January 24th, 1666
PRIMAL FEAR - BLACK SUN - NUCLEAR BLAST
PRIMAL FEAR - DEVIL'S GROUND - NUCLEAR BLAST
PRIMAL FEAR - SEVEN SEALS - NUCLEAR BLAST
PRIMAL FEAR - NEW RELIGION - FRONTIERS RECORDS
In a world dominated by rap bands masquerading as metal and at a time when labels and media have banded together to misrepresent heavy music to gullible kids, it is a pleasure to come across a band like Primal Fear. The German quintet of singer Ralf Scheepers, guitarists Stefan Leibing and Henny Wolter, bassist Mat Sinner and drummer Klaus Sperling play metal that is unmistakable and true. Furthermore Primal Fear is a successful band whose career seems to be on an upswing. In this context, it was time for Ali 'The Metallian' to hear from Ralf Scheepers who called in from his home in Esslingen, Germany into Metallian Towers. The afternoon sky was dark and the clouds were themselves threatening to speak when two people talked metal, dark cover art, touring and Primal Fear's fourth and latest album Black Sun. - 02.05.2002
Ralf, thank you for taking the time to call into Metallian Towers. It is an honour to be speaking with a true metal singer.
It is an honour for me too man, no problem.
Let us discuss the current album. Black Sun begins with an opening melody that might be a lullaby. What exactly is it and why is it there?
Yes, it's supposed to be... what we call a 'Spieluhr' or a 'Kinderuhr', a children's melody of sorts and it's supposed to be very bombastic afterwards and to depict the big launch for the trip throughout the universe.
Then follow the first three songs (Black Sun, Armageddon and Lightyears From Home) which are metal explosions.
We composed twenty songs for this album and we chose the thirteen which are the strongest. It was a democratic decision, as we always do, which thirteen go on the album. We have five equal musicians, five composers and five writers in the band so for us it was important to have the strongest songs on the album. But it was difficult to choose because the seven songs which were left out are really good and maybe we will use them in the future.
Is there an EP in the wings?
No, there is no plan for one now. Maybe there will be one but we have to speak about that.
Getting into the individual songs, the title track is bound to be a crowd-pleaser. It is very anthemic and a sing-along type of a song.
Yes, I like the fast rhythms from the guitars and the drums. The melody makes for a very good combination. People go for it.
Lightyears From Home has a particular sound effect reminiscent of Judas Priest. Do you know to what I am referring?
Yes, I do. For us it was just a good effect for the middle because there is a slower rhythm going on and it is the sound of the steel wings of the eagles, which are now called The Chain Breakers. So you are hearing the sound of the wings of The Chain Breakers.
Which songs will make it into your live set?
We have a band meeting on Saturday and we will talk about the live set then. We will also rehearse for the first time for this album as we have a festival in Moscow scheduled for June 29 called Luzhniky Open Air. As you know, we now have four albums so it is getting harder to pick a set list. But, from this album, I think we will pick Lightyears From Home, Fear, maybe Armageddon and maybe Controlled.
One thing that sets Primal Fear apart from most of their colleagues is how the lineup features two singers. Beside Scheepers, Mat Sinner is a good vocalist in his own right who has released albums both with Sinner and as a solo artist. The fact has not only not been a source for conflict, but also been taken advantage of by Primal Fear.
Mat is a great vocalist and is a great help to me when we play live by singing the melodies. But he concentrates his singing for Sinner and is now collecting melodies for his new album. He will sing there of course, but we share the vocals on the song Mind Machine where we have a theme for two. It was close that we were going to have a guest vocalist but that didn't work out and Mat sang on the demo (version of Mind Machine) and it didn't sound so bad! He is a great vocalist.
There will be vocal sharing in the future too, but it is not something we talk about to make it a common thing. He sings a lot of background vocals and when we have the opportunity to do it for a particular title, and the lyrics make sense, we'll do it.
Staying with the subject of vocals, I put it to Scheepers that his vocals are as strong, if not stronger than ever. He is gracious and rather modest.
People have mentioned that to me. All I can say is that we have been touring during the last years and done many festivals too. This is a good rehearsal for the voice, if you sing a lot. I also concentrate on the lyrics. (It determines) how I sing and how I express it. There is a lot of aggressive stuff and so I go for it. When I am standing behind the microphone I give everything I can give so perhaps that's the reason.
