Scheepers – s/t (2011, Frontiers Records)
- Locked In The Dungeon
- Remission Of Sin
- The Fall
- Saints Of Rock
- Before The Dawn
- Back On Track
- The Pain Of The Accused
- Play With Fire
Ralf Scheepers – Lead Vocals
Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens – Vocals on ‘Remission Of Sin’
Mat Sinner – Bass & Keyboards
Snowy Shaw – Drums
Sander Gommans – Guitars
‘Metal’ Mike Chlasciak – Guitars
Magnus Karlsson – Guitars & Keyboards
Alex Beyrodt – Guitars
Victor Smolski – Guitars
Kai Hansen – Guitars
Producers: Mat Sinner & Ralf Scheepers
Total Time = 52:39
Current Primal Fear lead singer Ralf Scheepers has been talking about making a solo album for a few years now and, with Primal Fear taking some time off, the time has come for him to release his solo debut titled SCHEEPERS. Those that are unfamiliar with Ralf Scheepers outside of Primal Fear should definitely look into his early work fronting Tyran Pace and Gamma Ray and also remember that he was one of the finalists in the auditions to replace Rob Halford in Judas Priest in the mid-’90s. It’s easy to hear that Ralf has one of the most powerful voices in Metal and can easily hold his own against the master Rob Halford and the prodigy Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens. Actually, Ralf sounds more like Halford than Ripper does and even than Halford himself does!
So what does a solo album from Ralf Scheepers sound like? Basically, this album is a continuation of Primal Fear…..the songwriting and music sound exactly like Primal Fear. Of course, Ralf is the most identifiable part of the sound, as most singers are, so the instant connection is made between the solo work and the band work. There is also plenty of involvement from his Primal Fear and former bandmates: Mat Sinner co-writes, produces and plays bass and keyboards, Magnus Karlsson adds in guitars and keyboards and also co-writes, Kai Hansen adds his guitar and current Halford guitarist Metal Mike Chlasciak and former Priest singer Tim Owens also make appearances. So it sounds like Primal Fear, Judas Priest and Halford…..exactly the sound that Ralf has cultivated for years (I still have no idea how he didn’t get the Priest gig!).
Supposedly, this album was written over the last few years that Primal Fear was promoting their last few records but the material didn’t fit the bands current direction. Primal Fear has started to expand their sound over the last few records and SCHEEPERS harkens back to the days of the debut Primal Fear album and JAWS OF DEATH…..there’s a ferocity and bite to most of the songs and the album is a straight forward Power Metal recording that sounds like a hungrier and younger Priest. Songs like ‘Locked In The Dungeon’, ‘Cyber Freak’, ’Back On Track’ and ‘Play With Fire’ are blistering Power Metal feasts that could easily fit onto an early Primal Fear album while songs like ’The Fall’, ‘Doomsday’ and ‘Compassion’ have a more contemporary Primal Fear sound as heard on albums like NEW RELIGION (2007) and 16:6 (BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD) (2009). There is a lot of Judas Priest worship on SCHEEPERS, no surprise because Ralf is compared to Rob (and Primal Fear to Priest), and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because Judas Priest is an iconic Metal band worth emulating. You can hear the Priest-isms in the guitar tones of the ‘Painkiller’ tinged ‘Locked In The Dungeon’ from Metal Mike Chlasciak (Halford band) and the the vocal duel between Scheepers and Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens on ‘Remission of Sin’, one of my favorite tracks that reminds me of the duet between Rob Halford and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson on ‘The One You Love To Hate’ from Halford’s RESURRECTION (2000) album. It’s extremely interesting to hear the logical replacement for Rob Halford to my ears (Scheepers) sing a song with the former heir apparent (Owens) that is extremely powerful…..at times I lose track of who is singing because they are so similar but after repeated listens you can hear both doing their best Halford while injecting their own unique vocal abilities.
Another couple of Priest styled offerings are the ultra-catchy ‘Saints Of Rock’, this album’s metal anthem, the epic power ballad ‘The Pain Of The Accused’ that reminds me of ’70s Priest like ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’ and ‘Dynasty’, a song that sounds more like Halford solo. Listen for the high pitch vocals on ‘Dynasty’ for a great comparison of Ralf’s dynamic vocal range and I defy anyone not to sing along to ‘Saints Of Rock’ because the chorus just digs deep in and has that big arena rock sound. The title is a little bit cliché and reminds me of something Saxon would have on one of their albums but the songs is really good and I like that “hammer” effect and the thumping bass line from Mat Sinner. My second favorite song on the album is ‘The Pain Of The Accused’, a very moody and emotional track that starts out as an acoustic ballad but moves into a mid-tempo metallic wall of sound. I like the use of both the acoustics and the heaviness because the song could be done fully in either direction and it’s as catchy and melodic as ‘Saints Of Rock’ around the chorus. What’s also striking is Ralf’s range on this song from the lower register to the higher, if there’s any doubt that Scheepers is more than a Halford clone, that doubt is squashed here. I could do without the spoken word part of the song but it’s quick and doesn’t take away too much from the overall presentation. The inclusion of a cover of the Priest classic ‘Before The Dawn’ is an obvious move to kind of keep that infamous connection/influence in our faces. Usually I immeadiately disregard any cover on an album of originals a throwaway track because I’d rather have an original song but I have to admit that Ralf does a great job keeping this as close to the original as possible and the lead guitars from Rage’s Victor Smolski are dead on to that of Priest’s duo of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing.
I’ve been playing this album a lot in the last few months and it hasn’t disappointed yet. Power Metal gets a bad rep most times in the Metal community because of it’s subject matter, it’s imagery or it’s bombast but, when it’s done right, it can be some of the best Heavy Metal out there. If you look at the roots of Power Metal it’s basically just Traditional Metal or regular Heavy Metal formed by the legends Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and their contemporaries and Primal Fear is at the forefront of keeping that style alive and their success has given their singer the opportunity to release his forst solo album. SCHEEPERS is more than just a solo album, it’s a continuation…..a continuation of a career rooted in traditional Heavy Metal. Sure, Ralf Scheepers sounds a lot like Rob Halford, and the comparisons will always be there, but he has become one of the top vocal talents in Metal today and he contributes to Primal Fear’s writing. It’s no wonder that his first solo album is going to sound a lot like his main band’s catalog. Personally, I can’t find a weak song on the album and I can’t even consider the cover of ‘Before The Dawn’ a throwaway because it’s done so perfectly. All in all, I’d have to give Ralf and his guest musicians a ton of credit for making one of the best Power Metal albums of 2011.
‘Remission Of Sin’, ‘Cyberfreak’, ‘The Fall’, ‘Saints Of Rock’, ‘The Pain Of The Accused’ and an honorable mention of the cover of Judas Priest’s ‘Before The Dawn’.