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Primal Fear    
Primal Fear
With 'Black Sun', Primal Fear attempt to move beyond the Judas Priest comparison and take up position at the forefront of the German power metal movement. Vocalist Ralf Scheepers is up to the challenge of forging some new ground. The former Gamma Ray frontman (who once was in the running for the job ultimately won by Ripper Owens in Judas Priest) is a true veteran of the metallic wars, and while he embraces his influences, he surely is aware of a need to press beyond the boundaries of expectation in attempt to create something new. Fresh off two triumphant U.S. festival performances in 2001, Primal Fear's new 'Black Sun' is not only poised to make an impact on the German metal scene (debuting at #55 on the German pop charts), it is well-positioned to capitalize on the still nascent yet significantly growing U.S. power metal market as well. The Metal Update caught up with Ralf Scheepers recently to talk about metal - discussing Gamma Ray, Helloween, Rage, Grave Digger, Manowar, Geoff Tate, Bruce Dickinson, Ripper Owens, Rob Halford, Judas Priest and even Children of Bodom. Of course, Scheepers also made sure we were up to speed on all that is going with Primal Fear along the way!

METAL UPDATE: So what's up with you? RALF SCHEEPERS: I hurt my foot today. I have a torn ligament in my right foot.

Primal Fear

MU: That sucks. Will that impact your plans for Primal Fear in any way?

RS: We don't really have anything going right now, so the timing for this was pretty good. We're just preparing for the tour. Maybe we'll rehearse tomorrow, but perhaps I'll have to sit while I am singing! (laughs)

MU: (laughs) When did you start thinking that you wanted to be a singer?

RS: I didn't really start by thinking about it, I guess. I just started to sing when I was a kid. I sang radio ballads which my mother used to listen to - making some second harmonies and stuff. Before long, I was singing all of the time.

MU: What songs were you singing?

RS: Oh, I don't know. German music. You don't know it over there in the states. Maybe it would be like some Doris Day stuff or something like that that you guys have over there. (laughs).

MU: What was your first exposure to heavy metal?

RS: When I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I listened to Saxon - 'Denim and Leather' - stuff like that. Black Sabbath. 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' was actually the first album I bought. Then somehow I got into this British heavy metal thing, when Judas Priest and Iron Maiden came up. So at sixteen years old, I was a headbanger. At sixteen or seventeen years old, I was going to those concerts.

MU: How old are you now?

RS: I'm 37.

MU: So we're talking about the early 1980's now?

RS: Exactly.

MU: Were you able to sing the high-pitched Rob Halford stuff back then?

Primal Fear

RS: The funny thing is that before I used to sing in a band, I had 'Unleashed in the East'. All of my mates and my friends always used to remember this scream at the end of "The Green Manalishi". One night very late in the evening, I was singing along with friends in my hometown and I totally hit that note - it was the right pitch, the right key. My friends all were saying "Wow, you sound exactly like him. Why don't you sing in a band?" And I thought, "Well, maybe I will!" (laughs)

MU: Was singing like that a strain for you or did it come naturally?

RS: It came naturally. I tried, and just got it. I didn't have to take lessons or anything. I just got it.

MU: Were you a huge Priest fan or what?

RS: Yes. The very first thing I bought from them was the 'Unleashed in the East' album. Then I got the next albums that came out, 'Screaming for Vengeance' and 'British Steel'. The older stuff I got into later than that.

MU: Ever meet Rob Halford?

RS: No, I never met Rob Halford, but we are e-mailing each other. He's very busy these days promoting his own stuff, but he's heard Primal Fear and he likes it. And I am in contact with Mike (Chlasciak, Halford guitarist). We actually invited him to play a solo on the 'Black Sun' album. He got in touch when he was here with the Halford band and he told me he was really into the old Gamma Ray stuff. We became friends and emailed each other and we invited him in when we mixed the album. It was cool.

MU: Were you shocked to find out that Rob Halford was gay?

RS: No, not at all. I mean, somehow there was always sort of a suggestion. I somehow had the feeling there was something up. But I don't care about people's sexuality because it's up to them. I don't judge them.

MU: People say the clothes, the leather and all of that came from gay and S&M culture.

RS: Yeah, but that came later, to my mind. It totally makes sense now. But at first, I just thought that was a total heavy metal attitude. Just the type of thing a metal singer would wear on stage.

