Don’t you think that, deep down, everyone is a closet heavy metal fan? They might not have a heavy metal classic in their record collection but, when The Final Countdown comes on at that office party, they’ll be up their playing air guitar and moshing extremely badly with the best of them. I remember in my younger days (no sniggering at the back please) when Mr Big released the single ‘To Be With You’ off the album ‘Lean Into It’, it went down a storm. Fair enough, when most middle of the road types listened to the whole album they ran a mile but, songs like that and Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ made heavy metal accessible to the masses, for good or bad. Being serious for a moment, heavy metal can be described as having developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and the United States. With roots in blues rock and psychedelic rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. Heavy metal lyrics and performance styles are often associated with masculinity, aggression and machismo.The earliest heavy metal bands were Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and then bands like Judas Priest and Motorhead discarded the blues influence and acts like Iron Maiden and Saxon followed in a similar vein. A quality heavy metal album is always something to look forward to and the new release from respected German metallers Primal Fear, Delivering the Black, was making all the right noises so it seemed only prudent to take it on board and review it.
If you’re talking about today’s European top Heavy Metal acts, then the discussion will head straight towards Primal Fear. Former Gamma Ray vocalist Ralf Scheepers and bassist/vocalist Mat Sinner, two of the most respected German metal musicians, founded the band in late 1997. With nine studio albums released, two live products and a Best-Of, Primal Fear are certainly one of today’s most beloved and respected worldwide Heavy Metal bands. Their last studio album “Unbreakable” became their highest chart entry in Germany on Pos. 31 and charted in 7 more countries. After some very serious songwriting sessions and an intense pre-production schedule, the band started to record the new album, Delivering the Black, in summer 2013 at the House of Music studios in Germany, with producer Mat Sinner and engineer Achim Koehler. The direction was to create the most powerful Primal Fear album ever. The band moved to Denmark in September to finish the album with acclaimed producer/engineer Jacob Hansen (Volbeat, Pretty Maids, Amaranthe) handling the mix. The line-up consists of Scheepers, Sinner, Alex Beyrodt (guitars), Magnus Karlsson (guitar, keyboards), and Randy Black (drums).
Scheepers says, “We worked hard to create our best album ever. I already felt the vibe, during the pre-production, that we were working on something very special this time! And now the result is just an amazing Metal album, I’m extremely proud of!”
Album opener King for a Day kicks in with a monumental, and classic, heavy metal riff then, when Scheepers’ voice chimes in all gruff and heavy, things get off to a seriously good start. This song is classic metal but has a modern edge to it as well. The pounding drums drive things on at a serious pace and, if you’re waiting for a signature squealing guitar solo then you’re going to be impressed, delivered as it is with customary metal aplomb, ably assisted by some clever twin guitar antics. Some nicely weighted orchestration gives a slow burning start to Rebel Faction but, don’t be fooled, this killer speed metal track smacks you right between the eyes and leaves you poleaxed on the floor as it runs you over with an uber crushing riff and thunderous drumming. The hectic pace never lets up and the vocal just adds to this explosion of metal, Scheepers hitting the higher reaches of his range regularly. The twin guitar solo is a superb show of furious fretwork amidst the furore of this solid metal track. When Death Comes Knocking is the first of two slower paced epics, the classy intro introducing you to the song before a steady riff kicks in. A strong vocal performance is central as Scheepers shows the impressive variety in his voice, especially on the oft repeated chorus and the classy harmonising. There is an added complexity to this song which is not evident on the first two tracks, although everything is kept tight and in line. The oriental style interlude makes way for another great twin guitar solo, this one piled high with emotion as it soars into the sky and that classy guitar returns to lead out the track.
Right, we’ve done ‘epic’ now let’s get back to the day job, Alive and on Fire powers into view driven by a hard rocking, groovy riff, back to some quality heavy metal. Flashes of cool riffing, along with a funkier vocal, produce a groove-metal monster that, along with a superb and catchy chorus, you can’t help but sing along to. No need to worry, the solo is just as good as the previous ones, some decidedly slick fingerwork on show here. Title Track Delivering the Black is another classy, balls out, frenetic rocker, epic riffs, cool drumming and a voice made for heavy metal all contributing to an impressive whole. Another memorable chorus that ‘rocks with the devil whilst delivering the black’ and a squealing, squirming solo complete the picture.
Road to Asylum rides into town on a black horse with eyes of fire and smoke pouring out of its nostrils. Heavy? You bet, this song will rock your socks off, a seriously hard and heavy riff backs up some more of that excellent gruff vocal, mix it in with melodic chorus and the groove is most definitely metal, heavy metal!! The ever present and sublime twin guitar breaks and solo are most definitely present and correct, another belting track. Time to take a back seat and get your breath, One Night in December is the second of the two epics, a nicely orchestrated intro leads you into this song before a sharp crashing riff joins the throng. As we delve further into the track, the orchestration takes a bigger part. A melodic vocal and the dulcet tones of the keyboards give this track a definite symphonic vibe, especially on the chorus, and the smoother guitar note moves the music away from that heavier feel prevalent elsewhere on the album. A low key interlude, dominated by piano and keyboards, builds up the tension before a slick solo is delivered by the twin guitar virtuosos. The mainly symphonic style of this song does seem a little at odds with the heaviness of the rest of the record but that is a small gripe in the bigger scheme of things.
The chainsaw at the start of Never Pray for Justice is a bit odd but things soon get back on track as we are hit with another classic metal track that, for me, invokes memories of the great metal acts of the 80’s with a classic riff and guitar theme running throughout the song and the vocal is pure class, hitting the spot perfectly, where’s my spandex and mullet?! It is up-tempo without being frenetic and has a stadium friendly chorus and the slick chorus has a touch of improvisation about it. Well, I did wonder when the classic metal ballad was going to make an appearance and, with Born with a Broken Heart, I’m not disappointed. Luscious strings and an acoustic guitar give a pared back introduction before the mournful vocals hit you in the stomach, the song starts to pluck your heartstrings as the full power of a sorrowful guitar is unleashed and the addition of Leave’s Eyes Liv Kristine on backing vocals on the chorus is a nice touch. The solo, whilst being as good as ever, is standard fare for a metal ballad and, such as ballads go, it is a nice addition to the album without being a stand out track. Our testosterone filled blast through the world of heavy metal comes to an end with Inseminoid, yet another hell for leather nuclear blast of a song, furiously paced with a crushing riff and drums as frenzied as ever. One more, crazy ride into the world of 80’s metal, you cannot help but smile, especially if you remember those crazy years of heavy metal excess. A classic solo is, once again, delivered by the twin guitar combo and, as the track comes to an end, you realise you have been treated to a classic 80’s heavy metal album that has been brought bang up to date for the heavy metal fans of today.
Delivering the Black is an album that worms its way into your affections, tempted to file it under formulaic, I gave it a few more listens instead and have been well rewarded. Whilst generally sticking rigid to the template of what is expected from a heavy metal record, it has touches of inspiration that give it something else. If, like me, you love classic 80’s heavy metal, be prepared to listen to a modern update and you will not be disappointed.