Wasn't expecting this. Primal Fear is very much a household name in the realm of power metal, and even metal as a whole. The German outfit have been releasing new music to the glory of heavy metal every couple of years ever since their self titled debut way back in Jurassic times of 1997. Their last few - Rulebreaker and Apocalypse (2016 and 2018 respectively) - were both fairly meandering, same-old same-old homages to the self and the style; nothing new and nothing inventive, just Primal Fear by the numbers with a couple of highlights tossed in for good measure. Metal Commando is not only the most ridiculous album name they could have come up with, but also their thirteenth full length. First impressions are obviously pretty important, and for Metal Commando that would be lead single Along Came the Devil, which did not inspire much faith in the final product. It’s a boring, Painkiller-ish take without passion, and little other than a great Ralf Scheepers performance going for it. Obviously, the rest of the album would be pretty much like what came before it?
And yeah, Metal Commando is Primal Fear pretty much by the numbers; business as usual as one would expect. The guys’ve been going for over 20 years now, they’re bound to become a little stale and set in their ways. However, there is a certain something in there that seems to elevate the album slightly above its predecessors. An intangible vibrancy and liveliness that just feels right. The album sets off on massive melodic guitars from Magnus Karlsson in what will become a (if not the) quintessential Primal Fear song; I Am Alive has all that fire and passion soaring melody, weight and fury in equal measure to become an instant classic. The guitar harmonies and leads complement Scheeper’s flying high notes perfectly. A few of the tracks follow in pretty much the same footsteps, and they are what make the album. The best cuts here are the melodic power metal anthems; Halo, Hear Me Calling and the like, not only because they feel the most inspired, but because Scheepers is the most at home - he owns those choruses like nobody’s business. The man was always at his best outside of his main band, but a few cuts here really show where the man belongs.
Of course the first ten songs make up the brunt of the album, and they all stretch from four to five minutes in length, making for a slightly blocky runtime. Especially following the same old standard of songwriting with little in the ways of forays into new territory or experimentation there aren’t many unexpected twists to the songwriting; though as stated the highlights show Primal Fear masterfully work that to their favor. So obviously the closing 13 minute epic Infinity is the song to make or break the album. It has some great moments, a huge epic chorus and a lengthy, instrumental closing section blending the talents of the three (…) guitarists and some well used keyboards. It’s a well crafted song, and the individual sections flow into each other perfectly, but there is a certain weight lacking; it’s not the deep monolith that We Walk Without Fear or One Night in December were. Great closer, but not the highlight intended. Aside from a few tracks that invoke the ancient power of “skip button”, Metal Commando proves a slightly bigger, better and more bountiful Primal Fear experience than the last few years would have one come to expect. Wasn’t expecting that.
Standout tracks: I Am Alive, Halo, Howl of the Banshee