For a band whose schtick has been carrying the torch for old school Heavy Metal, it’s interesting how Crystal Viper’s eighth album feels like a trip to their own early roots. The band didn’t venture too far from that core sound over the years, but The Cult (Listenable Records) comes with the “Running Wild as fronted by Doro Pesch” spirit that defined early staples like The Curse of Crystal Viper or Metal Nation. I like to think that recruiting Ced Forsberg of Rocka Rollas/Blazon Stone fame for drum duties was the spark for this shift in style.
Either way, it’s hard to remember the last time that the band sounded this thoroughly inspired. While the production and musicianship don’t hit the same grit as albums past, there is a certain vibrance that gives the instruments some extra bursts of power. The guitars allow themselves plenty of flamboyancy with just about every song featuring a flashy solo section. The vocals have some real oomph behind them while also benefitting from extra choral flourishes. I must admit that the drumming isn’t quite as blistering as in Ced’s other works but suits the style well, keeping things together with Power Metal double bass gusto.
The songwriting reinforces this energy with most of the tracks opting for driving speeds and perfectly executed structures. The title track is a heavy first impression coming off the synth prelude with ‘Forgotten Land’ and ‘Asenath Waite’ standing out as subsequently strong hard hitters. Even the more mid-tempo tracks like the borderline Folk Metal ‘Sleeping Giants’ and the throbbing Jag Panzer-esque ‘The Calling’ show some real muscle and memorable refrains at work. The worst I can say is that the closing cover of King Diamond’s ‘Welcome Home’ is a little awkward but upholds their loving cover tradition.
Overall, The Cult is a pleasant surprise that just might be the quintessential Crystal Viper album. What could’ve just been another serviceable Classic Metal album turns out to be their best work yet, reconciling their old school foundation with their more recent polish. It’s honestly better than it has any right to be, pleasing established fans and welcoming new listeners with enthusiasm. It goes to show that sometimes the most innovative thing you can do is just present the best version of yourself.
9 / 10