Back in 1997, Rob Halford had just left Judas Priest. You may be wondering why I am stating this but fear not for it is leading somewhere. Because of Halford’s departure, a talented vocalist from Germany by the name of Ralf Scheepers (formerly of Gamma Ray) took a chance and auditioned for the main role of Judas Priest, his tenor falsetto and unique baritone range spanning four octaves, in combination with the ability to let off a Rob styled shriek made him the perfect candidate. Ralf didn’t get it, and together with band mate Mat Sinner, formed Primal Fear. Still going strong, the Teutonic power-thrash titans with a hint of NWOBHM about them are set to go their own way with the ambitious Rulebreaker.
From the off, this album is all about riffs and real metal anthemic sounds. Opening up with “Angels Of Mercy”, the sneering and powerful vocal delivery over the meaty sounding thrash like guitars set the scene and with a precise and efficient rhythm section, it is a damn good opener. With great headbanging groove feel riffs and a fantastic edge to it, the track tears ahead with attitude behind it and the solo section is wonderful – sublime technical chops on display for all to be impressed with, complete with the obligatory “woah-oh-ah” vocally bits at the end. A great start.
From here, the album keeps to the same path near enough. “The End Is Near” is like a Teutonic tribute to the 80’s era Judas Priest with its steady pounding pace and simplistic approach which favours a punchy impact and plenty of headbanging whilst “Bullets And Tears” brings the power and Euro metal influences on board, especially with the vocal sing along sections and “in Metal We Trust” is your typical power/true metal styled song which screams cheesy and Manowar!
Title track “Rulebreaker” was the track the PR picked out to be the best of the bunch, but I didn’t agree with their view of it having “Metal Anthem”-like quality. Instead, that honour goes in my mind to the epic “We Walk Without Fear”. Whilst Rulebreaker is a no nonsense, straight up power-thrash number which would surely end up as a staple of the band’s live set, “We Walk Without Fear” is an atmospheric eleven minute epic which manages to entertain and engage for its entirety. Symphonic build up, passionate vocal delivery, excellent use of phrasings and dynamics and poundingly heavy distortion, not to mention the best soloing on the album, featuring some great melodic soloing and full on shredding with excellent trade-offs, this track has it all and if someone was willing to listen to it all, it would be the perfect introduction to the band.
From this track, it feels like the album hits its creative peak. The following tracks are back to the expected power-thrash/Euro metal feel which is what we expect from the Teutonic titans, only venturing again on the penultimate track, “The Sky Is Burning” which you could liken to some of the melodically heavy power metal ballads Iced Earth delivered in the Matt Barlow years.
Overall, it’s a solid album which delivers what we have come to expect from this institution of Teutonic metal. It has the thrash, the power and the flair to appease fans and casual listeners with some great moments for those who like something different. It’s worth a listen.