How difficult it is to suit your vocals to a concept when you are trying to match the tone of the voice with a storyline?
Sometimes it is difficult. You may have to find the right key or the right statement. Also a German person has to find the right pronunciation (laughs). That, sometimes, is pretty hard. But you are learning over the years. I learnt a lot with (my previous bands) Tyran Pace and Gamma Ray. Nowadays I just go there and open my mouth.
On a side note, a young Ralf Scheepers also played guitars in a school band called Voltage. Speaking of your previous acts, you were the singer for Gamma Ray and your departure was not on very friendly terms. Are you still in contact with Gamma Ray main man Kai Hansen and what is the nature of your relationship with him?
We have a very good relationship (actually). When he is playing down here (Southern Germany) I go to the concert and when we are in Hamburg (where Hansen lives) we are calling each other and meeting up. The relationship is still very good. There is no reason to fight or to argue about anything because my time in Gamma Ray was really good. I collected lots of experience with them. It was great to go unto the international scene with Gamma Ray... it was great.
Elsewhere one thing that hit me with your new album is the science fiction concept. Ralf, will you elaborate on that? Additionally, given bands like Scanner, Iron Savior, Gamma Ray or Helloween's Future World, is science fiction in metal becoming a German motif?
To answer your second question, I was just about to say that the universe is big enough for many bands. I think everybody is touched by science fiction. We've grown up with Star Trek. I am very interested in astronomy. I have a telescope and look into the sky when it's clear.
It was an idea from Mat to call the album Black Sun. Then it became obvious that we'll use themes from the universe and we started an adventure from a wrecked earth where people can't live with each other anymore. They are fighting among each other. The eagles are searching for the planet Black Sun for mankind to go and live. On this trip in the universe there is a lot of adventure going on. The album is a description of these adventures. The eagles are a sort of combining of humans and space ships. They act as a natural and biological combination.
So the eagles have nothing to do with the German national symbol?
Not at all. We just used them. The first time we saw the eagles was when Stefan, who is our designer, used it for the first cover (self-titled debut of 1998) and what he did was very beautiful and very metallic. For us it is a good statement for heavy metal. It is an statement for liberty, aggression and power and totally fits to a heavy metal band.
Another thing I noted is that in contrast to the album title which is Black Sun, the cover art depicts not a star but a planet.
Absolutely right, you are well informed man! The thing is, as I said, in the story we are looking for another planet for mankind and actually you can't live on a sun because it's too hot. The name of this planet is actually Black Sun. (It is symbolic for) the new light of life.
OK, I understand. That explains the inconsistency. Let's talk a little about your Judas Priest influences. It is not something that you've hidden. Would you consider Black Sun, with its true metal credentials and given the output of Judas Priest these days, the revenge of Ralf Scheepers for auditioning for Judas Priest and not getting the position?
There is a hole in your question. I never auditioned for Priest because they never invited me! I had so many promises from Jayne Andrews (from the Judas Priest camp) who made promises, called and wrote me. I also contacted her each and every month for two and a half years and was bugging her. But the thing is she gave me hope but nothing happened. Later a letter came that they found the man they want which was very disappointing for me. But now I am very happy that I can make the music I want with my friends. They are close friends and live almost next door to me. I don't want to change things. Furthermore, I don't know if I would have had any influence in Priest's music because nowadays Downing and Tipton write all the music and (Judas Priest) singer Tim Owen doesn't write songs.
As for the Priest influences, they have gone like a red line through my whole career. I can't deny that I have grown up on the eighties metal bands like Priest, Accept, Saxon and so on. When I open my mouth a sound similar to Rob Halford may come out, but it's a great honour because he's not a bad vocalist (laughs). Yet it is not intentional because Primal Fear has five individuals and writers who come from different backgrounds. Stefan comes from the Bay Area thrash corner, Henny comes from rock and metal and Mat comes from the Thin Lizzy type of stuff. So we are not leaning too much on Judas Priest. If you listen to songs like Armageddon or Fear, you really can't compare them to Judas Priest anymore.
Ralf, let's look at the bigger metal picture. How do you see the metal scene now. I note that you are on the German charts!
