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Crystal Viper - Metal nation 4.5/5

Reviewed: 9-4-09


1. Breaking the curse
2. Metal nation
3. Bringer of the light
4. 1428
5. The anvil of hate
6. Zombie lust (Flesh eaters)
7. Her crimsom tears
8. Legions of truth
9. Gladiator, die by the blade
10. Agents of steel

Quickly ascending the true metal hierarchy are Poland's finest export, Crystal Viper. Exploding onto the scene in 2007 with their debut, 'The curse of Crystal Viper', the band made quite a splash by blending the likes of Omen, X-Wild, Manowar, Stormwarrior, 'Tales from the north'-era White Skull, and Warlock into a convincing stew, topped off by splendid songwriting and the rough-but-charismatic female vocals of Leather Wych (otherwise known as Marta Gabriel). Last year, Crystal Viper kept the momentum going by releasing 'The last axeman', a worthy collection of covers, outtakes, live bootlegs, and previously unreleased songs. This stopgap CD was worth buying if for no other reason than the superb rendition of Virgin Steele's "Blood and gasoline", featuring a guest appearance from David DeFeis himself. Barely pausing to catch their breath, Crystal Viper struck again earlier this year with their 2nd full-length CD, 'Metal nation'. The whirlwind of activity did not come without a price, as witnessed by the turnover in the bass player position and the departure of a guitarist Vicky Vick, who was not replaced. Nonetheless, this newly-configured quartet is back, and they're taking no prisoners.

It's pretty much impossible to fathom how anyone who enjoyed 'The curse of Crystal Viper', or any fan of energetic old-school European heavy metal generally, could not be enthralled with 'Metal nation'. Make no mistake: Crystal Viper deserve to be ranked among the very best bands in the world at this style. Everything they touch turns to gold. The songwriting (almost all of which is handled by Gabriel, who's deeply involved in the creative side of the band, in stark contrast to the cheesecake-only contributions of many vocalists in the female fronted sector) is simply stellar. The fast songs like "Metal nation", "Anvil of hate" (already familiar from the 2008 EP), and "Legions of truth" are guaranteed to get your blood racing and your neck snapping, while burrowing their hooks into your brain forever. The more melodic, anthemic midtempo numbers like "Bringer of the light" and "1428" (apparently an ode to Freddy Krueger) are instantly memorable and hopelessly infectious. Gabriel even tries her hand at writing a semi-ballad, "Her crimson tears", and a 6-minute Manowarish semi-epic, "Gladiator, die by the blade", both of which work effectively to vary the Crystal Viper attack. And the band wisely choose to cover Agent Steel's all-time classic speed metal masterpiece, "Agents of steel", to close things out on a high note, as the perfect icing on the cake (even if Gabriel's vocal lines sound a touch off in spots here).

In terms of band member performances, Gabriel is of course the focal point of the show. Sure, her accent isn't the easiest to understand at times, but she has the power of Doro Pesch, the attitude of the Hysterica singer, and the timbre of White Skull's former singer Federica de Boni. Gabriel does a great job, even tossing in a couple of operatic lines just to showcase her versatility. Also especially noteworthy is the tasteful and impressive guitar playing of southpaw Andy Wave, who has admirably stepped up his game as singular guitarist in the wake of Vicky Vick's split from the band. Wave delivers cool licks, massive riffs, blistering solos, and monstrous melodies by the bucketload, serving as a perfect foil to Gabriel's rough-hewn vocals. Furthermore, for an underground band hailing from a country not known for traditional heavy metal, Crystal Viper lined up an impressive roster of guests, including Grave Digger axeman Manni Schmidt, Stormwarrior's Lars Ramcke (who duets with Gabriel on "Legions of truth"), and legendary X-Wild singer Frank Knight.

Until recently, I would have told you that the best female fronted CDs I had heard this year were White Skull's 'Forever fight' and Hysterica's 'Metalwar'. But 'Metal nation' is better. This CD is easily competitive with 'The curse of Crystal Viper' and is unquestionably near the top of the heap for this Keep-It-True style of European heavy metal, irrespective of the vocalist's gender. If you've never heard them before, give Crystal Viper a listen: They deserve it. If you have, what in the name of hammer, bow, axe and sword are you waiting for? Get out there and find a copy of 'Metal nation' pronto!




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