Ralf Scheepers at Milwaulkee Metal Fest 2001. Photo taken by Ace Warloch

Former Gamma Ray singer Ralf Scheepers is one of the most respected Heavy Metal vocalists in the world. Besides singing for the aforementioned speed/power metal legend and his current gig screaming for vengeance with Primal Fear, Ralf has performed guest vocals for bands such as Scanner, PC69, and the solo album from Helloween guitarist Roland Grapow. He also teemed up with his former band-mates Gamma Ray to record Exciter for the Judas Priest tribute on Century Media Records, not to mention that he tried out for Priest after Halford left. As you can see, the man is a burning maelstrom of metal patriotism, so it was a great honor to speak to him about Primal Fear's latest release Nuclear Fire. - Ace Warloch [Note: This interview was done April 4, 2001 before the band played in the United States. A shorter version of this interview was originally printed in the Echo, the newspaper for the Rochester Community and Technical College.]

A nuclear fire is raging worldwide and the members of the German heavy metal band Primal Fear are responsible for starting it. The sounds from this firestorm have even penetrated the U.S. at the recent Metal Meltdown in Asbury Park, NJ. Strangely, at the time of this interview, this was the only scheduled date in the U.S. According to Ralf, "That was because our management had some problems with promoters over there." Nevertheless, Ralf says the band wants to tour America, and though it hasn't been confirmed yet, "maybe in the summertime, or later, we're gonna do more shows over there. You have to take care that you don't come over with a lot of burdens; you don't [wanna] have to pay a lot of bills after it. It's hard for me to explain. It's a business thing. The band wants to go all the time, but the label and management say: you should wait a little bit more. We wanna come of course." On the other hand, Primal Fear did have an offer to open for Queensryche last year but that didn't work out because the band was in the studio.

In discussing the new album Nuclear Fire, Ralf casts light on the nuclear theme: "We just wanted to have a strong title for the album and we had a conception going on with the fire and the eagles. We thought it was a pretty strong title for a metal CD." Not surprisingly, the theme and title also tie in with the label they are on, Nuclear Blast Records, a "parallelism" that was probably somewhere in their minds.

Speaking of the eagle that adorns their album covers, "It's… a mascot. It labels the band. If the fan goes to the record store and just sees the iron eagle, he knows it's Primal Fear without reading our band name." Ralf further elaborates, "It's a good expression for us, for the anger." The artwork on all three albums was done by Stephan Lohrmann; whose talent the band intends to keep using.

As far as conflicts regarding bassist Mat Sinner's other band Sinner; Ralf reveals, "There's no problems, none at all." Explaining that Sinner and Primal Fear are now on the same label and that "At the moment he is more concentrating on Primal Fear because there is a lot more going on. Sinner is more of a project [while] Primal Fear is a priority."

In the fanzine realm, Primal Fear has received many comparisons to Painkiller-era Judas Priest, some even claiming that Primal Fear were writing the albums that Judas Priest should have with their last studio release Jugulator. "I'm very used to it," responds Ralf to the comparisons; going on to explain that he has been compared to Rob Halford since he began singing. In fact, before Primal Fear, Ralf tried out for Judas Priest after Halford left. However, Winter's Bane vocalist Ripper Owens got the job. "He's a very good singer…and he's a nice guy." Ralf reflects, mentioning that they had met in '98 while Priest was on their world tour. Regarding Owens getting picked for the job, "He's a good choice of course," replies Ralf.

Concluding the comparison inquiry, Ralf stated: "We have the vibe of the '80s music but I think we increased melodies and speed a little. We have five musicians coming from different backgrounds; not everybody grew up on Judas Priest. If you have five people combing to write the songs, it's not possible that we sound too much like Judas Priest."

Primal Fear has contributed to two tribute albums: covering Rainbow's "Kill The King" for the Holy Dio tribute on Century Media as well as covering the Accept classic "Breaker" for the Accept tribute on Nuclear Blast. Are there more tributes in the works? "We wanna concentrate more on writing our own stuff and not take part in the tributes so much," answers Ralf.

Regarding the state of metal today Ralf replies: "There's always an underground thing going on with Heavy Metal, and there's always an amount of fans who [are] going to listen to it. At the moment, I am very happy that we have a peak again. Hopefully it stays awhile. It's an old [saying] that Heavy Metal will never die and I think it's true because there's always people out there listening to it."

The current Internet and MP3 craze has affected every band that makes a living from music, including Primal Fear: "The Internet is helpful of course, because you have your homepage there; you have information for the fans [so] they don't have to wait for months to read the fanzines. But of course, for example, our CD was out on Napster before the official issue was out. This was a bad thing because you have a lot of work in composing the songs, [and] being in the studio and everything." As for how Napster got a hold of Nuclear Fire so early: "I don't know. We send out promotion copies, and there's always [a] black sheep out there who is going give it away."

In his final words for this interview, Ralf stated: "First of all, I would like to say a big thank you for your support and of course, for the patience… Hopefully, like I said before, were gonna make a huge tour over there and keep Heavy Metal strong, as it was before. And hopefully it's gonna be forever."