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Primal Fear

Metal Is Forever

It you have heard one of their albums, you have heard them all, some would say. But regardless of any critical remarks, Primal Fear continue to be a leading force in German power metal, and their new album Seven Seals is doomed to attract no less attention than the previous five ones. Love em or hate em, theyre doing their thing, and theyre excellent at it. We got singer Ralf Scheepers to bring him to account for the new CD, as well as for his pre-Primal career thats more than 10 years long.
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About a year ago, Primal Fear made the statement on the Internet that a lot of things would change in the band and its music. In your opinion, what things changed and what remained the same in the band and on the new album, as compared to what you did before?

When you listen to our former albums, from the first one to the fifth, you can really hear something like a red line weve always played metal, straightforward melodies, very fast beats and so on. This time we thought about maybe evolving a bit into some epic stuff, some bombastic things, and creating some good melodies with keyboard sounds and strings in the background. Its the first time that we have three songs lasting over seven minutes each. We didnt change our style so much, we have a lot of songs on the album that will pretty much please our fans, like the starting song Demons And Angels or a song called Evil Spell, which is very fast and kicking ass. I think we will satisfy everyone with this album.

For Seven Seals you worked with a lot of new people for the first time. Can you describe their contribution to the recording and creative process?

We wanted to change all the surroundings this time to get all the positive things we could get for Seven Seals. We got Charlie Bauerfeind weve known him for many years, I know him from Gamma Ray, he was mixing the Insanity & Genius album (1993), and Mat (Sinner, bassist) got to know him through his work for Hammerfall, when he visited them in the studio and they did some things together. We thought it would be a great thing to get him up here in Germany to record the album for us, he had a really good time slot, and we were pleased that he did it in the end. He has a certain style of technical recording and he is very precise, which we really needed, and which you can really hear in the outcome. The second thing is that we made out a good guy who could mix the album. We talked a lot about it in the run-up to Seven Seals and decided that we need a really professional guy, so we ended up with Mike Frazer, who did a really great job on the album. He has a great history doing stuff for AC/DC, Metallica, Bryan Adams and a lot of other bands, and he also fell in love with our material. When we came to Vancouver, he was totally overwhelmed by the stuff which was on our hard disc. Everybody had his passion in this album, and its just a great honor to have such people working for us. Mike Frazer even offered us to produce our album next time, and this is a great thing for the band.

You also changed the cover artist the cover of Devils Ground (2003) was done by a Russian guy called Leo Hao, and the new cover was painted by Martin Hauesler. Why did you switch over to him?

Its not intentionally switching over to somebody else. We just sent out an issue that we wanted to have ideas, and Martin did a great job on it. We also had a woman called Katja Piolka working for us doing a cover thing. Thats how we always do we spread our ideas, let people work on it, and then we collect what they did. The thing that Martin did was the best in the end. It wasnt because the Russian guy could make it worse (laughs), we were just collecting ideas from all artists and choosing the one we like most.

On Devils Ground everybody was involved in writing songs, except new drummer Randy Black. Did he contribute to the songwriting this time? He used to write quite a lot of stuff for his previous band Annihilator

No, there are four members writing songs, but if Randy would come up with an idea, why not? Randy is intentionally hired as a drummer, but he can really say that hes a band member, because he works with his heart. But when it comes to composing, hes not involved.

Why did you name the album Seven Seals? If were not mistaken, its your sixth album, not the seventh one

Yeah. (laughs) We couldnt call the album Six Seals, because in the Bible its different. (everybody laughs) We talk a bit about the Revelations on this album, Im not so much into it, but you can really find a lot of good ideas in the Bible. Initially Mat came up with this story, and we liked it, you can use a lot of thi
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ngs from the Bible.

There are some eastern influences on the new album, especially in the title track. Where are they coming from? Is anybody in the band interested in the Oriental culture or music?

The thing is Mat came up with the idea for the song Seven Seals, and he originally composed it with a guy from Sweden called Ronny Milianowicz (former drummer of Sinergy ed.). Ronny is doing a lot of things for a lot of bands in Sweden, and Mat worked with him together on the project of Joacim Cans. They got to know each other, and Mat asked him if they could do songs together. Thats what they did in the end, and the intro to Seven Seals was composed by Ronny. Its a great thing, but I dont know where he got the ideas from.

