Thursday 17 December 2020

Primal Fear - Metal Commando (2020)

Country: Germany
Style: Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Jul 2020
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Here's another album that slipped past me earlier this year, as it came out at the tail end of July. It's a hopefully lucky thirteenth studio album for Primal Fear, the band formed in 1997 when Ralf Scheepers left Gamma Ray to try out for Rob Halford's spot in Judas Priest. He didn't get the job so formed this band with a bunch of the guys from Sinner. Mat Sinner and Tom Naumann are still in both bands, but Alex Beyrodt only used to be. Also, while Scheepers never went back to Gamma Ray, he's still hiring in that area, because new drummer Michael Ehré has been with Gamma Ray since 2012.

I like Primal Fear a lot, though I keep seeing them listed as speed metal and that makes me want them to play faster, because they're fundamentally power metal and that's what we hear on this album. Ralf Scheepers deploys his rasp on opener I am Alive, though he also exercises his well regarded range on the chorus as well. It's a strong, no nonsense way to kick off a Primal Fear album, though I might have expected them to go with the initial single Along Came the Devil and its overt Judas Priest influence that underpins most of what the band do.

I didn't need that much screaming from Scheepers on that one, but the music's solid and stalking, and I liked the opener. Halo is even better to my thinking, not least because it ramps up in tempo. It feels a lot more urgent and everyone delivers, so there's rapid fire drumming, vibrant soloing and a decent set of melodies from both vocals and guitars. This is exactly the sort of song I want on my Primal Fear albums, but I'm happy to hear a slower and mellower song like Hear Me Calling too with Scheepers on a Geoff Tate kick when it gets moving. I'm also eager for the mini album they're going to release next year in collaboration with Tarja Turunen.

What we get here is a collection of songs that generally fit in between Halo and Hear Me Calling, but with plenty of variety. The Lost & The Forgotten fits in this company well, but there are points where I could imagine Rammstein covering it, because it has that incessant a drive and that sort of NDH vocal chant backing Scheepers on the chorus. My Name is Fear is a singalong in the classic Gamma Ray style. Raise Your Fists is absolutely as clichéd as the title suggests, but it's still a strong power metal song otherwise, as is Howl of the Banshee, with its twin guitar harmonies. If that makes you think of Judas Priest again, Afterlife goes right back to their style.

There are really two other songs to highlight, but for different reasons. On the lesser side, there's an oddly out of place song that doesn't remotely fit between Halo and Hear Me Calling, which is a power ballad called I Will Be Gone. There's some neatly intricate guitarwork late on but it's a cruise control song on an album that's been barrelling along very nicely. On the greater side, there's an epic to wrap up the album, because, while the first ten songs all fit within about a minute of each other, Infinity is, well not quite infinity long but thirteen minutes, or triple the length of the average song here.

It doesn't feel like an epic for a while, because the first four or five minutes play out as usual, with an impressive slower section ramping up majestically, but the song just doesn't stop. It moves on into an extended guitar solo, then calms down for a quiet midsection and ramps back up again to that catchy chorus. Just shy of ten minutes, it drops into tolling bells and plainchant, before getting all jaunty with strings to take us home. It's an interesting song, that's for sure, and I should add that it wasn't needed to pad out the album, because that ran a respectable three quarters of an hour even before it. If Metal Commando is an enjoyable sundae, then Infinity is a welcome cherry on top.

I'm tempted to go 8/10 here because this is thoroughly enjoyable stuff, but I think I'm going to keep it at 7/10 for two reasons, I Will Be Gone being one and a lack of originality across much of the album for the other, not least with Scheepers's screeching on Along Came the Devil. Infinity does a good job of countering that, but I think it more earlier. Anyway, 7/10 means still very much recommended.

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