Well, the chart thing proves that the scene is very healthy. There are many bands out there and the competition is very fierce. It is an honour to be on the charts. We are at position #25 of the Trend Charts. The real charts will be out next week where I hope we will be above position 50. Hopefully we can reach the same success in different countries. We live for that kinda thing right now.
The size of the scene seems to be constant over the years. There are many good bands coming up though like Edguy.
What will it take to recapture the success of the eighties for heavy metal? Does Primal fear have a chance at becoming a new Scorpions or Iron Maiden?
Perhaps all it takes is honesty. When we write music we are very honest, otherwise we couldn't do it. What does it take? That's a hard question. It's hard to invent something that is new. There is no tone, sound, key or voice that hasn't been done already. So perhaps it's the compilation of the musicians who make the music. Hopefully people like our compilation and band and we'll be THE heavy metal band. Of course we realize that there are many bands out there who are very good. It's a matter of the taste of the people. We are honest and love our music. For us, there is no reason to change anything.
Talking about the scene and Primal Fear, what are your sales figures like?
We sold 100,000 copies of 2001's Nuclear Fire worldwide which is pretty OK for a heavy metal band. It's a big wish of course to exceed those numbers with Black Sun. Why not 500,000 (laughs)? It's very hard... we always have a base of very true fans who stick to heavy metal, but it is very hard to achieve the next step. We are proud of the fans and don't want to ever disappoint them. We like the stuff because we are metalheads too. But the next step is hard to achieve.
Ralf, why don't you conclude our conversation with your latest news? What are your plans in the coming months?
We are working on a set list and a live production for our tour which begins in September. We are busy creating a stage we can take to the venues. There is the Russian festival and our European tour with Rage for September and October. After that it's off to South America doing Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia - the last country for the first time. There are parallel talks of going to Japan again and of course there are festival offers for the USA. We gotta bring metal back to that country! We also would like to come to Canada. There are many fans over there, but the situation with promoters is not so lucky over there. We need to find serious promoters over there.
Primal Fear's latest album, Black Sun, is available now through the usual fine outlets. For more information please either visit the band's web site www.primalfear.de or the web site of their label www.nuclearblast.de.
It is not too often that Metallian bring you stories on albums which have yet to be released, but when Ali "The Metallian" was given the opportunity to speak with Primal Fear singer Ralf Scheepers as an exclusive in-studio report months before the album's release there was no hesitation in sight. Primal Fear's last album, Devil's Ground, was a barnstormer and well-received. Yet, with reports surfacing that the new silverling would be different in direction there was a legitimate question out there regarding the musical stylings of the Germans' next saga. Who better to question than the man at the helm then? - 19.05.2005
METALLIAN: Ralf, I appreciate your time especially given how you are in the studio. Recent reports have had Primal Fear changing styles for the new album. Can you discuss these and describe your new album?
RALF SCHEEPERS: Don't be too scared. Of course, the new album is a little different as we went into a more epic direction. The new album is more bombastic. There are more guitars, screaming vocals and fast songs so do not worry. We just have two or three songs on the album that feature string sounds. We still have our melodies, our aggression, our hook lines and we remain one-hundred percent Primal Fear. The fans should not worry. It is a step in the right direction. The album has a little more arrangement than before. That is all. If you liked Devil's Ground or Black Sun you are going to love the new one. There is no doubt about that.
METALLIAN: What is the album called and is there a story behind the title?
RALF: The album is called Seven Seals. There is also a song called Seven Seals. If you look in the Bible you will find a lot of things going on with 'seven seals.' There are many mentions of 'seven seals' in the bible alongside the Devil and hell.
METALLIAN: Is the band gravitating towards one side of the religious argument or the other i.e. Satan versus God and so forth?
RALF: Actually, on the album we didn't get too deep into religion. We took out of it what we wanted. It is difficult to be obvious when writing lyrics. We don't want to be obvious and talk too much about reality. We are more into fantasy. You shouldn't take everything in the album too seriously. We are telling a story which is like reading a book or watching a film... whatever! Not everything is real in there.
METALLIAN: Let us talk about the songs on Seven Seals.
RALF: The songs are Demons & Angels, Diablos, Higher Power, Seven Seals which is the title track, Rollercoaster, The Union, All For One, Carnivore, The Immortal Ones, Evil Spell, In Memory Of You which is a ballad and we also have A Question Of Honour which is a Sinner song that we rerecorded the drums of with Randy Black and I sang on it.