You have mentioned a song called Evil Spell, which is the hardest and fastest song youve ever done. How was this song created? Was it your intention to go beyond the limits, to do something that youve never done before?

It was just coming out naturally. As I said before, four band members are composing the songs, and this one came from Stefan Leibing. Hes always doing great guitar work, composing fast chords and fast drumming, it is coming out naturally from him. I remember he was sitting here in my small studio, its just a demo recording studio, where I am sitting at the moment, and he came up with this stuff and I was like, Wow! (laughs)

In general, can you tell us about the songwriting process in the band? Do you get together and jam, or do you work on ideas separately and then try to mix them?

Its both ways. For the latest album, everybody had a small studio, its just a PC or something, and we were doing a lot of things on Qbase and Pro-Tools. We collect our ideas or parts of the songs, and then we put them together when we meet. Last time we just jammed a lot in the rehearsing studio. Sometimes you can have different ways of writing, and thats what we did for Seven Seals we met and jammed, and we also used bits and pieces from our hard discs which we had put down and collected. In the end we worked it out all together.

You and Mat will soon participate in the recording of the live DVD by the Brazilian band Tribuzy, for which you will specially go to Brazil

Tribuzy did an album called Execution, which is coming out these days, for which we recorded the song The Nature Of Evil (Sinner cover ed.), and I did some choirs on other tracks. Now theres a live show coming up in Brazil, and he (band leader and founder Renato Tribuzy ed.) invited us for the show. Well be doing it with Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, and well play some Maiden songs, and Im really looking forward to it. Im also gonna sing a song from the album called Absolution, which was originally sung by Michael Kiske, but Michael cant come, so I will do this track.

How did this Brazilian guy persuade you to take part in their recordings?

He was just coming up with ideas, and he called us and said he would like to this song. We had nothing against it, so we just went in the studio and did it. (laughs) He was asking us a lot of times, because dont really have much time, we are always busy with Primal Fear, but on one occasion we did have time, and hes a nice guy, so we did it.

What is needed from a band to have you as the guest musician on their record?

(laughs) Arjen (Anthony Lucassen, the mastermind behind Ayreon ed.) asked me some years ago to do some stuff with him (the album Flight Of The Migrator, 2000 ed.), but the thing is that I dont wanna do so much of it, because I want the people to listen to my voice in Primal Fear. Some vocalists maybe do too much of that, they are spreading their voices around, and I think the vocalist in a band should be original, so I really wanna limit my voice to Primal Fear.

But you also appeared on albums by the band Scanner several times what made you do it?

Oh, this was a long time ago, you are really well-informed! Sometimes I help this guy (Axel Julius, Scanner guitarist and founder ed.) out in the studio. I remem
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ber that the original vocalist had some problems, and I just helped them out in composing, telling them how we could change bits and pieces to make them a little bit better. Thats what I did in the early days. And nowadays if somebody comes up and asks me to do something for him, maybe help out a little bit, I try to be a nice guy and do it. (laughs)

What is the share of your life that is occupied by Primal Fear? Do you find the time for any other things except music and family?

Yes, we have to work. (laughs) This is not the thing we could survive with, because nowadays you dont sell so many albums anymore, and we have to get money from somewhere else. You can really say that were doing music for passion. A little bit will come out of it, of course, but you have to pay taxes on it and so on. You cant really survive with music nowadays.

And do you have time for watching movies or reading?

I do find time for watching movies, but not for reading. I try to start some books here and there, but I always lose the story, because I dont have the time to continue. (laughs) When I get down to it next time, I have to read the previous 10 pages, because thats the only way I can remember it.

Everybody has seen the Primal Fear tattoo on your left shoulder. What made you do it? Werent you afraid that such a commitment to the band is too strong, so to say?

Thats right, I was thinking about that. You know, this was something personal to me when Primal Fear started, because I was really in a black hole when we started this thing. It really helped me out of my bad musical situation that I was in back in 1997. I had no Gamma Ray anymore, because we went separate ways, and I didnt get the job with Judas Priest because Tim Owens walked in. In the end, Im really happy about everything, because now I have a really good band. Those guys really helped me out, and I was totally sure that this will definitely be my last band, so I made this tattoo on my shoulder. And I will continue with it the next cover will be on my right arm. (everybody laughs)

The eagle has been the Primal Fear mascot since the first album. But in the beginning, who came up with the idea of using the eagle?

