheepers reveals a chameleon-like ability to transform with the ebb and flow of the music. The music goal of this song is to reach deep into the heart to grab hold of the emotional core. Many metal bands, or bands of any kind rarely if ever, reach this level of musical thinking. Super impressive because of Primal Fear’s ability to switch back and forth between the tenderer moments and when they bring the gauntlet of power down. I would even say the main guitar rhythm part around 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the song might be the most important aspect of this song because it sets everything up thereafter. The guitar solo section, which brilliantly comes after a slow down section, demonstrates each player’s uniquely different approach and altogether blew me away. It’s not just the shredding notes flying about, but the cool rhythm guitar behind it makes explode like dynamite. This is an EPIC HEAVY METAL song that must be heard.
I wouldn’t want to follow that monster of a song. In fact I had to shut the CD off before continuing this review because I was still feeling the imprint it left on me after playing it’s near 11-minute running time.
15 minutes later…
“At War With the World” is another bullet in the band’s arsenal. It seems so much simpler when contrasted against the tune before it, but the eighth track still rocks and features some killer lead and double, maybe even triple lead guitars in unison. I found the marching sound footsteps at the back end very interesting.
The guitar licks snatched me from the beginning of “The Devil in Me.” Ralf expresses himself like a prophet of doom within this horrific song about a curse inflicting a poor soul to the ringleader of the hot pits below. The big splash hits of the cymbals in the down tempo section has undeniable power.
I love the relentless drumming pace of “Constant Heart.” Ralf has to reach the upper echelon of his voice in this pounding tune. The guitars are again excellent with an incredible high standard of riffage and leadwork. The vocal harmony at the end of the ninth track is a good touch.
Nice choice of clean guitar at the start of “The Sky Is Burning-1.” The choir of voices behind the chorus definitely worked for me. Ralf is in his element letting his voice project the song’s meaning. The purposeful soulful guitar solo scorches the soundscape.
The chunky guitars are wicked in “Raving Mad.” Ralf sings this song on a high level of octave range and powerful intonation. The guitars go a little looney in the break off section but are reeled back in by Sinner’s bass and Jovino’s endless kicking drums.
Ultimately Rulebreaker is a worthy successor to Delivering The Black. It’s loaded with molten metal you can thrash and sing to at the same time. The sixth song is a massive super tune exhibiting exceptional mature songwriting and musical aptitude. At this juncture, Primal Fear is riding the crest of a heavy metal wave that proves they are at the top of the musical genre.
I know the band is preparing a massive world tour and if I was you, I’d go get Rulebreaker pronto so you can be playing this CD until they hit your town. This way you will know the lyrics by heart and be able to sing along with Ralf, Mat and the rest of the band. You can bet I will.