It’s not like there aren’t a legion of other ways to ease yourself into a conversation in 2020, but we’re two guys in our fifties so of course we get to talking about the return of German football’s Bundesliga by way of breaking the ice; that done, it’s on with the serious stuff. German metal institution Primal Fear, of whom Mat Sinner is the bass-playing, song-writing, knob-twiddling prime mover, have a new album, Metal Commando, out on July 24th and he wants you to know all about it. And of course, being the happy chaps and chapesses we are here at Sentinel Daily, We’re happy to facilitate this…
As noted, the new album is out soon. Do you still get excited at this point just before an album lands, or is it just part of the job for you now? “I think we’re super excited, because we are very very happy with the album. I think the song writing, every performance from the musicians, and also the production and mix is I think very good. We are super satisfied with the result. I’ve been doing interviews for three weeks now and we’ve had a phenomenal response from the media. I hope the fans are similarly enthusiastic. In the end they buy the album so let’s see what they say. But we’re super happy about the feedback”.
I’ve been a fan of the band since (2001’s) Nuclear Fire. I’ve had Metal Commando on the stereo for about three weeks ago and I think it is, in my opinion, the best thing you’ve done since that record. “Thank you very much. Another satisfied journalist! (laughs)”.
When you write for Primal Fear, it must give you a lot of confidence knowing that in Ralf Scheepers you have a vocalist who can handle anything you throw at him. “Yes, but also I have that confidence in the other musicians too! The song writing is just a question of ‘the flow’. If you have a good vibe, which we did because we knew this was an important album for us, coming back to Nuclear Blast Records… that gave us some super motivation. The first couple of riffs, the first couple of melodies were very promising, and we felt that we could make a very good album. So the first pressure, that pressure that we put on ourselves, was gone very early. We continued and wrote around thirty tracks last (Northern) Summer. We always think about what will be cool for Ralf to sing, the harmonies, and also if the key of the track fits his voice. If that’s not the case but we love the track then we’ll transpose it so it is one hundred per cent right for Ralf. Then he can sing it in an impressive way!”
It’s interesting that he mentions that process in one of the songs on the new album. “Which one is that? Oh yes, Hear Me Calling”.
That’s the one. A nice little glimpse into what goes on in the song writing process… You’re a very busy man, always with projects on the go. Is it very difficult to sit down for an extended period to prepare for an album? “I choose the job as being a responsible producer. Not only for Primal Fear but as you say other projects too, so you can imagine I love to hang in a studio working on little details. If it were my choice, I would still be in the studio trying to squeeze out another per cent of something (laughs). I enjoy that a lot, and I made that decision because a very wise guy told me ‘if you are on a tour, and the gigs are not going well, whatever the circumstances are, it’s not your day. But the next day, it’s another day, and you can make the shitty shows go away. The next gig can make you forget all the bad things. But if you are recording an album, it’s for your whole life. A shitty album haunts you your whole life. ‘This was the album that was not all that great!’ (more laughter)… So my job is to make a great album so that we are satisfied in ten years and say ‘Metal Commando was the right album to make at the right time’.
That’s an interesting way to look at it. I think I first saw Sinner in 1985 or 1986. That’s around thirty five years ago. Clearly you are a heavy metal lifer, but did you spend time then thinking ‘I’m still going to be doing this in 2020’? “Well, at a certain point in my career I stopped thinking about the future. That can only scare you or make you uncomfortable. I just laid back and said I love this life, I love the lifestyle. I’ve seen the world and played with some of the best musicians there are. For twelve years I’ve done the Rock Meets Classic project. Nobody can take that away from me… it keeps me fresh, it keeps me motivated and it keeps me young. Listening to music makes me happy, listening to great music makes me even more happy. And writing music, playing music, creating music, that for me is the best job in the world. And I’m super happy and grateful that my career took the turn whereby I could be successful and make a living out of it”.
You’re one of the lucky ones. “Nah – hard worker!”
Of course! Let’s get back to Metal Commando. I’d like you to tell me a little something about each of the tracks on the record. It opens with I Am Alive. “I Am Alive will be the second single and the first ‘real’ video that we’ll release. It’s the leading track off the album and it represents the album. It shows the fans that if they buy the album Primal Fear is still Primal Fear. There aren’t a lot of experiments – it’s still the band you love”.