It was the first cover artwork guy whose name is Stephan Lohrmann. We thought it would be a great idea to make some metal eagles, which is not an original idea, and we know that, but we have our certain kind of shape for that eagle, and you can really say that this is the original Primal Fear eagle. We try to use it for every cover so that people could recognize the band by just looking at the cover, not even reading the name.

Have you seen the cover of the latest album by the band Victory (Instinct, 2003), where they also have a very similar-looking eagle?

Really, do they? I dont know. But its a free thing, everybody can use an eagle, nobodys got the rights to it and nobody can tell others not to use it. People may say that we stole it from Judas Priests Screaming For Vengeance album (1982), but that one had a really different shape. Saxon also used an eagle many times, so theres no need to keep it only for your own and go to court and fight for it.

Youve been in the music business for more than 20 years. Is the music scene and music in general as exciting for you now as it was in 1984?

Yes, it is, definitely. Its even getting more exciting, especially when youre playing big festivals and have a lot of people in front of the stage. For example, we played in Poland this year, we played in Spain many times this year, we played the festivals in Germany, and its always a great reward. Its got nothing to do with money, its just the reward for what you have done in the past few years, when people scream to the music. This is still exciting and amazing for musicians when they stand on stage and get a good reaction from the people.

And what about the bands around you are they getting better or worse?

The bands are really getting much better, because the ear learns a lot, and if people listen to good musi
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c and have talent, they can do a lot of things with that.

When you appeared on stage with your early band Tyran Pace again in March this year at the Rock For One World festival, what feelings did you have?

(in a surprised voice) You are really well-informed!

Thank you!

The thing is that we did a show with Primal Fear before that one, and we didnt even rehearse the Tyran Pace song. (laughs) It was a strange kind of feeling, but it was great to see all the old fellows again. There werent all of the original members, but everybody was in Tyran Pace once, so it was really funny afterwards. We played the song Eye To Eye, and thats it, but that was a great thing.

Was it a one time-project, or will there be a continuation?

No, no, it was just one thing. Every one of us is coming from Esslingen, its our home town, so we thought it was a great idea to do this charity thing there.

Could you tell us more about that event? You said it was a charity thing

It was because of the thing that happened in Asia, that tsunami down there. My friend Ralph Schulz, who played in the original Tyran Pace line-up, was down there diving at that time. Hes got good friends there, and he attended a diving school, so he really helped a lot of people when the disaster with the shock wave was going on. When he came back, he thought it would be a great idea to collect something for those people, and he promoted the concert here in Esslingen. We thought that for a good thing and for our friend we will do everything.

Two guys from Tyran Pace are now playing in the band Vinder, with whom you wrote the song Sacred Illusion from the Devils Ground. How was this song born? Is it some outtake from early Tyran Pace days?

No. Olli Kaufmann, the guitarist of Tyran Pace, is playing in Vinder, and theyre doing a lot of songs, hes composing like hell. Once Ralph Shulz, who is now the drummer of Vinder, came up to me and asked if I might find a melody line and some lyrics for the song he couldnt complete. I received the song, and in five minutes I had the song together. (laughs) I thought, Wow, its so strong, maybe we could use it for our own band. I asked them if we can use it, and thats what happened in the end.

Back in 1986, Kai Hansen invited you to join Helloween, but you declined. Three years later he asked you to join Gamma Ray, and you agreed this time. What changed over these three years? What made you join Kai eventually?

I think it was not three years. It was very early when Hellowen asked me if I could be their vocalist, it was before Michael Kiske joined the band. It was a long time later, almost 10 years, when Kai went out from Helloween. (Ralf surely miscalculates something here, as Michael joined Helloween in 1986, and Kai left in 1989, which doesnt make 10 years at all ed.) When they first asked me, I was together with my friends in Tyran Pace, we were in the studio recording our second album (Long Live Metal, 1986), and I said, No, Ill stay with my buddies, I dont wanna move to Hamburg. That was the main reason. I was a young guy anyway. Of course, I noticed the success of Helloween afterwards, but you never know what happens in the future. Then, like you said, Kai left the band, and I was not in Tyran Pace anymore. We went separate ways, because our managers did a bad thing to us money-wise, so we had to do cover music. Me and guitarist Olli Kaufmann did cover music to get the money for Tyran Pace, there was no other way to get paid. It was at the break-even point when Kai called me to join his project, he wasnt even sure about the name. They called it Kai Hansen Project first, and only in the studio, when we were recording the first stuff for the Heading For Tomorrow album (1990), he came up with the idea of calling it Gamma Ray. Thats how it happened.

