For 22 years Primal Fear have been one of the driving forces in Euro Power Metal, standing alongside fellow countrymen Rage, Accept, Helloween, Blind Guardian etc… Basically, they’re one of a long list of bands who know how to blend the elements of traditional Heavy Metal, Speed Metal, Thrash Metal and Power Metal and put out consistent releases. Whether those releases are top quality or not, well that is up to the listener to decide, but generally speaking, Primal Fear are usually consistent with the standard of their musical output. “Rulebreaker” in 2016 was the last release I covered by the six-piece and it was a respectable effort musically – it did what you expected of it, and that seems to be the general consensus for their follow-up ‘Apocalapyse” which came out in 2018. Now in 2020, a year many of us are wishing would just fuck right off so we can get back to gigs, festivals and not having to worry about hoarding toilet roll if another big spike in viral infections happens, Primal Fear have unleashed ‘Metal Commando’. With a name I wouldn’t be surprised to find out is also the title of an obscure 80’s action film and possibly some rare arcade shoot-’em-up , is this release the musical embodiment of what we need to save us from the situation we are in? Only one way to find out…
Initially, it seems like yes, the Metal Commando is going to save us all. Right off the bat “I am Alive” hits in all its Power Metal glory. Surging paced, loaded with plenty of hooks, instrumental and vocal, and a massive empowering and uplifting attitude, it is exactly the type of song you expect to hear from Primal Fear and it serves as a solid foundation to progress on. No doubt this track will be a staple part of the band’s live sets when they can get to gigging again and no doubt it will be a crowd pleaser! “Along Came The Devil” is the first cringeworthy moment of the album. It is your typical Moanowar-esque power metal track, moderately paced but delivered with a purpose. Lyrically, it’s horrendous and you will laugh a lot throughout it, but eh, fans of the band will love it and lap it up, even if it is generic and dull.”Halo” brings back the piercing edge and speed, and is one of many moments across the release which had me applauding the drummer, Mr. Michael Ehré. The seemingly relentless battery of double bass kick blasts and rapid-fire strikes is impressive as hell!
From here, it seems like the album follows a pattern of fast paced and adrenaline fuelled to more moderately paced and powerfully delivered. The sprint/jog pacing does help keep things moving along and it does allow for a clear demonstration of the band’s talent to shine through. “The Lost And The Forgotten” has the potential to be a phenomenal live track -the bite and power in the vocal delivery is spot on and the raw edge to their delivery just makes it feel that much more alive and dynamic, and “Raise Your Fists” which appears later on in the release is your classic Primal Fear track, one where you put it on and those familiar with the band will be easily able to identify it.
There are two tracks though which stand out from the rest. “I Will be Gone”, and “Infinity”.
“I Will Be Gone” is the token Power Metal ballad. You know the one, the big sing along and slow things down in a live set spot… But unlike some other moments like this from bands who you would consider Primal Fear’s peers, this ballad is actually pretty good. Feeling more like a Mr. Big track than a slab of cheese Euro Metal, it actually has a good level of composition to it. The acoustic guitars are clear and crisp with their tone, the voicing of the musical sequences is enjoyable to listen to and the subtle touches like strings and gentle synths in the background as the track progresses really makes it feel alive. The vocals are extremely expressive and you can feel the emotion in the delivery and on the whole, the simplicity of this ballad is what makes it so good!
“Infinity”, the album closer is the other major track of note, and it is a 13+ minute epic. Acting as yet another example of the compositional credentials of the band, it is more theatrical in its delivery, playing out like a self-contained rock opera of sorts. Moody and atmospheric, vocals delivered with a dynamic range of emotions and a narrative quality, guitars which go from crisp and clear to thickly distorted and some fantastic rhythmic work and melodic harmonies are all on display in this track. Rising to a peak, easing off then rising up again with more determination, it swells in heaviness and intensity, drifting into neo-classical metal territory in some places and Savatage-esque progressive metal posturing in others, especially towards the end of the track where it becomes a full on orchestral arrangement of sorts which closes the track in a dramatic fashion!
In all, “Metal Commando” is exactly what you would expect from a Primal Fear album. It’s not a disappointment, nor is it a stand out release, it simply is what it is: European Power Metal at its peak. Headbanging riffs, thundering drums, empowering and uplifting messages and feelings, it draws out that urge to raise your fist in the air and sing along with the hook laden melodic harmony lines. The band could be a little more adventurous, but why mess with what works for them? Die Hard fans will love it, casual listeners can appreciate it and honestly, I haven’t heard a decent Power Metal ballad like “I Will Be Gone” in years!