(On July 24th — tomorrow — Nuclear Blast will release Metal Commando, the new 13th album by the German power metal band Primal Fear, and in anticipation of the release DJ Jet interviewed the band’s co-founder and frontman Ralf Scheepers — which we now present.)
Hi Ralf this is Jet of No Clean Singing how are you doing today?
-I’m good, thanks how are you? Thanks for having me here.
So Ralf you started Primal Fear back in 1997 — what were the early days like for the band?
-Feeling very fresh haha. So the early days were somehow like being very excited about doing something new, and as we came from different bands, like Sinner existed of course and I came from Gamma Ray, so for me it was just an initial start point to somehow continue my career with a new band. That was just amazing for me. So yeah it felt really good to write music again, to write heavy metal again the way we love it, it’s just great.
What were some of your first tours?
-Ahh the very first tour was with Running Wild. We didn’t have such a long set list as we had just some songs together for the first album, so we had to do some cover songs in the beginning of course, from our old bands like Gamma Ray and Sinner and we did Priest as well. But later we of course had our own set list and that was great. It was really amazing to go on tour again with the guys .
You got signed to a record label pretty quick, how did that come about?
The Japanese company JVC back in the days was still waiting for material from my side because they always said after Gamma Ray “we want to continue working with you Ralf”, and so that’s what I did. I sent in the demo. We recorded the 4 track demo and I sent it to them and they said, wow great let’s do an album, and then it started. Also in Europe it started to be some kind of competition for getting us, different record labels heard that I was joining forces with Mat and Tom and that was a really initial shot for other companies to get us, and that was a good thing. That was a good point for us and a good situation because we could pick in the end the best company, which we did.
Nuclear Blast was somehow really convincing in getting us as I said, not only money-wise but also in terms of having arguments and good key points to support us in the best way. We thought that was just an amazing point to start from, and that’s what we did. So in the end it was just a really good thing that happened to us. Of course after a period of time we worked together with them, not only the bosses of Nuclear Blast but it’s also sometimes the team you work with. We had the feeling that somehow the work could be a little better. Not at the beginning, it was just years later, like a decade later, and so many things were going on also in the music scene and the genres — many things happened that changed music style-wise, you know? So that’s why the team also changed a little bit at Nuclear Blast, and we had the feeling to change record labels back in the days. We just needed some fresh air and new wind in the house of Primal Fear.
It helped us a lot that we changed to Frontiers because these guys also really wanted to have us, which is great, it is always great when people want to have you, and the same thing happened again then. So we were 10 years with Frontiers and we heard that the team had changed again at Nuclear Blast, which is 30 km away from our homes and we just needed to drive there. There were no negotiations or telephones or whatever, so we said let’s join forces again with our friends at Nuclear Blast, because Markus Staiger the boss and also Markus Wosgien, the guy who’s working for us as A&R, is a close friend of ours and also a metal maniac in a positive way, and that’s the reason why we came back now to Nuclear Blast. As you can see, the package, the marketing, the cd, the digi-box, the vinyl, and everything they do for us is amazing for the fans and also for us.
In these two decades of travels and tours and writing and recording what were some of your highest highs and lowest lows?
-Well the highest highs are always to stand on stage, at like Wacken for instance or touring South America. North America touring is something different. I’m the guy who likes doing festivals more because as a vocalist, you know, with the one-show or two-show weekend, you can perform and then can go home again. But on tour you sing it like 3 months in a row, it’s what you do as a vocalist, and you got to find your rest and you can’t party with the guys — but hey, it’s great and I’m really grateful, so I’m so happy. So the highest high, as I said, is standing on the huge stages, and the lowest low of course is having those fights in the bands, and of course with this pandemic this is a huge bummer not getting to play live. That’s not any good.
And how would you say the band has progressed over the years, and how have you yourself progressed over the years with Primal Fear?
-We have learned a lot not only in touring but also in terms of recording ourselves. Everybody has his home studio and everybody was really working hard to get his own great sound he likes the most. Now I can only speak for myself, but I learned a lot to produce and record my vocals on my own, which is just really great because I can take the time whenever I want to sing wherever I feel like singing.
In the early days we rented a studio for three weeks and we recorded everything in that period of time. I mean, there was drums, bass, guitar solos, and my vocals in three weeks, so there were sometimes only six or seven days left for me to sing the entire album, which sometimes turns out to be a little too stressful for me, and now I can really sing like in three or four months the entire album, and that’s really good for me. I’m so critical of my own work, so I wouldn’t ever release anything which I don’t like. I don’t want to say that we did that in the past, but in the past it was more of a compromise. The guys would be, hey it’s great let’s leave it on let’s continue, and I’m not like that now. I’m just releasing things I like to hear and what I’m satisfied with, so that’s the main difference. And that’s how we also progress, everybody in his own instrument and recording-wise.
Well here we are in 2020, and you are about to release your new album Metal Commando, and this pandemic strikes. How did this affect the band as well as your plans in releasing the new album?
-Fortunately it did not somehow harm any recordings or lyrically, we did not write anything about pandemic shit, but it affected the photo shooting. We couldn’t come together to make it happen as we all had to stay at home. So a guy just did it on a computer. Later it was somehow loosening up a little bit to shoot the video, but Magnus could not fly from Sweden so we we did a five-piece video for “I Am Alive”, and that was also a bummer, but we had to do it because we wanted to offer the fans a good package no matter what. So that’s how the pandemic somehow affected everything. But later there was a great photo-shoot when when we did the video, so we’re all satisfied.
