Sound — 7
German heavy metal unit Primal Fear spawned from the ashes of ex-Gamma Ray lead vocalist Ralf Scheepers' audition for Rob Halford's then-vacant position as Judas Priest frontman in 1997 - a role which ultimately went to the equally deserving Tim "Ripper" Owens. Rather than pave the path of a replacement singer in one of the most prominent of British heavy metal bands, Scheepers would formulate Primal Fear alongside bassist Mat Sinner and go on to become readily recognized for his work with the formidable German power metal group. The early successes of "Jaws of Death" and "Nuclear Fire" demonstrated the Primal Fear chemistry, centered extensively around anthemic refrains, intense chord progressions, massive solos and a concrete backbone of percussion and bass. However the members of Primal Fear don't quite follow what their eleventh overall installment "Rulebreaker" would imply; while the title suggests a radical departure into more elaborate territory or a shift in direction and influence, Primal Fear settle back upon their winning breed of metal on a record with eleven fierce compositions.
The opening battle cry and guitars that more closely resemble sirens on "Angels of Mercy" present this very same point, although that itself is nothing to frown upon; Primal Fear have stumbled upon a sound much like bands such as Iron Maiden and AC/DC have developed overtime. Arguably not on the same level, yet resemblant in that both have (more or less) strayed close to a successful formula throughout the course of an extensive career. The following fist pumping rendition of "The End Is Near" once again reinforces this position, with Scheepers belting out glass shattering screams throughout the chorus. Though nearly impossible to perform live without the need for backing tracks or another vocalist, any self respecting heavy metal advocate will find themselves energized when met with the blend of growling mid range vocals and the assaultive screams of Scheepers, packaged alongside down tuned rhythm guitar and twin melodic arpeggios. "Bullets & Tears" and the title track "Rulebreaker" similarly center around the galloping work of guitarists Magnus Karlsson and Alex Beyrodt, who are responsible for the chugging arrangements that propel the album forward. The latter of the two, "Rulebreaker" bears a distinctive Accept-esque quality courtesy of the call-and-answer vocal and guitar work during the verse; those qualities don't dissipate during "In Metal We Trust," a song boldly highlighted by unwavering falsetto and compelling group backup vocals.
On an album that largely delivers material that fits the predefined expectations that go along with a new Primal Fear release, the most surprising by far is the nearly eleven minute epic "We Walk Without Fear," which begins with a murky atmosphere before winding out with chant-along vocal refrains and impressive winding solos. Paired alongside the adrenalized "At War With the World" and "Constant Heart," this elaborate halfway marker serves as one of the album's most memorable numbers. "The Devil in Me" breaks up the tension while retaining the strength of the preceding songs by cutting back the pace and allowing more cushion for alternating lead and rhythm playing throughout. Closest this album gets to a power ballad is "The Sky Is Burning," a song primarily centered around clean vocals and articulate picking patterns, just before Primal Fear's "Rulebreaker" is rounded out by the rambunctious "Raving Mad."
Lyrics — 8
Ralf Scheepers remains one of the most admirable lead vocalists in heavy metal, considering the versatility of his range and lyrical delivery. Scheepers has maintained the ability to nail notes across his four octave range for more than three decades as a professional singer, which plays heavily to the benefit of Primal Fear and "Rulebreaker." The album is often highlighted by Scheepers' ability to alternate between growling mid range notes with a razor edge to accelerated highs, such as during the aforementioned "The End Is Near." However, the ability is still there for the members of Primal Fear to move into a slightly more relaxed number ala "The Sky Is Burning," where cleaner vocals are introduced with enough punch to allow the end result to not deviate from the remainder of the album.
Overall Impression — 8
Primal Fear may not delve into new expansive territory with their eleventh studio album "Rulebreaker"; in fact, there aren't too many rules that appear to have been broken with the release of this album, other than that mainman Ralf Scheepers still has the ability to dominate on the main microphone and the remainder of the lineup maintain the prowess to compose memorable numbers that demonstrate full fledged heavy metal at it's most refined. Both casual metalheads and the most devoted of German heavy metal followers will be able to appreciate the spread featured throughout this installment.