Primal Fear

New Religion

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German power metal quintet Primal Fear spent years building up a smallish but devoted audience entirely based on their ability to sound like late-'80s Judas Priest. Vocalist Ralf Scheepers can deliver a pitch-perfect Rob Halford imitation, and the band (bassist Matt Sinner, drummer Randy Black, and whoever's playing guitar) deliver the riffs in spades. And for much of this album ("Sign of Fear," "Blood On Your Hands," the title track), they do what's expected of them, with maybe a little more melody than before. But there are quite a few stylistic left turns that make New Religion a controversial album among Primal Fear fans. First and foremost, there's "Every Time It Rains," a duet with Epica vocalist Simone Simons on which guitars are replaced by synth strings, and Scheepers actually sounds more like Axl Rose than Rob Halford. "Face the Emptiness" features such a heavy dose of keyboard sweetening, it could appear on the soundtrack to a Japanese animated cartoon. It's far from a total washout; Primal Fear still hold power metal close to their hearts, and there are plenty of anthemic, fist-pumping tracks here. But this shouldn't be anyone's introduction to the band.

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