Along Came The Devil is next. “Nearly the same. This was the first single we released because we wanted to show the fans Worldwide who might not be so much in touch with German bands, or European bands, that they can trust us and that we’ve recorded an album that is really one hundred per cent Primal Fear”.
What about Halo? “Halo is a track which represents Primal Fear from the old days to the new days. It has everything we had in the old days, a really German piece of power metal. The Japanese journalists say this is a very German track! I say ‘why German?’ and they say ‘It’s so German and we love it!’ – OK! For me Halo is a very important track, and there’s a big chance we’ll play it live”.
Next up is Hear Me Calling. “This will be the third single from the album. It’s a melodic track with maybe one of the best choruses we’ve ever written. It’s an alternative to the more metallic tracks on the album, atmospheric with a mid tempo groove”.
The next track is called The Lost & The Forgotten. “That’s more of the other side of Primal Fear; A very brutal guitar riff and from the harmonic side a more modern direction. It’s more like Hounds of Justice from the last album or The End Is Near on Rulebreaker. It’s a very brutal song, which is important for a Primal Fear”.
After that it’s My Name Is Fear. “A double bass drum extravaganza! I worked very hard with Michael (Ehré) in the recording studio on the drums. It’s not an easy part even if you are experienced and have played half of your life in Gamma Ray! It’s a certain type of tempo that can be difficult but he handled it in such a way that the other guys could lay down a great song”.
Next we have my favourite, I Will Be Gone. “Oh! Are you in love?” That’s what I tell my wife. “(laughing) OK! It’s a very sad song. The big challenge for me was not to come in after one and a half minutes with the big drums and sad guitars, not to make it the usual big rock ballad. I wanted it to be entirely different to anything we’d done in the past. We stripped it down to two acoustic guitars, a cello, and Ralf’s vocals laying above it all. We wanted to keep it interesting for the whole song and I think we can be proud of what we did with it”.
Definitely. Next up is Raise Your Fists. “Now we come to the section of the album where Primal Fear goes back to it’s roots. A typical Primal Fear vibe, which will please fans of the first albums. The sort of song you need to play live. Maybe we’ll start the live shows with this one. It’s a song that puts a smile on my face. Raise your fists and rock out with Primal Fear!”
Howl of The Banshee comes after that. “A song I wrote with Tom (Naumann, guitars) at my home studio. As I said we wanted to capture the old spirit of Primal Fear. Tom was a founding member of the band, and this really represents the first album. In the beginning it reminds me a little of Final Embrace (from 1999’s Jaws of Death), but only in as much as we wanted to capture the vibe of the song, rather than to make a copy. It’s got a cool chorus for the fans to sing and some nice guitar work that really repreSents the older side of Primal Fear”.
The penultimate song is Afterlife. “Maybe the fastest song on the album. Hard work for Michael! It’s the brutal and thrashy side of the band. It’s important for the album, to make that statement that we have super fast songs on the record. A lot of fans ask for that kind of song – so we did it!”
Finally comes the album’s big epic, Infinity. “I wrote this with Magnus Karlsson (guitars) and it started out about four and a half minutes in length. I thought that that wasn’t enough for the song… it has such an epic introduction. I said ‘we have to make something super crazy out of this!’. We ended up with the song ending with a whole orchestra, when we got them in we knew we would make it the last song on the album. It was very hard work, but very satisfying, one of the most satisfying tracks I’ve ever written in my life”.
Fantastic. And thanks for that insight into the creation of the album. Now of course the million dollar question is touring. Have you any idea when you will be able and get out to tour behind Metal Commando? “No. But I can look at my calendar on the wall to tell you where I should have been tonight… Dallas, Texas! We had lined up a twenty eight date tour of the US and Canada with Symphony X and would have been in Dallas tonight. I don’t know what’s going on in the US, I hope they calm down and find a way to love each other again. We’ve postponed that tour until next year. All the Summer festivals in Europe are cancelled. We should start a ten country European tour on September 11th but I think even that will be a problem. Then we had Japan and South America… I don’t think I will go there. I feel sorry for my Brazilian brothers who have suffered the most but it’s just not possible to go there. The most likely thing that will happen is that everything will be put back to 2021. In Germany the new infections are very low at the moment. If other infections come in from outside, it will happen, but at the moment things look very controlled”.
Maybe we might see you in Australia next year then. “Hopefully! we’ve been twice now, and it’s always a very good time. The concerts have been a lot of fun!. We love the kindness of the people. So if you ask us to come to Australia, we will come!”