In Memory of You is a real metal ballad. So it is not just acoustic guitars, but rather it has distorted guitars and a good hook line. In my opinion, the song... it gives me goose bumps. It is dedicated to my sister who died two years ago. This one has a big arrangement and a lot of different strings. Evil Spell is a very fast song where Randy outdid himself. Rollercoaster is a typical Primal Fear song that is straightforward. It has very good riffing. The longest song on the album is Diablos which is epic and eight minutes long with a lot of strings and a spoken middle section. It is a masterpiece in my opinion. I am not sure how long the album will be, but it will be over sixty minutes for sure. Although that is not finalized because songs might end up on different versions.
METALLIAN: What is the most number of tracks you used on any one song for Seven Seals?
RALF: I think it is over 107 tracks on Diablos! Yes, it is true. We used ProTools. We have many things going on. We actually wanted to record with a live orchestra, but we did not have the time in the end. One has to really prepare for it. You have to get professional musicians, book them and give them notes to read. It did not work out in the end. We have a very good sound on the album though because we got keyboardist Mats Ulmer of the band Anyone's Daughter who did hell of a job. That is why we have so many tracks. For example. at the end of the ballad it sounds like a real violin.
METALLIAN: Are the chainbreakers making an appearance on the cover or have they been banished as part of the changes you have undertaken?
RALF: No, no they are here. The cover artwork will be very Primal Fear-ish of course. We will feature them.
METALLIAN: The band has flown to Canada. Why has the band come to Vancouver?
RALF: There is an amazing guy called Mike Fraser here who is mixing the album with us. He has worked on albums by Bryan Adams, Metallica, AC/DC and so on and he is mixing our album. He is a real professional and the outcome of his work is unbelievable. The new album has a 'hammer' sound. He is doing a great job here.
The album was recorded by Charly Bauerfiend who has worked with Helloween, Blind Guardian, Hammerfall and so on. Matt has known him for a long time and I know him from my Gamma Ray days. He is a professional. Mike Fraser praised his work. It was really nice working with Charly again. It is just that Charly just did not have the time to mix the album. He was going into a recording session with Blind Guardian. It was a matter of timing. We knew beforehand that we have to go somewhere else for the mixing session.
METALLIAN: What do you think of the city of Vancouver?
RALF: I am going to move to Canada! There is everything here. You can go skiing, you can go sailing, you can swim in the ocean and all on the same day. It is just perfect. I love downtown Vancouver. There are really nice people here. It is fucking great. It is a shame that we have to leave in two days. We were here for a total of 14 days mixing at The Warehouse Studio.
METALLIAN: Here is a question courtesy of our German correspondent, Andreas. Have you heard Judas Priest's Angel Of Retribution and what is your opinion of that album?
RALF: Of course I have heard it. This is strange though. Everyone asks me about it! I was a big Judas Priest fan of course. There is no doubt about that. I love what they are doing it. I am glad Rob Halford is back, but I have different feelings about the new album. It doesn't matter if Tim Owens did a great job because Rob was the original. The only thing I want to complain about is Angel Of Retribution's sound. Of course, there are songs that are highlights and others that are not. You know, I was a Judas Priest fan, but now I am a musician and I respect all bands. I am not a fan anymore like I was when I was a young kid. I have respect for everybody.
METALLIAN: Speaking of that, which is the best German metal band aside from Primal Fear?
RALF: Oh my God. It is pretty hard to tell. It is pretty hard to judge. You know, if I mention a name now all the other bands will think that I am an arsehole. That is pretty hard, man. I am going to say Blind Guardian, Edguy, Helloween and Gamma Ray. Now all the other bands will be upset.
METALLIAN: So, Ralf when will Seven Seals be out?
RALF: The album will be out in October. It will be available simultaneously in Europe and in North America. The date is 24th of October.
As for last words I just want to repeat that there should be no fear at all that we have changed our style. That was one question you asked at the beginning. It is not a style change at all. We have a wider range now and the fans will love that.
Singer Ralf Scheepers, guitarists Stefan Leibing and Tom Naumann, bassist Matt Sinner and Vancouver-based drummer Randy Black will hit the European festival circuit this summer before the release date for Seven Seals. A full European tour is also planned for January, 2006.