Primal Fear
May 14, 2014
DNA Lounge, SF
By Dan Wall

Setlist: Final Embrace, Alive and On Fire, Delivering the Black, Nuclear Fire, Seven Seals, One Night in December, Angel in Black, When Death Comes Knocking, Chainbreaker, Fighting the Darkness, Bad Guys Wear Black, Metal Is Forever. Encore: Unbreakable Pt. 2. 85 minutes.

Primal Fear has been steadily building a career over the past 17 years with a number of great releases and exciting live performances, but despite a solid following in Europe and Asia, the quintet would have a hard time getting arrested in America. That trend continued earlier this month in San Francisco, where a paltry crowd gathered to see one of heavy metal’s best bands.

Call it the economy, the night, the lack of publicity (which tends to happen at this venue) and possibly the metal scene in general in SF. The result is bands like Primal Fear are not going to waste the time and money it takes to tour here with crowds this small. Anyone that’s heard the group agrees that they play some of the best metal music in the world right now,  but for some reason (and it’s just not this band), people aren’t venturing out to clubs to see heavy metal groups like this in this area.

For the uninformed, Primal Fear is a German power metal band featuring the soaring vocals of Ralf Scheepers (formerly in Gamma Ray and the runner-up to Ripper Owens as singer for Judas Priest back in 1998). Matt Sinner, the bassist, has his own band, Sinner, which is also a great underground metal band. The guitarists, Alex Beyrodt and Tom Naumann (welcome back), play big riffs and tandem solos like Dave Murray and Adrian Smith; and it’s all driven by the unbelievably powerful and inventive drums of Randy Black.

The music is classic power metal (think Maiden and Priest), with a modern touch and some good, old-fashioned German storm trooping thrown in for good measure. Most of the songs feature soaring melodies and shout-it-out-loud choruses that mention the devil and 666 so many times that you may have to go to confession after a few listens. Riffs are plentiful, guitar solos reign in every song, and Sinner and Black power the whole thing and keep it under control (and music like this can fly out of control very easily).

This is how power metal is supposed to be crafted and played live onstage. At least the crowd that did show up loved the band; it was mentioned outside after the show that the crowd may have been small, but every true Primal Fear fan in the Bay Area was there. Amazingly, the band played the gig like there were 15,000 in attendance at a Berlin arena.

Some of the most impressive material was the new stuff from the group’s 10th album, “Delivering the Black.” Songs such as the title track, “When Death Comes Knocking” and “Alive and On Fire” are among the most impressive of the band’s lengthy career, and how many times can you say that about new music these days? The classics were there as well, with “Final Embrace,” “Chainbreaker,” “Angel in Black” and “Metal Is Forever” all supplying the pre-requisite background music for furious head banging, even at my age.

All in all, it was a great gig, but most of us who were there know that it might also be the last time we see Primal Fear live in the Bay Area. Too bad, because these guys do metal right.