Primal Fear - Apocalypse - (9/10)
Published on August 23, 2018
A Revelation Wreathed In Flames.
The eagle has largely been regarded as a symbol of freedom and triumph, but going on 20 years now that truism has been bucked by one of the better known German speed metal authorities to rise out of the millennial power metal revival, showcasing it along similar lines to that of crows and ravens in Nordic lore. While depictions of the famed bird of prey has varied from its traditional incarnation to varying robotic/cybernetic modifications, it has been more the exception than the rule for Primal Fear to depict their mascot as the outright agent of destruction rather than a witness of its occurrence. Such is the disposition of their winged symbol, wreathed in flames like a mechanical phoenix, raining down a storm of meteors and flames upon the hapless metropolis with a black moon in the distance, like an ominous eye leering at the destruction below. Such elaborate visuals, especially when compared with the more mundane one that adorned their previous albumRulebreaker, would suggest a fairly different approach is taking place within the bindings of Apocalypse, Primal Fear’s 12th studio LP, though the level of musical departure under consideration is not quite as drastic as one might suspect.
Being a band with a fairly clear cut formula that doesn’t really veer to far from the standards set by recent metal classics such as Judas Priest’s Painkiller, U.D.O.’s Timebomb, and a number of classic offerings of the late 80s and early 90s out of the likes of Running Wild, Grave Digger and Anthem, there is a fair degree of predictability involved in any Primal Fear offerings. Variation is often found in the periphery, with the biggest variable being the level of impact upon the songwriting by guitarist/keyboardist Magnus Karlsson, who’s background puts him more in the AOR-leaning power/heavy metal camp and made him something of an unlikely recruit about 10 years prior when the band moved from Nuclear Blast to Frontiers Records. His was the handiwork that offered up some of the astoundingly massive epic compositions on previous outings such as “We Walk Without Fear” and “One Night In December”, to speak nothing for the more cinematic character that this band’s output as a whole took on when he replaced Stefan Leibing and guest orchestration man Matthias Ulmer (who’s reputation in said department in the metal world is beyond repute) as the guy putting forth the symphonic and atmospheric detailing.
Suffice it to say, this album treads similar territory to its two predecessors from a sonic perspective, although the songwriting and structure at play turns back the clock a bit to when 16.6 (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead) introduced the world to the Karlsson era of Primal Fear. The stage is set by a highly cinematic and massive instrumental prelude in the lead off title track “Apocalypse” that does an effective job at painting musically what the album art itself depicts, resembling recent film score work by Hans Zimmer (a common muse for instrumental preludes on power metal albums of late) with a dash of singing guitar splendor somewhat reminiscent of Queen. The clock gets wound back even further to the Nuclear Blast days with the onset of “New Rise”, arguably one of the fastest and most intense speed metal anthems to come out of this band’s arsenal, straddling the divide between the band’s current sound and the glory days of Nuclear Fire. Slightly less explosive yet compelling nods to the chunky yet speedy sound of Painkiller are found in “Blood Sweat & Fear”, “The Ritual” and the album’s proper closer “Cannonball”, pummeling the ears with high-impact riffs, soaring shred-happy solos and glass-shattering banshee wails.
First impressions, though quite captivating, also prove to be a bit deceiving in this album’s case, as the overall bulk of this album takes a more measured and methodical approach that’s a bit more along the lines of Accept’s mid-paced fair. Punchy grooves such as those that dominate “Hail To The Fear”, “Hounds Of Justice” and “King Of Madness” enjoy a larger share of time in the nuclear sunlight that most of this band’s back catalog (save maybe New Religion) and represent the majority of the teaser singles that promoted this album, while the bonus material that most core fans of this band will enjoy via the limited edition release of this album in “Fight Against All Evil” and “Into The Fire” have more in common with iconic mid-80s anthems like the sort vocalist Ralf Scheepers delivered with his original band Tyran Pace. This sort of AOR tendency to some of the slower material is likewise mirrored in the album’s token ballad “Supernova”, which mirrors the Dream Theater influences heard on the previous album’s ballad “The Sky Is Burning” but with a more subdued tone, while the album’s lone longer-winded epic “Eye Of The Storm” shows some similarities to “We Walk Without Fear”, but dials down the dramatic factor and sort of coasts along in a less dynamic yet still largely captivating fashion.
There was little place to go other than down following the two masterworks that preceded this album, but thankfully this is more along the lines of a slight decline rather than a sudden flop into mediocrity. Apocalypse isn’t so much an exercise in phoning it in, so much as it is an album that focuses a bit less on the fringes and builds up its base. In this present age of short attention spans and instant gratification via internet streaming, moderate length songs that play it a bit safer, this is the sort of album that may prove to become a bit more common in the coming years, still possessing a somewhat conceptual structure but also catering a bit more to single-obsessed audiences. Most of the same people are still involved, including recently recruited studio-engineer and producer Jacob Hansen (who provided the mixing expertise on the last two albums, among those of countless other European bands), who largely serves up the same slab of colossal sounding brilliance, save maybe a less overt keyboard presence. The overall package comes up a little bit shorter on moments of astounding brilliance, but any fan of this band will be hard pressed to find any flaws.