Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

Primal Fear - Primal Fear
(Nuclear Blast)
Looks like a Cadillac, purrs like a Cadillac, which is no wonder, the veterans in Primal Fear constructing what is perhaps the most self-assured of these retro-'80s metal flashbacks. So Primal Fear is none other than Gamma Ray belter Ralf Scheepers and a large chunk of Sinner, a prolific German act with roots n' records back fifteen years. I'm far from the first to say it, but it's so accurate it must be repeated. This record is Priest's Painkiller Part II, Scheeper being one of the short-listed and summarily jilted parties who might have sung for the venerable Priest, now in the driver's seat of a band who sound more like vintage twin-lead JP than the original. And what these pedigreed upper echelon Teutons have here is a creamy, instantly likeable heart-racer extraordinaire, a record that steers capably down he-man metal pathways, chord structures, vocals, leads, even lyrics sounding like bit-in-the-arse Priest, mixed unavoidably with those grey, gothic melodies we've all come to expect from the Helloweens and Accepts of the world. Chainbreaker and Formula One are a bit er, formulaic, but much of the rest just sings like a symphony of why metal ruled the 80s, Sykes-spiked guitars on fire, Scheepers' Halford yelps on hell-bent overdrive, metal mission firmly pasted back to front. Includes a perfunctory cover of Purple's Speedking, which is really an 80s classic out-of-time anyway.
Rating 9

Clutch - The Elephant Riders
Big, soul-destroying break for our Virginia loonies (although Fallon has followed his girlfriend to Denver), Clutch lurching over to Sony, hoping to break the 100,000 copies curse. And aren't they just the ultimate elephant riders? Fer sure, Clutch letting up nary a notch on their slim-pickin' blues-metal throb with rickets, assembling a collection of geezer tales that betrays the fact that writing for the record took place in an old house out in the Virginia woods. So we get lots of bold nature reflecting on itself (The Dragonfly and The Yeti), mixed with hillbilly antics and Civil War memorabilia, Fallon juxtaposing all the craziness that swamps in the key of life, gun in hand, y'know, the type with the big trumpet-flared end. Musically, thank the Okie tokers, it's the same head-scratched 70s-crustified funk metal, sorta like if Parliament jammed with Sabbath on a regular blue-hazed stage, Clutch all rhythmic-like and maze-entranced, metal-crunched and mystified, taking us to rock'n'growl worlds that in Fallon's sage-like imagination, become first-borns. Luckily a step up to Jack Douglas as producer has not diminished the Clutch concept in any way, this acursed, twisted, eldritch oak growing ever so defiantly in the face of whatever the heck the industry is feeding us this morning.
Rating 9

Van Halen - 3
OK, totally different reasons why this one's as miserable and miserly as the last. Balance was just cheese of many varieties. Van Cherone is another animal however, the band giving up on composition, going for fathomless, oblique jammy things that drone on and on, interesting noises and all, Cherone himself proving a sort of histrionic versatility. But there are few actual songs, Eddie and Alex proving their spent, exhausted crankiness, a trait that two previous lead singers have blamed on drink, ego and chronic inflamation. Cherone should do fine, if he packs in those lavender flyboy moves he exhibited with Extreme. Tip: Blackmore used to just threaten to punch Joe Lynn Turner in the head, although Gary might have no problem elegantly leaping out the the way of Eddie's verbal abuse, not to mention his cane. And speaking of verbal abuse, the lyrics here are bitter, foreign, unloving, and simply out of touch with real life. In a word, nasty, even if their enigmatic quality makes one ponder. I do halfheartedly commend the band's dive into dementia and isolation however, for this is not a very commercial record, these obvious exploratory musicians quite content to jazz around in their geriatric kingdom, make fresh rhythmic skronk, and basically tickle the aural centres with noisy breaks, soloing far from obvious, and architectural ramble shambles. So like, there are few attempts at building songs which is is both musically daring and anti-social. Most every track seems like a spontaneous blooming of let's try this', which turns into unhealthy funk-up fixation and then wilful self-destruction, sorta like a soundcheck with Syd Barrett. Saving grace: the mellow tunes do this too, wigging out with exotic little licks on various even more exotic instruments while Cherone howls his lungs out. So in any event: goodbye power ballad!
Rating 7

Hard Reviews Part 2