Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Crystal Viper - Legends (2010)

Crystal Viper [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
AFM Records

Like it or not, the enduring trend within the female-fronted power metal scene has been to blend flamboyantly operatic vocals with speedy, keyboard-dominated orchestral music. There was a time, though, in the not-so-ancient history of metal when bands like Warlock and Hellion (and of course the Metal Queen herself - Lee Aaron) mixed what we now consider to be "traditional" metal with gritty vocal performances that would have Rob Halford nodding in respect. With Legends, Poland's Crystal Viper - fronted by the charismatic Marta Gabriel - looks to resurrect that heavy power metal of yesteryear without fully abandoning what passes for Euro-styled metal these days.

Legends is the band's third studio long-player so they've had some time to refine their particular brand of metal, and from what I've heard of their previous works this album is the most contemporary-sounding of the lot. Tracks like "The Ghost Ship", "Blood Of The Heroes", and "Night Of The Sin" feature galloping riffs, anthemic gang choruses, and scorching solos from Andy Wave, giving much of the album a distinctly Running Wild and Helloween ambiance. While Crystal Viper belts out the modern power metal flawlessly, the band really shines when evoking the days of yore through twin-guitar harmonies and a strong bass guitar presence. Wave joins with Gabriel (who not only provides the vocals, but handles her six-string with considerable skill) to open "Blood Of The Heroes" in fine Iron Maiden style, a trait repeated on "Night Of The Sin" and "Black Leviathan". Tom Woryna's bass pushes to the surface on the more mid-tempo tracks like "Greed Is Blind" and "Secret Of The Black Water", adding yet more traditional depth.

The most notable "retro" aspect to Crystal Viper's sound, aside from Gabriel's vocals, is the absence of keyboards. With the exception of the piano-driven ballad "Sydonia Bork", where the keys are present they are discreetly buried in the mix and easily overlooked. The band instead relies on Gabriel and Wave to create atmosphere, which is a very refreshing concept that power metal bands have lost sight of over the last several years. As for Gabriel's vocals, she is definitely a singer that can deliver the goods at all points within her impressive range. She attacks the lyrics with a kick-ass style that foregoes polish for impact. Her strongest performances are on "The Ghost Ship", "Night Of The Sin", and "A Man Of Stone", where she adds just a bit more of a snarl to her delivery than elsewhere on the album. "Sydonia Bork", on the other hand, clearly falls outside of Gabriel's comfort zone and as a result comes across a bit awkwardly. Legends definitely would have benefited from the exclusion of this track, as well as the rather pointless spoken-word intro track (featuring Rhino from Manowar). The album closer, a cover of Accept's "TV War", is a fine nod to one of Crystal Viper's influences and a decent way to wrap up a solid album.

Power metal fans who miss the days when Lee Aaron and Doro Pesch defined the feminine side of heavy metal will want to get their hands on Legends, as well as Crystal Viper's previous two studio releases. Provided the band doesn't drift too far towards a purely modern power metal sound, they look to be a band worth keeping track of for all fans of old-school metal.

Track Listing
1The Truth (Intro)0:42
2The Ghost Ship4:23
3Blood Of The Heroes4:43
4Greed Is Blind4:10
5Sydonia Bork5:00
6Goddess Of Death5:45
7Night Of The Sin4:26
8Secret Of The Black Water4:52
9A Man Of Stone4:58
10Black Leviathan4:39
11T.V. War3:31
Total Runtime47:09

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  1. Never heard of Crystal Viper! Thanks for the tip.

  2. This album is my first exposure to Crystal Viper as well. I'm definitely going to be keeping an eye on them and checking out their back catalog.