Ralf Scheepers – vocals
Mat Sinner – bass, vocals
Tom Naumann – guitars
Alex Beyrodt – guitars
Magnus Karlsson – guitars
Michael Ehré – drums
- I Am Alive
- Along Came the Devil
- Hear Me Calling
- The Lost & The Forgotten
- My Name is Fear
- I Will Be Gone
- Raise Your Fists
- Howl of the Banshee
A new record from German heavy metal stalwarts Primal Fear has always been an event for me; it’s more than just another album, it’s a life-affirming hard-hitting slab of classic heavy metal from beginning to end, and the band’s newest studio effort Metal Commando is no different. 2016’s excellent Rulebreaker and it’s equally fantastic and extremely successful follow-up Apocalypse from 2018 stands tall amongst not only my own personal collection but also as two of the best metal releases of the last decade.
When describing the album, producer, bassist, and vocalist Mat Sinner had this to say:
“What was heavy is heavier, what was epic is even more epic, what was fast is faster and what was dark is darker… Metal plays as big a role in my life as ever. And what’s more: I’m dead serious about this music and about our songs. If we set forth to do another album we want to make sure that it’s the absolute best we’re able to deliver at that time. A record is for eternity, you can’t just undo it after it’s done. Thus, for one year, I am giving all I have to a project, trying to make it sound as fresh and hungry as I was on day one. I want it to convey the sheer mass of fun and energy we had making it.”
Metal Commando does that and much more within each and every note: it’s fresh, it’s furious, it’s hungry. It’s a shot of pure, unadulterated, and uncensored adrenaline. It’s a work that’s almost bigger than the band itself, even 22 years deep into their career. It’s also a record that sees Primal Fear return to their first label Nuclear Blast. Going back home to Nuclear Blast has made the band even more determined to push themselves and it has proved enough motivation for Primal Fear to deliver something truly special and come full circle with their new album.
Kicking off proceedings with the vicious galloping rhythm of ‘I Am Alive,’ Metal Commando is off to an incredible start as the propulsive drums courtesy of newcomer Michael Ehré collides with the volcanic main guitar riff of the track. Powerful vocals from Ralf Scheepers tell of “unfinished business tonight” as he “walked through the gates of hell’s fire…” and launch the song into the stratosphere with a monumental chorus section. I knew what to expect from the opening track on a Primal Fear album, and ‘I Am Alive’ still manages to surprise and delight in equal measure.
‘Along Came the Devil’ is a now-trademark mid-tempo grind a’la Rulebreaker’s epic title track, and the slightly slower pace enables Scheepers’ impressive vocal range to shine brighter than ever before. The aggressive screams during the verses caught me off guard and the lower pitch during the chorus has a menacing and confident quality to it, as a rock-solid rhythm section bolsters the autobiographical song. “We’re born to rock and raised on metal, a generation made of steel, we walk the streets with chains and leather, no matter what they say or do,” screams Scheepers in utmost defiance at the band’s naysayers.
Fans of the early era of Primal Fear (Nuclear Fire, Black Sun) will adore ‘Halo’ as the rapid-fire machine gun drumming turns the pace up a notch (or three) as some excellent hard-edged riffs grab you by the throat and don’t let go, punctuating the song. The best part of the track, however, has to be the breathless harmony guitar assault from the triple threat of Tom Naumann, Alex Beyrodt, and Magnus Karlsson around the two and a half minute mark. ‘Hear Me Calling’ unites a gargantuan planet-sized hook with lashings of atmosphere and melody to great effect, and fans of the Fear will definitely be throwing fists and horns up in the air if it ever gets a live performance; chanting and screaming along with the infectious chorus.
‘The Lost & The Forgotten’ is a relentlessly hard and heavy groove monster that doesn’t let up, with a mean guitar riff and pulsating bass lines. Ralf Scheepers once again brings everything he’s got to deliver another powerhouse vocal track, but this can be said for the entirety of Metal Commando and Primal Fear’s back catalogue. Some vocalists lose their magic as time passes on, but not Scheepers. He’s gotten better and better over the years, managing to surprise me on each new album. His fluidity and control over his vocals are incredibly impressive, and I was taken aback by the achingly fragile ballad ‘I Will Be Gone,’ which sees Scheepers give a gorgeous career-best performance backed only by a string section and acoustic guitars.
‘Raise Your Fists’ will have listeners doing exactly that before the first verse hits, with a triumphant and meaty guitar riff leading the charge and another meteoric hook that’s begging to be played live. There’s tasteful and explosive guitar work aplenty on Metal Commando and it doesn’t let up for the home stretch. ‘Howl of the Banshee’ is a roaring monster of a track, and much like the Banshee of the title Scheepers howls and screams his way through the track atop glorious musicianship, while ‘Afterlife’ is a nasty, full-throttle beast that will get your heart pounding in seconds with its hard riffs and razor-sharp lead guitar work.
Album closer ‘Infinity’ is about as epic and grandiose as Primal Fear has ever attempted, and it lands so incredibly well. With a 13 minute runtime, it’s not only the longest song the band has ever recorded, but it’s also the most flamboyant piece they have ever written, with multiple tempo changes, instrumental and string passages, and volcanic guitar work. Rock-solid drums keep the song anchored as the track twists and turns at every opportune moment.
Produced by Mat Sinner and mixed to metal perfection by Jacob Hansen, Metal Commando sounds excellent throughout. The guitars have just the right amount of crunch, the rhythm section of drums and bass sound cavernous and powerful enough to collapse several buildings. There is so much to love here, and it’s a near-flawless heavy metal record. No song here is filler, only some I prefer to others so I don’t have much to complain about.
Every single member of Primal Fear gave it their all to deliver a career-highlight album, and Metal Commando is just that. One thing is immediately apparent: Metal Commando is yet another level in the life of these soaring metal eagles. It’ll be interesting to see how Primal Fear top this one on their next album, their recent studio output has been excellent and Metal Commando is absolutely no exception and a pure slice of heavy metal thunder. It’s one of the strongest metal albums I’ve heard so far this year, and it’ll be tough to beat.