The Germans are known for producing high quality products, from electric tools to cars and flying machines – and anything that’s metal-made, including the kind that are qualified by the dense combination of guitar and drum, the scintillating and driving riffs, the emphatic rhythm and beats, and some of the highest vocal range ever to soar in the musical stratosphere.
One such product is Primal Fear, a metal powerhouse formed over twenty years ago, and led by the lead vocalist Ralf Scheepers who sings with one of the highest pitched voices. The single Along Comes The Devil from their thirteenth studio album Metal Commando is a prime example of a track filled with the band’s DNA. From verse one, Scheepers’ vocals is earth shattering and tenor-esq, reminiscent of Robert Plant in some of Led Zeppelin’s iconic tracks, superimposed over the superlative sonics that defines classic power metal.
Metal Commando (released on 24 July) is touted to rise above the imperious stance of Apocalypse – the previous album, smitten with critical acclaim. One of the reasons being that this album is perhaps the most eclectic among the discography since their self-titled album of 1998, from the acoustic ballad, “I Will Be Gone” to a thirteen minute epic “Infinity” to the first release of the album – a track that cast their fortitude, as legendary guitarist Tom Naumann explains the “devil” behind the lyrics to Sheldon Ang.
Tom: Sorry about earlier man. I was told to call you between 10am and 12am…so I hope you don’t mind if we can have a chat now?
Sheldon: Of course, my friend! Sorry I couldn’t take the call earlier, as I was still in the train (one hour ahead of schedule). Anyhow, guten morgan Tom. Where are you?
Tom: It’s 11:00, so morning is almost over (chuckles). And I’m in Stuttgart, where all the Mercedes and Porches are made.
Sheldon: And because you are a rock star, I assumed you have a few Mercedes and Porches in your garage?
Tom: No, I don’t have one, but my mum has one. And I don’t like Porsche. I’m not a big fan of those huge or fast cars, and even if I have shitloads of money, I would still buy a regular car. I don’t know much about cars. All I know is where the brakes are and where the gas is (chuckles).
Sheldon: (Chuckles). Anyhow, congratulations on your latest album Metal Commando, and according to Ralf Scheepers, it is the best album yet.
Tom: Well, as Mat (Sinner, bass and backing vocals) it is heavier, it is faster, it is darker…and we’ve improved ourselves in a lot of ideas. We wrote a lot of good songs and we were really happy about the output; we have a fast song. And we have an acoustic guitar on it, we have an epic track with Infinity that goes for thirteen minutes. So I think we got everything on this album.
Sheldon: Was it a conscious decision to make it louder, darker, faster?
Tom: You know, when you are on your couch or on your terrace and then you pick up your guitar and you play something…and then you said to yourself, “Well that’s a nice idea, I think I should record it,” and I would record on my mobile phone and after a couple of days or weeks, I would pick up the idea and start working on it, and this small idea develops into a metal monster. And so you don’t start thinking about you have to be heavier or groovier…or faster.
Sheldon: So you write the music before the lyrics…
Tom: Most of the time…for me personally. I wrote and came up with four or five ideas. So I gave it to Mat and Ralf, and often there’s melodies and I write the lyrics together so that’s my way of writing songs. And I’m not the best singer so I get some melody ideas as well often. But I cannot sing to Ralf because he would laugh at me (chuckles).
Sheldon: No one can mate, no one can.
Tom: (Chuckles) He’s one of the best singers and that’s why when I came along, I sound like “nye nyeh nyeh nyeh (in a high pitch)” to him. Personally, I will start the music because I’m the guitar player, and I may have a riff in mind. For me I would need to have a good metal riff, a good hook line to sing, and then the rest will come later
Sheldon: How many songs were in the draft for the album?
Tom: We ended up writing thirty songs and then we record fifteen songs, and that is where Commando Metal is right now
Sheldon: Can we talk about my favourite song from the album, Along Came the Devil?
Tom: Why is it your favorite song?
Sheldon: Well it is fast, catchy, mad riffs, hooks, Ralf’s vocals…and is mysterious – I mean who is this devil in the song?
Tom: Well the fun part is you like it. I expected a different song. I think the song Along Came the Devil is about a time in our history. Because we have existed for twenty-three years, where we have experienced a lot of stuff. I think Ralf wrote the lyrics.
We started as a metal band and that’s what it is all about. We had a lot bad experience and with the chorus Along Came the Devil – I won’t tell you who it is about, but I’m pretty sure it is about a “special” person in the music business. And that’s what the song is all about. And we started as the regular heavy metal band, we formed our first band and in the twenty-three years, not everything is happy. And there’s some bad blood in our history and this one person was trying to bring us down a little bit for a couple of years – and this lyrics is about this little guy.
Sheldon: I knew it! So how do you maintain the DNA of the band yet creating something fresh after all these years?
Tom: Ralf and Matt are the main guys. We got the band together, and I start writing and I also got my influences in the band as well including the new album which I wrote together with the guys. So I got my DNA in it as well but if you compare the rest of the albums we always try to improve ourselves in writing styles and in getting better.
