Code Red

Atomic Fire
rating icon 7.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Another Hero
02. Bring That Noise
03. Deep In The Night
04. Cancel Culture
05. Play A Song
06. The World Is On Fire
07. Their Gods Have Failed
08. Steelmelter
09. Raged By Pain
10. Forever
11. Fearless

Almost exactly one quarter of a century ago, PRIMAL FEAR began their noble quest. The late '90s appeared to be a prolonged lean period for traditional heavy metal, but German metal stalwarts Mat Sinner and Ralf Scheepers had other ideas. Unapologetic in their debt to "Painkiller"-era JUDAS PRIEST, PRIMAL FEAR played balls-out, technically precise and melodic heavy metal, bolstering the whole enterprise with state-of-the-art production.

From their self-titled 1997 debut on, they have pursued the same admirable course; sometimes deviating from the power metal straight and narrow, but always staying true to those early principles. Put simply, if you like this kind of music, albums like 1999's magnificent "Jaws Of Death" and 2014's dark and crushing "Delivering The Black" should already be on your radar.

Fast forward at speed metal velocity to 2023 and PRIMAL FEAR are still firmly at the forefront of European melodic metal. "Code Red" is their 14th studio album — a remarkable achievement in these fickle times — and, as fans will doubtless be relieved to hear, another huge and immaculate heavy metal record. Mat Sinner is such a prolific and consistent (co-)songwriter that there have been very few missteps on past albums, and Scheepers's voice is one of those ageless marvels that, if anything, seems to grow in power and stature as the years pass. And, of course, "Code Red" sounds very, very big and dazzling in its clarity. Again, this is partly an exercise in upholding principles, and any potential concerns about deviations from the metallic norm will be allayed within the opening bars of "Another Hero": a strident opening gambit, as instant and life-affirming as any power metal anthem in recent memory. Lo and behold, PRIMAL FEAR sound like the best possible version of themselves.

The rest depends entirely on how these songs rank against the many cast-iron bangers that PRIMAL FEAR have previously released. "Code Red" appears more crafted and intricate than 2020's "Metal Commando", while also hinting at a greater focus on the real world, rather than the world of heroic metaphor. There are still plenty of celebratory heavy metal moments, most notably the thunderous "Bring That Noise" and the defiantly PRIEST-ian "Steelmelter", but PRIMAL FEAR are equally compelling when they stare reality in the face. "The World Is On Fire" and "Their Gods Have Failed" are both taut with anger and dismay, while "Cancel Culture" waves a furious fist at the death of reason, hammering the point home with a gloriously pompous chorus and a sumptuous, symphonic instrumental break with a wonderful solo from guitarist Magnus Karlsson.

As ever, PRIMAL FEAR rarely take their feet from the accelerator, but a voice like Scheepers's demands at least one moment of unadorned exposure. "Forever" is it: a girthsome, tear-stained power ballad with a simple message of unity and strength, it benefits greatly from subtle structural tricks and deft, orchestral touches. "Fearless" — a proudly straight-ahead heavy rocker with doomy overtones — brings the curtain down with a satisfying thump.

Those looking for genre-busting ingenuity or an AI jazz-funk/noisegrind hybrid will be bitterly disappointed by "Code Red". Fans of potent and pristine heavy fucking metal, performed by certified experts, will love every last second of it.

Author: Dom Lawson
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