I remember when I first heard CRYSTAL VIPER in 2013 I thought they were just okay, and really not much more. Possession had a few bright spots on it but I felt that the majority of that record sounded a little too familiar. However, after hearing first single “The Witch Is Back” off new album Queen of the Witches (February 17, AFM Records) I was like, “Hold up, waitaminnit! I need to get some more of this!!” And when the disc found its way into my hands I couldn’t wait to get it crankin’. This is a concept album, produced by Bart Gabriel (CIRITH UNGOL), and engineered and mixed by Mariusz Pietka (JACK STARR’S BURNING STARR), and a rather grand way to make an entrance after a four-year absence.
Singer, guitarist, and composer Marta Gabriel sounds better than ever; her voice goes from fiery, to evil, to pissed off, to soft and soulful, seemingly at the drop of a hat. As I said earlier “The Witch Is Back” is the perfect opening salvo in this heavy metal attack with “I Fear No Evil” being the reload clip in the machine gun. The riffs on both are killer, with the solo on the latter being especially good. Up next is my favorite, “When the Sun Goes Down.” Gabriel sounds amazing, and drummer Tomasz “Golem” Dańczak steers the ship through the narrows with deliberate, steady-as-a-rock precision while bassist Blaze J. Grygiel’s lines echo those on early DIO albums. The guitar play between Gabriel and Andy Wave is extraordinary and just feels right all the way.
An abrupt shift in tempo and tone comes in haunting piano song “Trapped Behind” which gives us time to catch our collective breath before “Do or Die” (ft. Ross the Boss) and “Burn My Fire Burn” take the record into more traditional metal territory once again. Gabriel’s wailing away on “Burn” made that another one that really stood out almost immediately. Shades of IRON MAIDEN permeate the guitars without going all copycat. I’ve said that about these guys before, they wear their influences on their sleeves, and there are times when it really works, like in this instance. The riff machine is in full effect on “Flames and Blood” with an outstanding solo from VENOM’S own Mantas that will surely melt faces all Raiders of the Lost Ark-style!
“We Will Make It Last Forever” brings us into well-written ballad territory and features guest vocals from Steve Bettney, vocalist of the NWOBHM cult heroes SARACEN. “Rise of the Witch Queen” is the perfect way to end this tale about the witches and true evil as it is all heavy riffs, soaring vocals, and pounding drums. And once again, as they are known for doing, the band pays tribute to another 80’s metal legend to close the disc, this time GRIM REAPER and a rousing rendition of their classic “See You In Hell”. This is actually an excellent version, one I’m sure Steve Grimmett is proud of (best wishes in your recovery, Steve!).
All told Queen of the Witches is a tremendous improvement over the last record and it’s clear that CRYSTAL VIPER have come a long way since then. Is every song a winner? No, but the ones that are will kick your goddamn teeth in, and I dunno about you but that’s EXACTLY what I’m looking for in my metal!
STANDOUT TRACKS: “I Fear No Evil”, “When the Sun Goes Down”, “Burn My Fire Burn”, “Rise of the Witch Queen”, “Flames and Blood”