I've been an obsessed hard rock & heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Original Release: Victor (Japan) 1997
Worldwide Release: Nuclear Blast Records 1998
Reissue: Atomic Fire Records, 2022
I recently dusted off the self titled debut album from Germany's Primal Fear for the first time in a very long while, after I read about an upcoming 25th Anniversary deluxe reissue of the disc. Has it really been a quarter century since the leather-lunged Ralf Scheepers and his crew of metal commandos burst onto the scene? A quick Google search revealed that the timing is indeed correct: Primal Fear's debut album was released on Victor Records in Japan in late 1997, followed by a worldwide release on Nuclear Blast Records the following year. It seemed inconceivable that 25 years had gone by so quickly. Shoot, I'm an old goat who still tends to think of bands from the late 90s/early 2000s Euro-power metal explosion like Primal Fear, HammerFall, Iron Savior, etc. as "new" acts!
Be that as it may, the deluxe Primal Fear reissue from Atomic Fire Records (a new label imprint founded by Nuclear Blast Records' former CEO, Markus Staiger) will be remastered and feature three bonus tracks - a cover of Accept's "Breaker" and live versions of "Chainbreaker" and "Running In The Dust." This reissue is sure to be met with enthusiasm, as the album has been out of print for a number of years.
So Who The Heck Is Primal Fear, Anyway?
Primal Fear began as a collaboration between two German metal scene veterans -- former Gamma Ray vocalist Ralf Scheepers and bassist Mat Sinner of Sinner.
Scheepers left Gamma Ray in 1995 in order to audition for the vacant vocalist position in Judas Priest. To prep for the audition process, he formed a Judas Priest cover band called Just Priest, with Mat Sinner and Sinner guitarist Tom Naumann. It's well documented metal history that Priest passed on Ralf and hired American vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens as their new singer instead. Scheepers, Sinner, and Naumann opted to stay together and began writing original material under the name Primal Fear.
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Primal Fear's Judas Priest influence is almost impossible to ignore from the moment you press "play." After "Primal Fear," a mostly pointless thirty second intro, the opening track "Chainbreaker" is a gloriously crunchy slab of polished, Painkiller-ish power metal that absolutely knocked me off my seat when I first heard it in 1998.
From there, Primal Fear pretty much stays in the Judas Priest ballpark, with some occasional hints of Accept's Teutonic, machine-precise rhythm mixed in for flavor. Scheepers absolutely blows away any and all of his performances with Gamma Ray on this album. The man was clearly intent on going for broke and showing the Judas Priest guys what they'd missed out on by not hiring him!
"Silver & Gold" and "Promised Land" are sweet bursts of soaring, Germanic metal and even though the dorky "Formula One" (an ode to Scheepers' favorite sport, auto racing) has a slightly irritating, sing-songy chorus, it's saved by the razor sharp riffing by Naumann.
The down and dirty chunk of "Dollars" may have the best groove of the entire album, and though the middling "Nine Lives" never really catches fire, it leads into "Tears Of Rage," a moody ballad with some sweet symphonic-metal accents that's one of the album's major highlights.
A turbo-charged cover of the Deep Purple oldie "Speedking" reveals Primal Fear's '70s rock influences, and "Battalions Of Hate" is chunky, heads-down Accept worship at its most blatant, but it's also totally badass so I'll let it slide. "Running In The Dust" and the Mad Max-inspired "Thunderdome" bring the album to a properly pummeling conclusion. If your neck isn't sore from head banging when this album ends, you're doing it wrong!
"Speedking" (Deep Purple cover)
Summing It Up
Since the release of this debut in 1997, Primal Fear has become one of the standard bearers of traditional German power metal. While they've never been more than a cult act in America, they remain wildly popular in Europe and the rest of the world, releasing a total of thirteen studio albums (the most recent, Metal Commandos, came out in 2020) and two live discs to date.
I bought Primal Fear's debut based solely on a rave review in Metal Maniacs magazine back in '98 without ever hearing a note of it. They became one of my favorite bands thanks to subsequent albums like the mighty Jaws Of Death (1999) and Seven Seals (2005), but I did eventually lose track of them quite a few years and albums ago. When I recently acquired a used copy of their 2014 release Delivering The Black, however, it re-ignited my interest in P.F., so I may start tracking down the albums I've missed and get my collection up to date.
It's been fun revisiting the debut Primal Fear disc and if you don't already own this classic, I wholeheartedly recommend checking out Atomic Fire's 25th Anniversary reissue when it hits store shelves. Primal Fear was certainly not the most original album ever to come down the metal turnpike, but even after 25 years it's still a loud, proud, heavy-as-hell good time!
© 2022 Keith Abt