The writing of the album is very special because you are being influenced by special moments or surroundings and then you write another album in a different time and you’re being influenced by the things of that time. Maybe is a positive influence or maybe it’s negative influence. And if you listen to the album, it sounds fresh and it’s not like, “oh it’s some old German guys”. I think we are still rocking and kicking ass (chuckles).
Sheldon: Seems you guys are kicking ass! To me this album is fresh. It reminds me of when Jurgen Klinsmann took over the German football team as a coach, and suddenly everything was faster and more dynamic with the average player’s age is twenty-four years. Then they went on to defeat Argentina under Maradona four-nil.
Tom: Ah yah, and I remember when we were going for Klinsmann, and everyone was asking, “Why Klinsmann, he’s not a coach,” and then suddenly he started to check everything and changed everything, and they got better. I remember 2002-2003 the team was really horrible, but then when Klinsmann came, he changed the tactics in everything, and it was like while everything was different and it was really fun to watch the German football team play. We did well in the European Championship and the World Cup and we won in Brazil (in 2014 under Joachim Low), because we were really good and I’m really happy with the German Tim these days.
Sheldon: For me the most memorable was when Argentina, with Maradona played against Germany in the World Cup final of ‘86.
Tom: Yeah! But we lost.
Sheldon: (Chuckles) We spoke about Ralf Scheepers’ vocals and reminds me of the high-octane version of Brian Johnson of AC/DC.
Tom: I know Ralf for over twenty years, he’s really cool, and I really appreciate his singing because and the older you get the flatter you sing. But not him. He has a studio and he has time to do it and he puts a lot into his singing. He’s like fifty-five, and he’s so amazing that he gets into the high notes.
Sheldon: It must be really useful to have someone like Ralf.
Tom: It is always good to have a singer with an amazing range and so you can write every key, and so it is really cool as you can write anything you want.
Sheldon: Speaking of high notes, you play in an AC/DC tribute band, yeah?
Tom: Yes, and every time I play in the band the singer said, “it is so fucking high.” Bon Scott was in the middle range I guess, and Brian sings so high.
Sheldon: Bon Scott was from my town. His statue is here in Fremantle. In fact, the whole city closed the highway for a Bon Scott tribute this year in March.
Tom: Wow! And have you seen Bon Scott live before?
Sheldon: Nah, he died before I came to Australia. I have seen AC/DC with Brian Johnson though. He’s still the “new guy”.
Tom: When I do my tribute band, we sing eighteen songs of Bon Scott out of twenty two, maybe twenty three songs of AC/DC. He has so many fucking good songs. He was alive between ‘74 and ‘80 right, and every year there was one album with so many good songs, Dirty Deeds, whatever.
That’s why you hear so many good songs from Bon Scott era. I think what was achieved with Bon Scott in his era is more than what was achieved with Brian in thirty years. Now you have to wait eight years for another album…and there’s only one good song per album. When Bon Scott was alive, they brought out an album every year and every one is a classic.
Sheldon: And what do you think of Axl Rose as the lead singer of AC/DC?
Tom: No (Chuckles). I was never a Guns N’ Roses fan. So never an Axl Rose fan but he can sing, but not as AC/DC. Definitely Bon Scott, maybe Brian Johnson but definitely not Axl.
Sheldon: And the band have been to all of the world…so what’s secret of being successful and maintain relevance.
Tom: We know each other for a long time. We are family and friends. We talk about families and not just about business and music. We often go out for a couple of beers and to be successful you have to be truthful to yourself and have fun doing it. And not to do it and if you just do it for money, and not having fun you’ll be off the radar very soon. And we love what we do.
We are happy to use the opportunity to play worldwide. I mean normally we wouldn’t have the opportunity to stand in front of the Opera House. And we stood there, and we were like, “wow”, and still getting paid (chuckles). Even standing next to Jesus at Rio de Janeiro and all the stuff…is really fucking amazing. But you really have to work hard to stay there. All you need is two bad records and it’s over.
Sheldon: When will you come to Perth?
Tom: It is about the local promoters. Normally we go to Australia we want to play in more to shows because it is so far away. We’d love to play over the world. If there’s someome interested in Perth, I’m sure we’d be there, wink wink.
Sheldon: Let’s go and have an Aussie beer when you’re here.
Tom: Sure, but Australia beer is like making love in a canoe.
Tom: Because it is fucking close to water (chuckles).
Sheldon: (Chuckles) That’s classic shit mate. See you when you get here, Tom.
Tom: Will do, Sheldon!
“What was heavy is heavier, what was epic is even more epic, what was fast is faster and what was dark is darker.”
Sit down and get your notebook ready for a quick lesson in serpents – when a snake’s skin gets too tight, the creature sheds it. The same snake emerges beneath however now rejuvenated, bigger and ultimately more powerful.
This process could also be used to describe Germany’s most reliable heavy metal export, PRIMAL FEAR, on their crushing new record “Metal Commando”. The band have cast their old skin to reveal the same relentless unit underneath, however now showcasing their new growth in many directions. Let’s let founding member and mastermind Mat Sinner explain the very essence of their 13th album:
“What was heavy is heavier, what was epic is even more epic, what was fast is faster and what was dark is darker.”
