Although the brand of epic European power metal that Crystal Viper performs is most definitely up my street, I must preclude this review by admitting that aside from hearing the odd song here and there, I have had no real exposure to them on a studio album level. The Cult, is the Polish act’s eighth full-length release in a legacy that has thus far lasted eighteen years. At face value, a band that maintains that level of consistency would have me assume they have nailed down a singular style and were comfortable releasing records in said style without a whole lot of variation. It is therefore with a great sense of irony that my first review of their noise is of a disc which caught me completely off guard by occupying a different scene entirely. The sweetly epic elements the band is known for are certainly present in The Cult, but the power metal is largely downplayed in favour of a more classic but simultaneously epic style of heavy metal, one that calls back to the days of bands like Accept and Saxon without ever sounding derivative of either.
As is the tradition in this style, Crystal Viper treats us to a tranquil and soothing opener in “Providence”, an instrumental penetrated by the sound of a whistling melody which caught the attention of my ears very quickly, building anticipation sufficiently for what was to come, and within just short of two minutes, segways into an explosive title track. A guitar-focused piece which despite boasting the righteous and soaring vocals one would expect from the wonderfully talented Marta Gabriel sounds a lot closer to NWOBHM than it does power metal. The track completely plays it by the old school heavy metal formula and as such exceeds by being instantly catchy, like a lot of cuts on this album, I found this song’s melodies easy to remember even after the first listen, which is exactly what you want from a band of this variety.
“Whispers from Beyond” and “Down in the Crypt” were up next and by these tracks, I started to notice (from what little I knew of this band beforehand) a complete absence of keyboards and piano, with the guitars and vocals again taking center stage. All in all, the album was starting to sound very Iron Maiden, but in a really good way. Much like the British trad metal gods themselves, Crystal Viper makes full use of their three guitarists and pack these tracks with incredibly pleasant and irresistibly galloping riffage. Gang vocals of course are present, and while the songs aren’t overly technical, they are unapologetically blissful to the ears. Sleeping Giants acts as the first major point of variation on the album and offers a more familiar power metal sound courtesy of the Crystal Viper we all know and love, featuring folky melodies that call to mind the likes of Ensiferum and Arkona and a stomping pace perfectly fitting of the song’s title. Awesome singalong verses and symphonic choir vocals subtly chanting in the background of the chorus also cement an epic and dramatic vibe. It’s all very intro, verse, chorus, verse of course, but damn is it good. A thrust of adrenaline courtesy of ‘Forgotten Land’ follows which is a by the numbers but undeniably energetic speed metal tune, again made distinct by the undeniably awesome vocals of Gabriel, who sounds halfway between Rob Halford and Doro Pesch.
The curiously titled ‘Asenathe Waite’ follows suit with some sweet and carefully plucked chords before launching us back into the mid-tempo trad metal style which defines a majority of the album. It is not exactly the most distinct song on the record, not that the tracks collectively offer too much variety, to begin with. But make no mistake when I say that Crystal Viper’s execution of NWOBHM/classic Euro power metal is incredibly consistent and entirely enjoyable while it’s on, which is what ultimately matters to me. Up next is The Calling, which storms in with an epic, galloping guitar intro that sounds like it was ripped straight out of the Blind Guardian book of fairy tales along with a quickly established chorus “Here. My. Calling!”. This one is easily headbangable (is that a word?) and is an instant earworm from the word go. A blissful banger in its own right.
We then get more speed metal thrills courtesy of ‘Flaring Madness,’ complete with a “woooah” style bridge by Marta that made me question whether I was instead listening to Warlock for a second. ‘Lost in the Dark’ offers us a more snarly vocal hook and a darker mood overall than the previous songs which, while not offering anything completely unexpected, closes the album’s original songs nicely. What then follows is an undeniably likable cover of King Diamond’s ‘Welcome Home’, in which Marta experiments with her range and completely nails the famous falsetto’s man’s bars with incredible ease and accuracy. Considering the consistent style of the album, I am glad that Crystal Viper decided to go with a slightly more obtuse cover than a number by the likes of Iron Maiden or Helloween. It’s the change in dynamic that the album needed to stick the landing.
Overall, Crystal Viper’s The Cult is an old school heavy metal album through and through, perfectly produced and performed with precision without sounding too watered down or mechanical. I wouldn’t recommend diving in expecting anything not done by the book, but do expect the content itself to be well worth a read (well, listen).
Buy the album here: https://listenable-records.bandcamp.com/album/the-cult
7 / 10