MU: What do you think about the new Judas Priest?

RS: No comment. (laughs) I can't listen to the new stuff anymore - not because of the vocalist, but because of the change of the style of the music. It's just my opinion about it. Ripper is a great vocalist. I saw him last year. We played together three or four times at the festivals. He is a great vocalist. There's nothing to complain about there. The change of style is what really disappointed me, as a former Judas Priest fan. Me, I'm very much into the older stuff.

MU: Did you like 'Jugulator'?

RS: Not so much either.

MU: You tried out for Judas Priest right?

RS: I didn't really try out, I just got in contact, sent my stuff. I received letters saying that they liked my stuff and that I was on the short list. I received promises from (Priest manager) Jane Andrews that I was going to be invited, but it never happened. I waited for two and a half years, and I really got impatient in the end. Perhaps I called her too much! (laughs)

MU: Do you get the sense following last summer's festival appearances that perhaps Primal Fear is starting to get something going here in the U.S.?

RS: Yeah. It was great going there, we had a good time. The only thing that was tough was flying over Friday, playing Saturday, and flying home Sunday. (laughs)

MU: How many times have you played the U.S.?

RS: Two times. We played the Metalfest in New Jersey and the Metalfest in Milwaukee.

MU: How did those shows go, as far as the fan reaction?

RS: Really, really well. It felt great. They were really yelling for us, and they had a good time so we had a good time. It's always great to be onstage when the audience is right there with you. We know it is a hard time for heavy metal in the U.S., but we just hope that people keep coming back more and more.

Primal Fear

MU: Were you surprised that you had that much of an audience there?

RS: It was great. We're always very curious about the reaction when we come to a country we've never been to, so it was just great.

MU: Do you think you will tour the U.S. with this new record?

RS: I don't think we're gonna tour. It's pretty hard with promoters over there. Sometimes it seems that touring the U.S. would be very hard for us. It is still very hard for us to achieve anything over there. But maybe sometime in the future, yes.

MU: I was surprised that you did a Priest cover when I saw you in New Jersey. I thought maybe you'd shy away from the Judas Priest comparisons.

RS: Yeah, but now when you talk about the 'Black Sun' album, you really cannot find anything - maybe a few little things here and there when I open my mouth, maybe I sound similar to Rob. But it is not purposeful. I was a Judas Priest fan, I cannot deny that. Everybody in the band was influenced somehow by 80's metal. But when we come up with songs, we don't try to sound like anyone. We just play what we have in our own minds. And I think there are a lot of songs on the 'Black Sun' album that you cannot compare to Judas Priest anymore.

MU: What would you say are the influences that you would cite for Primal Fear?

RS: We're five musicians coming from different backgrounds and everyone is composing. This is a good thing. When you talk about Stefan (Lieberg, guitars), he's more coming from the perspective of the Bay Area thrash stuff. And you can hear that on "Fear" or "Controlled". And Henny (Wolter, guitars), he's coming more from the "rock n roll" heavy metal. Klaus (Sperling, drums), he knows everything about music. He makes light music and also makes death metal and so on. There is a great mixture in the band. And Matt (Sinner, bass) is coming from still another direction.

MU: Who are your musical peers?

RS: The German bands like Gamma Ray, with whom I still have great contact with. The guys are very good friends of mine. Different bands in Germany. Rage, for example. We're going to go on tour together in September. If you want to talk about international music mates or whatever, it would be great to go out with Manowar. Also Halford would be great as well.

MU: How did you hook up with Gamma Ray to begin with?

RS: Well, I was in a band called Tyran' Pace, and we couldn't continue because we had financial problems. Our so-called manager really got us in trouble so we had to go out and play cover songs to make money. I got in touch with Kai very early, while I was still doing this cover stuff. He produced a demo of this band from Hamburg and he invited me to sing on the demo. That was the first time we really got in touch. And then one or two years later I learned that Kai had left Helloween and he immediately thought the same thing I was thinking about: to join together, to make something together. We started the Kai Hansen / Ralf Scheepers project, and then we got the name Gamma Ray.

MU: Were you a big Helloween fan?

RS: You can't really say I was a fan. I liked what they did, but I was very much into the business on my own at that point. So I can't really say I was a fan, but I definitely appreciated what they did.