So Ralf how did the band approach this album musically?
-Well I mean we had a great album before in Apocalypse, but it didn’t somehow put us under any pressure, like “Oh my god we have to top it”, because we are really relaxed. We are five writers. We have a lot of songs to choose from and that was the case also right now, so we were really happy to have this great variety on the album again. I mean once again if we were not pleased with what we heard we would never have released it. So we’re really happy about it, and we are also really happy with the first press reaction, which overall was very very very positive and that’s making us very happy. So we can’t wait to release it for the fans to hear it in the end.
Do you write all the lyrics? How did you approach this album lyrically and where did you grab your inspiration from for this album?
-No, we share. Mat and I we share the lyrics and also the melodies singing-wise on the album, Magnus sometimes too also. We keep it pretty much open. I mean we collect personal experiences, also sometimes add some story to it, also sometimes science fiction, so whatever comes into our minds we write down. So there’s’ no concept album this time, this time it’s really open every song and it becomes a closed chapter. So that’s so how we proceeded this time, and like I said we sometimes invent stories and sometimes we just write about our lives.
Did you face any challenges in making this album?
-I guess there’s always a challenge because you want to give your best always, you know you always want to somehow improve every album you record — that’s somehow in our nature. We always want to somehow release the best we can.
In track #7, the ballad, did you write the lyrics for that one?
Is this ballad based on something personal for him?
-Yes, I mean I’ve known Mat for many years, so of course I’m the vocalist and I deliver the story and also put my passion in, but I’m not just singing something from the sheet. I know what’s going on and I put my feelings into it, and yes there was something going on personal-wise, yep.
What did you want the album to relay?
We are just really happy when the fans are pleased in the end. but on the other hand you can’t please everybody. There’s always somebody bitching about something, but hey we have our style. I’m really happy that we have our mid-tempo songs, we have our up-tempo songs with melodies in it, we have ballads like you just said. We have the long trek “Infinity” which is lasting 30 minutes — we’re not approaching to write songs that have to be 2 or 3 minutes long. This one just came out of the writing process, and it was 30 minutes in the end. And if you listen to it you don’t think, wow it’s already 30 minutes, because it’s always interesting what’s going on in the song. So yeah, I can just refer to the variety of it again, I repeat myself that I’m really happy with the variety we have this time .
What can you tell us about the album art and what you wished for it to depict?
-Yeah it’s a bit different now with the skull and still the wings of the eagle behind. Everybody was somehow shocked, asking why is the eagle gone. We still have the wings and we somehow alway express ourselves as the skull is something evil, so its a little more dark this time and the wings of the eagle are still the signs of liberty and power..
So there’s no conspiracy about not having the whole eagle on there this time?
Lots of groove and fast heavy parts. What did you think of the final product when you got to finish it and hear it for the first time?
-Well it’s the final product of course you hear the first time as a final result, but you’ve heard it so many days, weeks, and months before. Because you know that me as a singer, I hear everything already from the very beginning. I’ve known the material for a year, but I’m really happy about the outcome right now. I’m very happy about how we mixed it in Denmark together with Jacob, Mat, and me, and it is very very satisfying to release a product which will be pleasing to the fans, which I am 100% convinced they are going to like. Whoever is into Primal Fear, you’re gonna love this new one, Metal Commando, so I am really really happy.
So last year you added drummer Michael Ehré of your old band Gamma Ray. How did that come about and how is he fitting in with the band?
-As our last drummer quit of course, we somehow had to find a solution, so we invited some drummers to our rehearsing Studio. We were rehearsing for one week and had a different drummer every day. In the end it was a democratic decision, and it’s good that way if everyone has the same opinion, and Michael really kicked our butts. He was just really amazing and he was so convincing that he was the guy, not only drumming-wise also personality-wise. Not saying the other guys sucked, but it was just a perfect match for Primal Fear. I mean you can hear it on the album. He was really doing a great job with Mat producing and drumming the drums in Denmark together with Jacob, and they had a great time and Michael was just rolling like a machine!
And after two decades your voice is still sounding great. How do you keep your voice intact so that you are still able to hit those incredibly high notes?
-I’m really happy and blessed that nature gave me a good gift and I keep my voice in good shape in doing my maintenance. I do the same thing as I teach my students, because I’m a vocal teacher. So I’m doing the maintenance stuff which is very very important to keep the muscle and the tissue in shape. Your voice is also a muscle so you have to really train it and you have to keep it in shape and that’s what I do. I mean never say never, because you know I feel the changes — I have to warm up a little bit more, but that’s also natural.
And as far as what is going on for the rest of this year, does the band have anything lined up? Or in 2021?
-Geeze there’s so many things for next year . They’re closing everything down here for this year. They say there’s no new gatherings until November so you can really tell it’s not happening this year. Our tour management is now really preparing everything for 2021, which every band is now filling up. So there will be a lot of band traffic then, but anyways yes we are positive. We would have come back like right now from the States, so we will do the same thing we were going to do, that same thing that was planned with Symphony X but now next year in May, and we are looking forward to that one. And the European tour is being rescheduled as well. Like I said, the tour management is working on it right now. Same thing with South America, Japan, all the summer festivals are canceled. We know what’s going on is a bummer but we have to go through it and we have to stick together and then we will make it!!
Ralf thank you for taking the time to talk with us today and we wish you and the band all the best
-Thank you so much for having me, talk to you again.
PRE-ORDER METAL COMMANDO: