After an absence of three years Primal Fear have confirmed their status as one of the premium Metal acts in the world right now with their ninth album Unbreakable. A mighty statement, the album finds the band returning to the more uncompromising, muscular direction that they first made their name with. Primal Fear singer Ralf Scheepers was positively bursting to tell Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid about what he sees as Primal Fear's strongest ever line-up and the album they have created!
Hi Ralf, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions.
Hi Steven, you're welcome, thanks for having me!
It's great to see Primal Fear back with Unbreakable, which is your first studio album for three years. The album title feels like a show of force and unity, was that the intention?
Actually this title came to our minds after a lot of personal disappointments by so called friends who were with us for a long period and tried to milk the cow as long as they could. But as it came to prove they had balls and to stand by their men, they failed miserably and turned their back on us. It is also a statement about all the difficulties with the economy and music market. All the bitching and whining about how hard it is nowadays to be a musician will never stop us doing what we do. Creating the music which we love in the first place, travelling the world with it and pleasing so many fans with it for us is a gift! We will never stop doing this, no matter what problems there will be next….Primal Fear is UNBREAKABLE! We stay on the road and follow the path that we have started down…. Period!
Due to some of the changes you've touched on there Ralf, Primal Fear have welcomed guitarist Alex Beyrodt (Voodoo Circle/Sinner) into the band, what has he brought to the unmistakable Primal Fear sound?
Alex has been playing with us live since 1999. He has always helped us out when some of our at the time permanent band member couldn't do the tours and so on. So he always was in Primal Fear somehow. When it came to look for a replacement for our ex guitarist [Henry Wolter], we didn't hesitate to ask Alex straight away. He made a great contribution with his song writing and talent for playing the guitar the way he does.
The twin guitar attack of Alex and Magnus Karlsson really has locked together seamlessly. Has that been the key to Unbreakable's tight, brash, aggressive attack?
They are both part of it and majorly responsible for the guitar attack of course! Basically you can say that the song writing is the key for the aggression on the album. Having a four member writing team - Mat, Magnus, Alex and me - sure helps a lot! [laughs!]
Well that brings me to one the strongest aspects on Unbreakable Ralf, which is you're vocals, which just seems to be getting better and better with every album you release. What do you put that down to?
Well, thanks a lot Steven! To answer your question: It's a team effort! Every musician in Primal Fear has such a long career that we can consider ourselves as well experienced. So we joined forces and put together our brains, guts and balls to create such a strong piece of music.
The band now has an incredible amount of experience and talent within its ranks, do you think that this is the strongest line up Primal Fear have had?
Yes! Simple as that! Yes! There's nothing more that needs saying!
Actually considering how many other different projects and albums that all five members of the band are involved with, how easy is it to find the time to focus on Primal Fear?
Very simple actually, it's priority number one! For all of us! So if there was ever to be anything that would affect the activities or timeline for Primal Fear duties, it would be definitely be given second place to this band.
But with so many various and varying projects, how easy is ts to come back together and lock back into the sound that makes Primal Fear such an instantly recognisable band?
We just do what we love to do and it comes natural to us… We love this kind of Heavy Metal and we've never tried to adapt to any trends. We also have a very high expectation in ourselves that our quality standards in terms of song writing and performing are always set to full scale. As I have said already, it comes naturally to us; there are always different ways how you could change a mid tempo, mellow accord theme into aggression by the vocals and vice versa.
With the last couple of Primal Fear albums you have been diversifying the band's sound. However the "mission statement" for Unbreakable is "Less experiments, more Rock!" which is certainly something that comes through strongly on the album. Why did you decide to get back to basics with this album?
We wanted to travel back in time to the years when we have started Primal Fear. Combined with our experience of playing live over the years and the constellation of the best line up we've ever had, we were determined to go and produce an album which deserves the label Heavy Metal! It was our intention to replace the keyboard and piano intros and effects with a more guitar orientated direction again. Which doesn't mean that we didn't like what we did on all the albums since Seven Seals but we just wanted to focus on being a bit more Heavy Metal again.
Was there a worry that you might have lost the essence of what makes you Primal Fear if you had kept moving away from your traditional sound?
No. Everything was meant the way it was and we still like what we did so far. You have always been able to hear that this is Primal Fear playing, no matter which path of experimentation we were at any time… Our style has always had a unique vibe.
That said though, there are also enough songs on Unbreakable that still offer little glimpses of the different sides of the band, with the classic ballad "Born Again" and the more overtly melodic "Metal Nation", which gives the album real balance. How much time and thought do you give to working out things like track order and ensuring that the tracks are balanced and varied, while still working together as a cohesive album?
That's a good question and it is indeed very important for us to provide variety on our CD's. That's also a reason why we still have some tracks left over from many sessions, because they would have just not fitted into the feel, or vibe of an album. It wouldn't make sense to record twelve tracks of double bass and up tempo beats and melodies. We really sit together and discuss this at length before deciding in a very democratic way what works best for one of our albums.
From the new album I did especially want to mention the epic nine minute track "Where Angels Die", which is a compelling song that combines styles and approaches without compromising on the aggression and power that Primal Fear are known for. Is this a direction that the band will explore more in the future?
Actually we have started to write such atmospheric and epic songs on the album Seven Seals. This time we have just wanted to replace the piano and strings effects a little bit more with guitar playing again. I am absolutely sure that we will always come up with another idea like that, but not copying anything what we have done before. There will always be progression to it.
Having Mat Sinner in the band must make it pretty simple when it comes to choosing a producer for your albums! However I'm always interested to know how the dynamic works when a band member produces the rest of his band mates. Does Mat have the final say when it comes to the individual performances and the overall sound of the album - or is it a more collaborative process than that?
It's more that he has the final say when it comes to the overall sound and some arrangements. We are all very experienced and each member has a certain view in mind how he should sound. In the end it's important how the entire product will sound and we have to bring many sounds and ideas together. Too many cooks would spoil the brew, so Mat takes care of the final decisions.
Does having someone from within the band produce the album ever cause any friction?!?
We are grown-ups…. We have very productive conversations and sometimes different opinions of course, but I think everybody can hear that we know what we are doing here and the final result is the most significant goal! The time of egos and jealousy are over in Primal Fear!
The album has been received extremely well by fans and critics alike. You must have been delighted by how positive the reaction has been?
We were absolutely overwhelmed by the reaction of the fans first and in addition by the reaction of the press. We have never achieved such high chart entries and we really would love to take the opportunity to say THANK YOU to all our fans out there!
You are once again working with Frontiers for this album. When you first teamed up with them some eyebrows were raised as they were and are known primarily as a "melodic" rock label. However since then they have gone from strength to strength and broadened their musical output. How has it been working with them?
Very good. They have never tried to interfere with our music. They focus on doing a good job for us and that as far as we are concerned is what counts. They give us a healthy background for producing our albums and that's also one of the most important points for us.
So what are the band's touring plans to support the album?
We are about to tour pretty soon. It will start at the end of March in Europe. There are also negotiations to tour North and South America again, then maybe Japan and hopefully Australia for the first time.
I really appreciate you taking the time to answer some questions Ralf, is there anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks again for having me! On behalf of the band I'd like to thank all the Metal fans out there who bought our album! We will definitely kick some ass live again! Wherever you are in the world, we hope to see you soon!
(Click here to read our reviews of Unbreakable)