For almost two decades now, Primal Fear have been one of the cornerstone acts of the European power/speed metal scene, standing alongside the likes of Accept and Helloween and certainly matching both of them in terms of both artistic contribution and musical pedigree. While they may not have enjoyed the success of, particularly, the latter, their output has been consistent and characterized by a dogged determination to remain true to their classic metal roots.
‘Rulebreaker’ certainly adheres to that ethos, and pulls no surprise punches. In fact, if anything, its title could be construed as being somewhat ironic, as it doesn’t even bend the rules never mind break them. But, that is not meant as a criticism: far from it. Because sometimes you just want to listen to something that you know exactly what to expect from it when you pop it in your CD tray (or, as is increasingly the norm these days – especially for music journalists sent upwards of 100 MP3s a week to listen to) click the ‘play’ button on your desktop. And ‘Rulebreaker’ delivers exactly what you would expect from its producers – a good, solid heavy metal album.
It’s an album very much in the classic European mould: big riffs, big harmonies, big melodies, big choruses. Pompous? Yes. Bombastic? Yes. Jammed with chest beating anthems? Yes. It’s also fiery and punchy, especially in its first half, with the emphasis very much on sheer pedal to the metal power on hard-hitting tracks such as ‘Angel Of Mercy’ and the title track itself, the latter of which possesses an absolutely huge hook that has your reviewer fighting hard to resist the temptation to punch the air while typing these humble words of opinion (aw, dammit, why the fuck not?). ‘In Metal We Trust’, meanwhile, does exactly what it says in its title: just under four minutes of gloriously kitsch ’80s-style headbanging fury guaranteed to snap the neck of any true metallian.
The second half of the album moves into more ambitious territory, moving away from the straightforward metal assault of what has gone before. ‘We Walk Without Fear’ is tempestuously epic: built on a dense, pummelling bass line from Mat Sinner, it bubbles and broils like a nascent typhoon, ebbing and flowing through multiple moods, layering darkness and light into a majestic carnival of sound. I never thought that I would use the word “delightful” in a review of a metal album, but the joy that this particular track brings just evokes that feeling of such sheer happiness that it verges on karmic harmony. ‘The Sky Is Burning’, meanwhile, is a gorgeous, acoustic-led slice of metallic melancholia that is glorious in its rendition and effect, with a superbly mournful solo which beautifully offsets the pathos of the track as a whole.
As said above, this is not an album which breaks any rules as far as the metal genre is concerned. But, then, it shouldn’t, and it doesn’t need to. Because by doing what it does it is a standard bearer, and a proud one at that.
Angels Of Mercy / The End Is Near / Bullets & Tears / Rulebreaker / In Metal We Trust / We Walk Without Fear / At War With The World / The Devil In Me / Constant Heart / The Sky Is Burning / Raving Mad
Recommended listening: We Walk Without Fear
‘Rulebreaker’ is out now on Frontiers Records.