Primal Fear - New Religion
Frontiers Records
Heavy Metal
11 songs (54:02)
Release year: 2007
Primal Fear, Frontiers Records
Reviewed by Mike

Primal Fear is back with their seventh studio album, which sees the band on a new label, Fontiers Records. Hard rock and AOR bands have long been the bread and butter of this label, so I was mildly surprised to see a pure metal band such as Primal Fear sign to this label. No, the band has not made a drastic shift toward to hard rock / AOR realm, but as the album title hints, Primal Fear have attempted to reinvent their sound somewhat with this album.

Continuing the shift away from their traditional, blistering metal that Primal Fear have delivered for nearly the last decade, New Religion continues to widen the gap between where they are today and their pre Seven Seals material. Primal Fear expands on its experimentation with new sounds such as down-tuned guitars, orchestration, and now, female vocals. Dramatic numbers such as the title track from Seven Seals show their face once again on this album. Still, the band does not abandon their decidedly Judas Priest flavored sound altogether. Many of the tracks are built around a fierce tempo and charging riffs, albeit with a different twist this time.

From the opening track, Sign of Fear, you can hear winds of change blowing through the Primal Fear Camp. In the past, Primal Fear albums have featured a guitar sound that is very sharp and heavy. With this track, the guitars are unexpectedly raw, and maybe even a bit flat. The down-tuned guitars coupled with Ralf Scheepers' fierce shrieks give the song a heavy kick. However, the guitar sound is thin, and very restrained when compared to the band's previous work. About Ralf's shrieks; they sound strained. Instead of soaring with power and authority, I hear strain in the man's voice. Face the Emptiness comes next, and it is an uplifting mid tempo anthem accented with an orchestral atmosphere ala Rollercoaster. Again, the guitars sound flat and somewhat thin, which detracts from the impact of the song. Next, comes the big "WTF" moment of the album. Everytime it Rains is a gothic tinged rocker in which Ralf duets with Simone Simmons of Epica. Down tuned guitars (which again, are very bland sounding) and very contemporary production techniques further set this track apart from the customary Primal Fear sound. The catchy chorus may actually give the band a shot at commercial radio play and cross genre appeal, but I can see many long time Primal Fear fans shaking their heads at this song. The title track, New Religion, ironically, is an old school, Painkiller like song. The chorus is bombastic, one of the most memorable of the album. However, once again, I am not satisfied with the guitars. The lead guitar falls flat, unable to match the intensity of Ralf's vocals and the rhythm section. While the down-tuned guitar was probably intended to give the song a heavy kick, it instead sounds muddy thanks to the ever present thin tone of the guitars throughout the album. As for the soloing, it is very average, which is a chronic problem of the album as a whole. Fighting the Darkness is next, and it is another slow, gothic tinged rocker. Some excellent and very well placed symphonic textures give the song a nice atmosphere, and Ralf's voice sounds much more convincing than he does when he strains for the higher octaves on a significant portion of this album. The start-stop riffing found in the verses of this song is something that will again cause many die hard Primal Fear fans to raise an eyebrow. However, there is a very well performed harmonized guitar solo at about the midpoint of the song. All in all, the new found creative energies of the band pay nice dividends on this song. Blood on Your Hands is next, and the band shifts back to a crunchy, driving metal cut. The rhythm section kicks serious ass on this song (bordering on thrash) as does Ralf behind the mic, We're also treated to a ballsy, crunchy riff (one of the better of the album) that flows with the rest of the song. The chorus is a grower, but I like this song more and more with each subsequent play. The Curse of Sharon is next, and I as much as I hate to say it, the guitar work is flat out terrible on this song. The lead guitar is again very watered down, with apathetic attempts at riffing that starkly contrast to Ralf's emotional and soaring singing pattern on this song. The brief soloing might as well not even be there. Too Much Time is an excellent speed metal cut that see the guitars wake up in a big way, up to the standards that I expect from this band. If only such inspiration could have been poured into some of the other songs, we'd be talking about a much stronger album. Also, this is one of the best performances of the album for Ralf. If you listen to this song first, and then to some of the others where I have been critical of the guitar work, I think it will be clear why I continue to harp on this complaint throughout my review. Psycho is next, and it has a pretty big act to fill in following up the best track of the album. This track from a songwriting perspective reminds me of some Scheepers era Gamma Ray silliness, especially from that debut album. However, the lead guitar is rather weak on this album. The chorus line has a Dream Evil like catchiness to it, but when Ralf screams "Psycho," the strain in his voice almost makes my vocals chords sore! World On Fire follows, which is a typical pre Seven Seals power metal cut. Unfortunately, the chorus is weak as is the lead guitar, with the exception of the opening riff. There is some decent soloing to be heard throughout his track too, something which isn't as common as it should be on a Primal Fear album. The Man (That I Don't Know) finishes the album with an epic that simply fails to get going. Again, some nice orchestral arrangements color the song with atmosphere (which is actually a strong point throughout the entire album). This track stays in ballad territory for the duration, lacking a crescendo or substantial variation in sound. With that said, the song just lazily drags along until the album uneventfully comes to a close.

