Germany’s Primal Fear have been one of the most prominent acts in the European heavy metal scene for two decades now. Frontman Ralf Scheepers and Mat Sinner have acted as the enduring creative core throughout their career, allowing them to be consistent with their output; Apocalypse being their twelfth album in a 20 year period.
The sound of a beating heart and deep, measured breaths welcome us to “Apocalypse”; a tolling bell and a comforting yet ominous choral line soon joining to ease us into the impending inferno. Pounding drums and pointed guitar riffs complete the preparations, and with that we’re good to go. Enter “New Rise”, an energetic, riff driven heavy metal monster chock full of great melodies and Scheepers’ piercing screams. “The Ritual” dials back the pace but still goes all in on the metal front, Scheepers again going all out with his wild wailing in the refrain. The slower speed here allows the quality of the guitar tone to come to the fore; clear and full of crunch, it’s exactly what this sort of music deserves. “King of Madness”’ glorious chorus is the first foray into more accessible territory, but the riffs still come thick and heavy, making it a fine choice for one of the album’s promo singles. “Supernova” is the most accessible track of all; a tender, orchestral piano ballad that bursts into life with an amazing dual lead and an absolutely massive hook in the chorus. Scheepers’ again proves to be worth his weight in gold with a particularly emotive vocal, especially when he layers up his lines as the song reaches its conclusion.
This marks the halfway point of the album, and from here on out the album remains on autopilot for much of the journey. It’s still listenable and there are some great moments here and there (the tension busting transition of chorus to main riff in “Hounds of Justice” and the mighty chorus in “Hail to the Fear” for example), but it’s just lacking that little something special; there’s no doubt the stronger material rests on the opening half of the record. The eight minute “Eye of the Storm” does attempt to mix things up, with its trudging rhythm section and probing riffs allowing for a patient build up to the chorus. There’s also some nice symphonic touches, a solo that really rips and a well judged orchestral/acoustic break, but it’s put together in such a way that it sounds disjointed, disrupting the flow somewhat. It’s a shame, as all the components are there for a winner, but it’s ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
It was always unlikely that Primal Fear were going to take a huge chance with new material at this stage of their career. Apocalypse is another entry of tried and true heavy metal for the band’s catalogue, which, considering the group’s previous output, won’t come as a surprise to long time fans. There are some bands who you look to because you know they will give you a fix of a particular genre, and it’s safe to say that Primal Fear fall into that category. The album fades slightly in the latter half, but there’s enough here to say that Primal Fear still have what it takes to write great songs. I can’t see any reason to not give this a go if you’re a fan of traditional heavy metal.
Highlights: “New Rise”, “King of Madness”, “Supernova”
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