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Primal Fear - "Unbreakable" (CD)

Primal Fear - "Unbreakable" CD cover image

"Unbreakable" track listing:

1. Unbreakable (Part 1)
2. Strike
3. Give 'Em Hell
4. Bad Guys Wear Black
5. Metal Nation
6. Where Angels Die
7. Unbreakable (Part 2)
8. Marching Again
9. Born Again
10. Blaze Of Glory
11. Conviction

Reviewed by on December 15, 2011

"'Aside from its highest moments, it's simply Primal Fear being Primal Fear. And in 2012... that may not be enough.'"

My rocky relationship with the current power metal scene notwithstanding, I do count myself a fan of quite a few bands tagged with that label – some of whom are all-time favorites. Germany’s Primal Fear is certainly one of them, but their ninth studio album “Unbreakable,” while solid and sturdy, has yet to floor me.

This isn’t a direct fault of the band so much as a consequence of the proverbial ground shifting beneath their feet. Primal Fear is a direct descendant of the Helloween bloodline – frontman Ralf Scheepers formerly sang for Gamma Ray, led by ex-Helloween guitarist Kai Hansen – and as such, their roots predate the ‘00s European power metal orgy by a wide margin. This is what made their manly, muscular modernization of traditional Priest-type influences so invigorating on releases like “Nuclear Fire” [1999] and “Black Sun” [2002]. But times have changed, and the story remains the same: the subgenre was overpopulated, the market oversaturated, and the collective attributes of the “power metal sound” became just as likely to prompt eye rolling as they did headbanging. Meanwhile, Primal Fear continued to simply do their thing – and quite well – but with this release, I fear that their formidable impact has weakened under the dead weight of power metal’s banal tendencies.

Again, that’s hardly a slap at the songwriting, performances, or production on “Unbreakable.” All are up to par, and the whole disc sounds the way Primal Fear should in 2012: meaty, full, and crystal clear. First, the gems. Nifty rhythm guitar work in the verses and a memorable singalong chorus elevate video single “Bad Guys Wear Black,” while the fantastic “Give ‘Em Hell” turns up the power with a bracing dose of Halford and Harleys. Like Manowar before them, Primal Fear has made a staple of the genre-themed anthem, and “Metal Nation” is among their finest such entries. Breakneck double-kick speeder “Marching Again” gains a sharper edge by incorporating some jagged thrash-groove riffing, and “Born Again” is a painfully effective ballad of love and loss that I suspect was inspired by the 2009 death of Scheepers’ father. These songs go above and beyond.

Unfortunately, much of the rest of the material does not. The decent “Strike,” “Blaze Of Glory,” and “Conviction” are executed well enough, but fail to move beyond the shadow of the early works that characterized the band’s sound. So does “And There Was Silence,” a swift tune in the standard vein of “Exciter” and a handful of tracks on each previous Primal Fear album, which on “Unbreakable” seems to have exhausted the formula. The catchy verses of the mid-tempo title track are severely dampened by its grating, repetitive chorus. And so on. These songs are not poor by any stretch of the imagination, but they offer very little to set themselves apart from past material, much less attain the heights of the aforementioned gems peppered among them.

“Unbreakable” will be embraced by traditional and power metal fanatics, and by Primal Fear’s most loyal devotees – as well it should be. It’s a handsomely produced, solid listen, and will surely yield several future classics in their live set. But sadly, from this fan’s perspective, it falls narrowly short of a general recommendation, because aside from its highest moments, it’s simply Primal Fear being Primal Fear. And in 2012, thanks to the legions of dull power metal clones crowding the market, that may not be enough.

Highs: "Give 'Em Hell," "Bad Guys Wear Black," "Born Again"

Lows: "And There Was Silence," "Unbreakable (Part 2)," "Blaze Of Glory"

Bottom line: Influential German power metallers doing what they do, but failing to pole-vault ahead of their copycats.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)