If I’m being honest, Primal Fear stopped being an important band to me quite a few years ago. Sure, they’re still a compelling live prospect – one not to be missed, in fact, if they come to your town anytime soon – but I’ve felt they’ve been treading water in the studio arena for quite some while. However, when duty calls, as it did in the shape of Sentinel Daily editor Scott Adams asking me to review their new opus, Apocalypse, you sometimes have to get your hands dirty. Time to reacquaint myself with a dear old friend sadly estranged…
Early signs aren’t good. The opening brace of tracks, New Rise and The Ritual, are pretty easily dismissed as Fear-by-numbers romps that don’t really do much except reinforce already-held suspicions.
However, something mysteriously kicks the band into gear on the next couple of tracks, King of Madness and Blood Sweat & Fear. Especially the latter, which is utterly the best track this band has come up with in aeons. Mid paced, crunchy and with supreme vocalising from Ralf Scheepers, this is the band we grew to love all those years ago. The band sound genuinely energised here, proud to be playing on a track that matches their very best. It’s encouraging for an old cynic like me to hear performances like this.
Power ballad Supernova keeps up the quality, Scheepers again starring, as does Mat Sinner with some fine melodic basswork. Guitarists Tom Naumann, Alex Beyrodt and Magnus Karlsson mesh beautifully, with Karlsson also augmenting the maelstrom with some tasteful keyboards.
Could we be on to a surprise winner here?
The second half of the album kicks off with a superb, chugging headbanger in the shape of Hail to the Fear, pure Priest but none the worse for that, with Scheepers carrying the vocal melodies like a true Metal God… it is derivative, but it’ll get the blood flowing when you hear it, that’s for sure.
As will the next couple of track, Hounds of Justice and the stupendous The Beast; the former is not too dissimilar to Hounds… but The Beast is, well… another Beast entirely.
Primal Fear has always had an obsession with Painkiller-era Priest, of that we’re all aware, but here it’s not the title track of that storied album they plunder for inspiration; The Beast is a storming take on tracks like Hell Patrol, with a little Manowaresque excess thrown in for good measure. It’s utterly convincing, and a track you’ll find yourself returning to again and again over time.
Penultimate track Eye of the Storm is the album’s big production epic, riding in on some Butleresque bass playing from Sinner and another in the series of compelling vocals from Scheepers that make this album such a delight to listen to. The song builds to a series of crescendos, natch, and whilst it’s nothing you haven’t heard before the track is executed so well it’s undeniable.
Final track Cannonball isn’t anywhere near as interesting, but it can’t detract from the fact that there’s some seriously good heavy metal going on on Apocalypse. To these ears at least, Apocalypse is the best record Primal Fear have made in over a decade. It’s out on August tenth – get that date in your metal diaries now…