Album Review – Primal Fear / Rulebreaker (2016)

Who said rules must be broken for a metallic eagle to spread its wings and soar high in the skies of heavy music?

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coverOne important thing must be said about the action-packed Rulebreaker, the brand new release by German Power Metal soldiers Primal Fear. Although the album is called “Rulebreaker”, there are barely any rules being actually broken by the band in its 50 minutes of pure effulgent Heavy Metal. However, who said rules must be broken for a metallic band such as Primal Fear to thrive? The eleventh studio album by this long-established Teutonic act might not aim at all at revolutionizing heavy music, but it will unquestionably put you to bang your heads and raise your fists (and beers) to the unique sound of the most traditional form of Power Metal, and for me that’s pretty much all we need in a good metal album.

There are a few new elements added to Rulebreaker that end up differentiating it from the most recent releases by Primal Fear. First of all, it marks the debut of Italian drummer Francesco Jovino (U.D.O., Edge of Forever), a high-skilled musician who brings everlasting stamina to the band’s musicality. Secondly, German artist Stephan Lohrmann returns as the designer of the band’s emblematic eagle on the cover artwork for the first time since their 2006 compilation Metal Is Forever – The Very Best of Primal Fear. And last but not least, the album also features a third guitarist, the left-handed Tom Naumann, back as a permanent member of the band after a long studio break (since their 2005 album Seven Seals) and after touring with the band for the past two to three years. And with that “triple axe attack” you can have a very good idea of how blazing the band’s riffs and solos are going to sound.

Are you awake? Are you alive? Are you ready for a fight? That’s what you’re going to get in the opening track, the excellent Angels of Mercy, a song that represents all we love in the music by Primal Fear, including their powerful riffs, pounding drums, and Ralf Scheepers kicking fuckin’ ass as usual. The crisp production of the album only makes this song even better, as well as its official video presenting everything we live for, or in other words, girls, leather jackets and spikes, motorbikes and, obviously, Heavy Metal played louder than hell (at the “legendary” Rule Breaker’s Inn). In the electric metal chant The End Is Near, newcomer Francesco doesn’t take it easy with his beats, which is one of the main reasons why this tune so gripping, not to mention its sing-along chorus perfectly screamed by Ralf. And the metallic party goes on with Bullets & Tears and its Judas Priest-ish vibe, more specifically “Breaking the Law”, putting you to dance with the band. Moreover, Mat Sinner is not only an amazing metal bassist, but his work on the album production is superb, delivering a polished and melodic sounding no matter how heavy the music gets like in this amazing tune.

primal fear 2016The title-track Rulebreaker is a great Heavy Metal/Hard Rock hymn, the best of the whole album in my opinion, where all instruments sound solid and fiery, showcasing another lesson in Power Metal by Ralf on vocals while the bass lines by Mat keep breathing thunder. In addition, its powerful chorus sounds like a tribute to Lemmy, which obviously means it’s badass (“He’s a rulebreaker / Hell on wheels / And it’s not my last goodbye / Rulebreaker / Hell on wheels / And there’s no one left to hide / He’s a rulebreaker / Born a rebel and born to die alone / Rulebreaker / Hell on wheels / Into the great unknown”). And despite In Metal We Trust being as cliché as possible, the work done on guitars by the razing trio Magnus, Alex and Tom is awesome, and its overall electricity will make sure we all go mental during their live performances.

The 11-minute song We Walk Without Fear is very similar to “One Night in December”, from their previous album, with highlights to its beautiful guitar lines and smooth passages, as well as the flawless vocals by Ralf; whereas At War with the World, boosted by its uprising lyrics (“There is something deep inside me / That keeps my faith alive tonight / You’re gonna burn, there’s no return / A fight to survive”), presents the listener a perfect combination of speed and heaviness. I love the high energy of this simple but effective Power Metal tune, not to mention how Primal Fear have truly mastered the art of crafting catchy choruses through the years. In The Devil in Me, the band offers something between the classic “Heaven & Hell” by Black Sabbath and many songs by Manowar, but it feels a little out of place amidst so many high-octane songs. I enjoyed the accurate synchronicity between Mat and Francesco during the whole song, though.

primal fear_rulebreaker_boxset

Primal Fear Rulebreaker Limited Edition Boxset

Things speed up again with Constant Heart, where the guitars are like nuclear weapons so heavy they sound. It can’t get more Primal Fear than this, with Ralf’s potent vocals excelling once again in special through the song’s ascending chorus. But as we can always expect emotional heavy ballads coming from Primal Fear, it’s time to soothe our souls with The Sky Is Burning, a memorable tune thanks to its harmonious guitars and passionate vocals. Lastly, in Raving Mad we can enjoy the high-pitched screams by Ralf reaching the skies in a powerful fusion of madness and metal, spiced up by the song’s deranged lyrics (“Can’t sort the pictures all blurred and skewed / Dystopian vision I’m simply screwed / Schizophrenic – addled brain”), putting a maniacal end to the regular version of this more than pleasant album. And if you get any of the special editions of Rulebreaker, there’s more incredible Heavy Metal for you to relish, especially the orchestral alternate version for “The Sky Is Burning” that comes in the Japanese deluxe edition of the album.

And in case your craving for the uproarious Power Metal by Primal Fear keeps burning inside you incessantly, the special edition of Rulebreaker also comes with a DVD including the official videos for “Angels of Mercy” and “The End Is Near”, and the making of the album. Well, I think I don’t even need to mention the magnitude of the special Rulebreaker boxset strictly limited to a thousand copies, which includes the deluxe edition digipak version of the album, the DVD and an eaglehead sculptur, right? Anyway, I read somewhere Primal Fear never have anything innovative to offer fans of Heavy Metal, but I don’t recall that being an issue for this band at any point of their career. Quite the contrary, this metallic eagle from Germany doesn’t need to break any existing rules to spread its wings and soar high in the skies of heavy music, and Rulebreaker is a faultless illustration of the band’s galvanizing traditionalism and dominance.

Best moments of the album: The End Is Near, Bullets & Tears, Rulebreaker, At War with the World and the alternate version of The Sky Is Burning.

Worst moments of the album: The Devil in Me.

Released in 2016 Frontier Records

Track listing
1. Angels of Mercy 3:35
2. The End Is Near 4:27
3. Bullets & Tears 3:05
4. Rulebreaker 4:38
5. In Metal We Trust 3:34
6. We Walk Without Fear 10:45
7. At War with the World 4:06
8. The Devil in Me 4:44
9. Constant Heart 4:50
10. The Sky Is Burning 4:45
11. Raving Mad 3:14

Deluxe edition digipak bonus tracks
12. Final Call 4:04
13. Don’t Say You’ve Never Been Warned 4:23 

Japanese deluxe edition bonus track
14. The Sky Is Burning (Alternate Mix) 3:48

Band members
Ralf Scheepers – vocals
Mat Sinner – bass, backing vocals
Magnus Karlsson – guitars, keyboards
Alex Beyrodt – guitars
Tom Naumann – guitars
Francesco Jovino – drums

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