Primal Fear

MU: What did you think of Michael Kiske as a vocalist?

RS: He is a great vocalist. Very good.

MU: Who would you say are some of the all-time greatest metal vocalists - besides Rob Halford?

RS: Eric Adams from Manowar. He's just very good. And also Bruce Dickinson. And Geoff Tate. The Three Tremors. (laughs) Yeah.

MU: So you like the classic sound, with that good, strong, powerful voice.

RS: And of course melody. There's a lot of energy in a lot of bands that really don't have a vocalist. Like Children of Bodom, for example. I don't call him a vocalist, they don't call themselves vocalists either.

MU: Do you have respect for bands like that?

RS: Yeah, of course. They're great musicians. We have great respect for them as musicians. We've been on tour with Children of Bodom and they have great solo guitars and great keyboards, and the drums are really great. But what I don't like so much is the singing and the vocals. 'Cause I really miss the melody. There's a real lack of melody. But they deliver the vocals through the instruments then, which is the good thing about it.

MU: How cool would it be to hear you singing for a death metal band?

RS: (laughs) Maybe it would destroy my voice. (laughs)

MU: Do you listen to any of the death metal bands on your label, Nuclear Blast?

RS: Yeah, sure. I always keep an eye on it. It is just an interest of mine. But maybe Matt is into it more, because he has more control over it, as he works for Nuclear Blast. I'm not watching each and every day what is going on there like he is, but I do keep up with it and I can say they have great bands and are putting out some good material. And in addition to the death and black metal, they have some good melody bands too.

MU: What are your expectations for 'Black Sun'?

RS: My biggest hope is simply that the fans will like it. We've had good reactions from the press so far. I think when we start to compose an album it is always very important that we like it first. We composed twenty songs for this album. It was hard to choose because there were seven songs left that were actually pretty good. Once we like it, we know our fans might like it 'cause we are metalheads too.

MU: Which song on the 'Black Sun' record will be a fan favorite in the live set five years from now?

RS: Perhaps "Black Sun" itself, or possibly "Light Years From Home" maybe.

MU: What are your touring plans from the rest of the world? You mentioned before that you probably were not going to tour the U.S.

RS: Well we're thinking about some offers from the U.S. When there are offers from the U.S. we'll definitely come there for a festival or something. But first we're going to do a festival in Moscow, called the Luzhniky Open Air. Everybody is really looking forward to playing Russia for the first time and doing that.

MU: What other bands will be playing that?

RS: Oh there is going to be Saxon, Rage, Gravedigger and some other German bands.

MU: Are you doing the European festival circuit?

RS: We hit almost every festival last year, and that is why we are missing out this year on the festival circuit. The promoters always alternate, where they invite bands, not every year, but every second or third year. It also wouldn't really help our tour to play too many festivals, as people might say that they already saw us on this festival or that festival and stay home when our tour came around. But we're touring Europe in September and October, and then we will go to Argentina, Mexico, Columbia for the first time, and of course Brazil. We're hoping to get to go over to Japan again for one or two shows.

MU: How does Primal Fear draw in Japan?

RS: There were better times for heavy metal in Japan. I mean, the days of Gamma Ray selling out three nights in Tokyo in front of 3,000 - 4,000 per night were great, but they are over for now. At least for the melodic stuff. Hopefully it will come back. There are offers from the club Cheetah, for example, which is a very important club in Tokyo. And the last time we were there, two years ago, we had a sold out show there in front of 800 people, which was pretty good for the time.

MU: Who is the support on all of these tours?

RS: Well, we'll be out with Rage in Europe, and maybe a third band which we don't know yet.

MU: And there's a possibility of seeing Primal Fear at something like the Milwaukee Metal Fest here in the U.S.?

RS: Yeah but again we played the festival last year, so maybe it is the same thing that's going on in Europe and they don't want to have the same band again. So, we'll have to see what happens.


review of Primal Fear 'Black Sun'

review of Primal Fear 'Nuclear Fire'

*BUY* Primal Fear 'Black Sun'

*BUY* Primal Fear 'Nuclear Fire'

*BUY* Primal Fear 'Jaws Of Death'

*BUY* Primal Fear 'Primal Fear'





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Photography: Cynthia Pelzner [ ]
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
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