Label: Atomic Fire Records
Genre: Power Metal
Released: 1st September 2023
- Vocalist Ralf Scheepers,
- Bassist/singer Mat Sinner,
- Guitars: Tom Naumann, Alex Beyrodt and Magnus Karlsson
- Drummer Michael Ehré
- Another Hero 5:00
- Bring That Noise 4:49
- Deep In The Night 5:48
- Cancel Culture 6:49
- Play A Song 4:16
- The World Is On Fire 5:01
- Their Gods Have Failed 7:23
- Steelmelter 4:46
- Raged By Pain 3:23
- Forever 5:13
- Fearless 5:30
Germany has produced some of the top names in rock and metal over the last few decades, from the Scorpions to Accept, from Helloween to Rammstein, and it has to be said that power-rockers Primal Fear are definitely up there with the best of them.
“Code Red” (due for release on 1st September 2023 on the Atomic Fire label) was my first taste of Primal Fear, and I was quite impressed. This album kept me hooked for 54 thoroughly enjoyable minutes, leaving me thinking, “Why the hell haven’t I heard anything by these guys before?”
They’ve come a long way since 1997. When (vocalist) Ralf Scheepers auditioned with Judas Priest to replace Rob Halford, losing out to Ripper Owens might have been the best outcome all along: Scheepers went on to form Primal Fear, and the rest, as they say . . .
It’s easy to see their appeal. Let’s face it, bands don’t endure for this long and release this many albums (14 including this one) without consistently having something exciting to offer. And this does. It’s full of crunching power riffs, super-tight and speedy solos, and above all massively energetic vocals from Scheepers, that at times soar to heights previously reached only by the legendary Halford.
“Another Hero” kicks things off with a tinkling of unexpected keyboards, swiftly thundering into a solid, mid-tempo rocker complete with catchy chorus (“Where is the saviour, who shows us the way? We need a guide back to sanity”).
Things are cranked up a notch with “Bring That Noise”, full of tight riffs and furious double bass drum pedalling. We’re then brought back down with the moody, slow-tempo “Deep in the Night”.
Next up is “Cancel Culture”, which is probably the most inventive track. From a rather grand atmospheric intro we are whisked away to the edge of speed-metal, slowing for the chorus before galloping off again (kudos to drummer Michael Ehre). At 6:50 it’s quite a long track for something this energetic, but the mix of time changes keeps it fresh.
“Play a Song” unfortunately slips into the realm of cliched lyrics (“Music is your power . . . forget about your sorrow, don’t think about tomorrow”) but thankfully it’s rescued by its sheer vitality.
There appears to be a theme running through the album, of a world gone mad – corruption, tyranny, failure of the system, and the need for someone to save mankind from spiralling into self-made destruction – something which is expressed in the first 2 songs, and in tracks 6 and 7, “The World is On Fire” and “Their Gods Have Failed”. The former kicks off with another grand melodic intro, and what it lacks in lyrical originality it makes up for in the guitar break (which is capped off with 8 bars of beautiful harmony). The latter is the longest track on the album (7:22, but it doesn’t feel it): an acoustic intro complete with choral voices, leading into a steady power-plod, the lyrics reminding us that we can overcome if we stand firm, despite everything crashing down around us.
“Steelmelter” and “Raged by Pain” are run-of-the-mill rockers – nothing outstanding, but sometimes that’s just what you need: solid metal that you don’t have to try and analyse, just crank it up to 11 and go with it. Both are full of clichés, but who cares?
I love the keyboard intro to “Forever”, which is another steady anthemic offering interspersed with synth strings and acoustic guitars, that demonstrates the diversity of Scheepers’ vocals. This should have been the album closer because the final track, “Fearless” is the low point. There’s nothing noteworthy about it, and it doesn’t close things out with the punch that I was expecting, the music (disappointingly) just fading out.
That said, “Code Red” is a strong, solid album. It demonstrates that Primal Fear are not afraid to take risks, mixing keyboards and clichés, synths and sound effects with the traditional elements of power-metal to produce something good, something dynamic, and above all something that will appeal. This album will appeal, not to the masses, but rather to the masses of power-metal fans who are hungry for more of what they have come to expect from this band.
So here is the “Code Red” warning: the German juggernaut rolls on, so either jump on board, or get out of the way.
Reviewed by Brian Parker