While Blazon Stone’s sixth full-length continues down their established path of Running Wild emulation, it’s also the first they’ve released as a full-fledged band. In contrast to past albums that had bandleader Cederick Forsberg recording most of the instruments himself with whoever was available to sing at a given time, Damnation (Stormspell Records) sees him just sticking to the guitars this time around. A completely new lineup has been assembled that includes a new singer, a new drummer, and even Crystal Viper bandmate Marta Gabriel on bass duties.
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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.
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.
Crystal Viper may not be new to the heavy metal scene as they have played multiple European festivals and extensive touring but they are a welcome addition. Fans of heavy metal fashion will recognize that Marta Gabriel is also involved with heavy metal through her popular clothing line, Thunderball Clothing. The band has created an engaging album that also features vocalists from other bands such as Jag Panzer and Desaster.
Possession (AFM Records) begins with a very dramatic and operatic opening, ‘Zeta Reticuli’. While it is only 55 seconds long, it prepares the listener for a diverse and fun musical journey. It instantly leads into the crushing riff of ‘Voices in My Head’. The track sounds much like an Iron Maiden one and Gabriel sings it like a female version of Bruce Dickinson. It is a trend that holds throughout the album.
‘Fight Evil With Evil’ is the track which features Harry Conklin known for his work with Jag Panzer among other bands. His presence only makes the song better and assists Gabriel and the band in the story they are trying to tell rather than overshadowing them. This is a lot easier in theory than in practice and indicates that Crystal Viper are capable of holding their own in the world of heavy metal.
‘Why Can’t You Listen’ is where the theme of the album seems to come through the clearest. Much like the album suggests, the album is based around a concept that there is a young girl going on journey filled with struggles against evil. I won’t give too much away, but it is less cheesy than it sounds. It is at this part that the main character finds her voice.
‘Prophet of the End’ is a great closer where guitarist Andy Wave shows that he can do more than just shred. Up until this point, his riffs were slowly getting more repetitive. Thankfully he has a few tricks up his sleeve that make for an ending that neatly ties the story and leaves the album on a similarly epic note that it started on.