One thing becomes instantly apparent, even without reptilian allegories: “Metal Commando” is yet another level in the life and times of these soaring metal eagles. PRIMAL FEAR delivered a jolt to German heavy metal as early as 1998 with their eponymous, ferocious debut, fortifying their well-earned status with a following onslaught of rapid successors. They have now achieved a rebirth of epic proportions, even outperforming their viciously strong last release “Apocalypse” (2018), an album that deservedly yielded their highest-ever chart entries in the USA, Germany, Canada, Japan and Switzerland.
Those who hailed Primal Fear before will surely kneel before “Metal Commando”, and those who aren’t already addicted to the southern German’s sound, simply now have no reason to not fall for it. The songs are too strong, the hooks too merciless, the refrains too huge – their trademark phalanx of three guitars is too insurmountable and the riffs too unerring to be resisted. “We’re simply an awesome team,” Sinner laughs. The “we” he’s talking about refers to himself on bass guitar and vocals, fierce vocalist Ralf Scheepers, guitarists TomNaumann, Alex Beyrodt and Magnus Karlsson as well as that brand-new whirlwind of a drummer, MichaelEhré.
“We are all psyched for what we do. Every single day. We were lucky to turn our hobby into our job, which makes it real easy to go to rehearsals, write and record songs and present them on tour. We can play the music we love the most.”
And he sure knows what he’s talking about: Sinner is a living heavy metal legend, someone who’s seen it all and done it all. He started his other band Sinner back in 1982 and he’s played with VOODOO CIRCLE, he’s a producer and he’s also the creative genius behind the massive Rock meets Classic tours that regularly unite some of the biggest figures and legends of classic rock and more.
“Metal plays as big a role in my life as ever. And what’s more: I’m dead serious about this music and about our songs. If we set forth to do another album we want to make sure that it’s the absolute best we’re able to deliver at that time. A record is for eternity, you can’t just undo it after it’s done. Thus, for one year, I am giving all I have to a project, trying to make it sound as fresh and hungry as I was on day one. I want it to convey the sheer mass of fun and energy we had making it.”
“Metal Commando” does that and more within every note: It’s fresh, it’s furious, it’s hungry. It’s a work that’s almost bigger than the band itself, even 22 years deep into their career. It’ also a record which sees PRIMAL FEAR return to their first label Nuclear Blast.
“Returning to our old friends was a huge motivation for us. We didn’t just want to come back with another album, we wanted to deliver something truly special. We come full circle with this.”
Where other bands would buckle under such pressure, the change of labels has helped unleashed a huge amount of sublime heavy metal for PRIMAL FEAR. Heck, we bet this seismic shock even was visible on the Richter scale! “We wrote and wrote and realised quite early on that we had a lot of good ideas going,” the album producer says. Good ideas? Oh Mat, you master of understatement! The songs are bangers as only PRIMAL FEAR anthems can be – a sound that’s long become their trademark just got a new, shiny paint job.
Highlights? Good luck choosing: Final act ‘Infinity’ maybe, the 13+ minute epic that’s not only the longest, but also certainly the most flamboyant piece of music PRIMAL FEAR have ever written.
Or perhaps ‘I am alive’, the spectacularly galloping opener. Lurking in-between is the greatest range of songs that this band has ever delivered: ‘Halo’ is a godsend for fans of their early days, ‘Along came the Devil’ is a trademark groove monster with surprisingly aggressive vocals. ‘Hear me calling’ unites atmosphere with gargantuan hooks while ‘Lost and Forgotten’ is fast, mean and downright heavy. Even faster, even heavier is the vicious ‘My name is Fear’ while the fragile ballad ‘I will be gone’ is the exact antithesis. Sinner: “That’s Ralf showcasing a peak performance.”
Ralf wasn’t the only one: “Everybody knew where we wanted to go with this,” Mat, the singer and bass player states. “We were hyped by everybody’s performance, we somehow managed to outdo ourselves!” After pre-producing this beast of an album back in July 2019, the band boss and producer took newest member MichaelEhré with him to Denmark where Sinner and Jacob Hansen (VOLBEAT) undertook the drum recordings. “I knew Michael was good. But I didn’t expect him to be THAT good!” Sinner laughs. And even after 22 years side by side, he’s still similarly in awe of Ralf Scheepers’ vocals:
“He knows what I’m capable of, and vice versa. We both want the same things, only not always in the same way. Ultimately, we both want what’s best for PRIMAL FEAR – and at that, it sure helps when you’re a singer still presiding over your full vocal power.”
That leaves us with the superbly fitting album title “Metal Commando”. Mat Sinner offers a tongue-in-cheek explanation: “Back on our very first US tour the guys over there gave us that nickname – ‘German Metal Commando’. Really, I have no idea as to where it came from or who started it all but it somehow stuck with us.” It indeed suits what’s likely the strongest record of their career so far. Just like everything else on “Metal Commando” – prepare for the onslaught.
– “Metal Commando” – Produced by Mat Sinner, mixed & mastered by Jacob Hansen at Hansen Studios add recordings at Backyard Studios, Stuntguitar Music, Fear Studio & Level 10 Music.