Primal Fear – 16.6 (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead) (2009, Frontiers)
- Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
- Riding The Eagle
- Six Times Dead (16.6)
- Black Rain
- Under The Radar
- No Smoke Without Fire
- Night After Night
- Smith & Wesson
- The Exorcist
- Hands Of Time
- Cry Havoc (European bonus track)
- Scream (European bonus track)
Ralf Scheeepers – Lead Vocals
Mat Sinner – Bass & Vocals
Henny Wolter – Guitars & Vocals
Magnus Karlsson – Guitars, Keyboards & Vocals
Randy Black – Drums
Producer: Mat Sinner
Total Time = 69:25
Two years ago, Primal Fear released what I thought was their career defining record, NEW RELIGION (2007). The album was their 7th studio album and the first to dive headfirst into diversifying the straightforward Power Metal sound the band had forged for ten years. The use of symphonics, orchestration and keyboards within the signature Primal Fear sound, and adding a guest vocal performance from Epica’s Simone Simons, worked extremely well to give the music a melodic edge. Now the band has released 16.6 (BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD) and my hope was that the band continued to build on the new musical direction. It’s hard to believe that NEW RELIGION was released two years ago because I’ve kept it in a monthly rotation ever since but I’ve been very excited to hear new music from the band.
There is another lineup change in the band, guitarist Magnus Karlsson (Allen/Lande, Last Tribe, Midnight Sun) replaces Stefan Liebing and adds a melodic hand to the overall sound, something the band has made a concious effort to do anyway so it’s a solid fit. Otherwise, Primal Fear is basically the same band with Ralf Scheepers clearly taking the lead role, along with founding bass player Mat Sinner. Once again Scheepers proves he is one of the premier Heavy Metal vocalists in the world, blowing away some of his more well-known peers.
The opening song ‘Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead’ is a quick intro that moves right into the crushing Metal of ‘Riding The Eagle’. I can’t stand it when bands make a song out of an instrumental intro that clocks in under a minute, why not just add it to a real song? Once the opening guitar of ‘Riding The Eagle’ hits, the guitars and drums roll in and it’s full speed ahead. Two things are immeadiately apparent: Scheepers’ vocals soar with ease and Randy Black is a monster behind the drum kit. Any doubts of Primal Fear going “soft” as they include different melodic elements to their sound are easily dashed by ‘Riding The Eagle’, this song could fit onto any of the previous seven albums. ‘Six Times Dead (16.6)’ is the title track of the record and it has been a grower for me. The song is melodic and heavy but I’ve had this idea in my head that it was subpar because of the dark Industrial sound. It’s taken repeated listens for me to enjoy this song because I couldn’t get past the chorus but now it’s one of the better songs on the album.
‘Black Rain’ is an atmospheric and melodic song that sounds a lot like some of the tracks on NEW RELIGION. The song relies on the melody and the harmonized vocals and I hear some experimental Middle Eastern sounds as well as some female background vocals. Definitely a cool track that hooks you in and gets you singing along, the whole album does that! The pace picks up again with ‘Under The Radar’ for another Power Metal song with a melodic chorus and superb vocals from Scheepers. I’m going to assume that the opening guitar solo in ‘5.0/Torn’ is the 5.0 part. The proper song starts out with a quick bass intro and moves into another melodic metal song that actually slows to a mid-tempo groove around the chorus. Another thing to notice is that the keyboards are a little more prominent but not overbearing. ‘Soar’ moves into a more diverse area with flourishes of pure Power Metal and Melodic Rock but there is an experimental, almost Nu-Metal, instrumental smack in the middle. All I could think of was Korn but thankfully the proper song returns and all is forgotten. ‘Soar’ has a very melodic chorus that hooks you into singing and overall it’s a solid song except for that solo breakedown! Primal Fear takes a page from the Accept/U.D.O. playbook of Teutonic Metal with ‘Killbound’…..definitely heavy, definitely melodic with a buzzsaw twin guitar that is the basis of the Accept/U.D.O. sound. I wouldn’t mind Udo and the gang covering this and putting it on DOMINATOR just to hear what it would sound like!
The first ballad of the album arrives with the keyboard heavy intro of ‘No Smoke Without Fire’ and Ralf singing over a quiet piano. This is definitely part of the direction the band took on the previous record to get more melodic, the singing is definitely inspired but I almost get the feeling like Scheepers is holding back to accomodate the arrangement. The solos are very good and the keyboards are a great way to bolster the overall sound without being overbearing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the band releases this as the next single/video. ‘Night After Night’ starts out fast and heavy with more rolling drums but it sounds a lot like Judas Priest and not just because Ralf sounds like Rob Halford. More German Metal with excellent ‘Smith & Wesson’ that has similar structure to ‘Killbound’ with that Accept/U.D.O. sound. Songs like this aren’t overdone but they have serious impact with a powerful delivery. Same thing goes for ‘The Exorcist’, which borders on classic Speed Metal and Traditional Metal full of guitars and soaring vocals. What I found interesting on repeated listens of ‘The Exorcist’ is that Ralf Scheepers had a bit more grit to his voice and sounded more like Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens than Rob Halford. Sure it’s almost the same voice but you can definitely hear the differences between Ripper and Rob while Ralf arguably does both better than they do! The proper album ends with another ballad ‘Hands Of Time’. You will notice immeadiately that Ralf doesn’t do all the vocals for this song, the entire band aside from Randy Black takes a verse and joins on the chorus. Very interesting song, mellow and subdued but still very good.
Now if you went out and spent the money for the European digipak version then you got two bonus tracks (‘Cry Havoc’ and ‘Scream’) and the ‘Six Times Dead (16.6)’ video that I posted earlier in the review. ‘Cry Havoc’ is a melodic and heavy Power Metal song that falls in line with the rest of the record with some solid guitar solos thrown in. ‘Scream’ also follows the same formula of melodic Power Metal with a hook filled chorus. The only thing I don’t like about the song is the gang chorus for the song title.
I bought the European version in mid-June a couple of weeks after the release date and I’ve kept 16.6 (BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD) in regular daily rotation. At first I thought the album was going to be a grower because the bar had been previously set high with NEW RELIGION (2007) so I started to compare the two albums without enough spins of the new one. First thing I did was take NEW RELIGION out of my monthly rotation and give 16.6 fresh ears…..this album is just as good as the last one. There is still enough pure Power Metal to satisfy the traditional fans and there is plenty of melodic exploration again for the band to enhance their overall sound. Once again, Primal Fear is growing and taking the lead in the Power Metal world. NEW RELIGION made my Top 15 Albums of 2007, I’ve enjoyed this album so much that I can guarantee that it will make my Top Albums of 2009 list.
‘Riding The Eagle’, ‘Killbound’, ‘Smith & Wesson’, ‘No Smoke Without Fire’, ‘The Exorcist’, ‘Hands Of Time’