As you may have guessed, New Religion comes as a mild disappointment for me. My chief complaint would have to be the guitar work, which has long been a notable asset for the band, and identifying component of Primal Fear's excellent sound. As I've hammered on numerous times, most of the leads on this album are starkly average. That just doesn't cut it for Primal Fear. Many of the riffs are just there, not pissing me off because they're bad, but just passing by in near anonymity. Furthermore, striking solos are few and far between. The frustrating part of all this is that there are a few shining moments during which the band clearly proves that they still "have it." As I've also mentioned above, the guitar tone in general is too thin, lacking punch and sharpness. For me, this has always been the factor that gave Primal Fear a "freight train of sound" quality. That lead me into a comment about the down tuned guitars. I don't want to imply that down tuned guitars are necessarily bad. One band that I referred to above, Dream Evil uses down tuned guitars very effectively. With their thick and concise guitar tone that is clearly at the forefront of the mix, down tuning provides that heavy punch very effectively. On New Religion, the thin guitar sound is only muddied by down tuning. On another note, Ralf Scheepers delivery sounds obviously strained on several occasions throughout the album. He really sounds as if he is pushing himself more on this album instead of soaring with ease like he used to. Staying away from the extremely high registers of the opening track and Psycho in favor of lower (but still high) registers will almost certainly yield a better result (and keep Ralf going a little longer). On the bright side, the melodic quality of the album is solid for the most part, and the orchestrations are excellent, and very well placed. I really like this addition to Primal Fear's sound. Still, the straight forward metal anthem is always very much welcome in my book, but the band is very capable of switching gears with a well written and well performed orchestrated metal tune when that want to. The rhythm section is very tight for the entire album; explosive and furious when needed, reserved when called for as well. You won't hear any generic or boring drum fills either, although this does expose some generic guitar leads more so than they otherwise may have been. So, there is plenty of quality, well performed material on this album. Unfortunately, there are some down moments to swim through as well. As the band is obviosuly in transition, I can't be surpsied to see the band hit some bumps along the way. We'll have to see if the next album is more focused and cleaned up in terms of production and sonics.

Killing Songs :
Face the Emptiness, Fighting the Darkness, Too Much Time
Mike quoted 64 / 100
Other albums by Primal Fear that we have reviewed:
Primal Fear - Rulebreaker reviewed by Alex and quoted 86 / 100
Primal Fear - Delivering the Black reviewed by Jared and quoted 90 / 100
Primal Fear - Unbreakable reviewed by Cory and quoted 83 / 100
Primal Fear - 16.6 (Before The Devil Knows You're Dead) reviewed by Kyle and quoted 77 / 100
Primal Fear - Seven Seals reviewed by Ben and quoted 79 / 100
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