January may be a little early to pick an album of the year, but Rulebreaker by Germany’s Primal Fear is a strong contender. I don’t even listen to that much Judas Priest-style classic heavy metal – but for some reason I’ve been addicted to this album for the past two weeks.
Rulebreaker combines the infectious style and energy of Painkiller-era Priest with modern sound and production. As soon as the heavy mechanical sounds that open the album came blasting out of my speakers, I was hooked, and the rest of the album didn’t disappoint. The first song, “Angels of Mercy,” is an all-out assault of furiously rocking riffs and Halford-esque snarled vocals punctuated with attention-grabbing screams. Without a pause, the album continues into the second song, “The End Is Near,” which is slower but no less forceful – stomping riffs pummel the listener, and Ralf Scheepers’s scream of “Do you wanna die?” pierces the ears.
This is followed by some catchy anthems — the choruses of “Bullets and Tears” and “Rulebreaker” have been dueling at being stuck in my head these two weeks, and “In Metal We Trust” is a frenetically paced celebration of the genre, complete with a crowd shouting “Hey!” Scheepers screaming of “In metal we live!” and a furious but melodic guitar solo. Then there’s a surprising 11-minute song, “We Walk Without Fear,” which turns out to be epic, bringing in keyboard and symphonics, and featuring more expansive, majestic riffs and cleaner, more emotive vocals than the rest of the album.
After that the next two songs are less impactful, and the silliness of the lyrics is a little too apparent in the chorus of “At War With the World” — “there’s no surrender, I’m just a defender.” But then the rocking riffs, ferocious drums and piercing scream at the start of “Constant Heart” signal that the band has hit their stride again. That’s followed by a ballad, “Sky is Burning,” with a huge chorus. The closing song “Raving Mad” channels Painkiller pretty hard, with lots of ear-splitting vocals and a riff that sounds like it could have come from that album.
Seeing as Primal Fear grew out of a Priest cover band, and this album sees the return of their original guitarist Tom Naumann, it’s not surprising they sound the way they do. What’s surprising is how awesome and fresh it sounds. I usually listen to more atmospheric and melancholic music — I didn’t expect to be blown out of my chair by a classic heavy metal album. With Rulebreaker, Primal Fear has hit the winning formula of Painkiller spot on, yet without sounding redundant. They’ve created new music played in a classic, irresistible style — something just about any metalhead can instantly enjoy and rock out to.