In general, what do you now think about your time with Tyran Pace? Do you mostly have good or bad memories about this band?

I have good memories about most of my time with each band. Of course, there are bad times, theyre always re
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lated to business, but this is whats making me stronger in the end. But as to friendship and having fun on stage, Im always looking back positively.

When Tyran Pace got back together in 1997, did they ask you to join them on vocals?

I had nothing to do with that. All that happened when Olli Kaufmann was helping some guys from the scene in a totally different area from here. He helped some guys in writing some songs, and they came up with the idea of calling it Tyran Pace, because it was his name. But they went through hell with it, because this band had nothing to do with Tyran Pace at all, and a lot of people said, You have to change your name. And thats what they did in the end, because so many people were asking them inconvenient questions. (laughs) Everybody was just bothering them with Ralf Scheepers and so on, so they decided, No, we wanna change the name. (The name was changed to Fallen 2 Pieces, but very soon the same guys got themselves a new bunch of the same name problems, because they formed the core of the reunited Stormwitch ed.)

The history of Primal Fear, Gamma Ray and Tyran Pace is more or less known. But we know nothing about your first band Beast Of Prey. When was it formed? What kind of music were you playing?

(cracks) Where did you get that from? I was at school, I was a 16- or 17-year-old boy. I remember seeing a piece of paper in a music shop which said, A band is searching for a singer. I just said, Im singing, can I come down? They said, Yeah, drop by! The very next day I was the vocalist of Beast Of Prey in Stuttgart. This was my first time playing in a band without a guitar, I had been playing guitar before, and I couldnt manage to do both things simultaneously, and thats the reason why I had to choose between singing and playing guitar.

Now lets go back to the present times. On your website you say that you had your best concert with Primal Fear was at Wacken Open Air in 2001. What made this concert so special for you?

Wacken is always special, but the thing is that this section of the website is not really updated. The last time I updated it I changed my favorite city to Vancouver. Of course, we have had a lot of good concerts, but Wacken is always a very good thing. I have a poster from that show with a lot of people in the audience, and the reaction to that show was so great, it was just overwhelming, Ill never forget that. You have goose-bumps when you stand on stage and people scream, and that is the reason why Wacken is always a blast for us.

Do you happen to know what former Primal Fear guitarist Henny Wolter is now doing? Is it true that hes now a family man and is not playing music?

No, hes playing music. Hes doing a German-language band called Donnerkopf, which is something like Thunderhead (Hennys band prior to Primal Fear ed.) in German. I never attended their gig or something, I just know that hes doing this band now.

Its probably a trivial question, but since you auditioned for Judas Priest, Id like to ask it. What do you think about Judas Priests latest album Angel Of Retribution and the whole reunion with Rob Halford?

First of all, I never rehearsed with them at all, so I had no chance to meet those guys before they got Tim (Owens, Judas Priest singer in 1995-2003 ed.). I met them afterwards and they explained a lot of things to me, and theyre really nice guys. Im very happy that Rob is back, because hes the original singer of Judas Priest. With no disrespect to Tim Owens -- hes also a nice guy, Ive met him a lot of times, and hes also a very good vocalist but the original vocalist is always Rob Halford. Thats what I became a fan of in the 1980s. Angel Of Retribution is a very good album for me, but I dont like the sound so much. But anyway, its a really good Judas Priest album.

Our last question is also based on the information on your website. There was a recent news posting that said that you are negotiating concerts in Japan and Russia. What are the chances that concerts in Russia will indeed take place?

Oh, that would be great to play in Moscow finally. We have negotiations going on with serious promoters in Russia, and its always a problem to get serious promoters without fearing that they will run away with the money after the show. And we will definitely go back to Japan this time, because they really love the album and they make some big shows down there.

Special thanks to Markus Wosgien (Nuclear Blast) for arranging this interview

Roman Patrashov, Natalie Khorina
September 26, 2005
17 2005
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