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Crystal Viper - Legends 4/5

Reviewed: 6-1-11


1. The truth (intro)
2. The ghost ship
3. Blood of the heroes
4. Greed is blind
5. Sydonia Bork
6. Goddess of death
7. Night of the sin
8. Secret of the black water
9. A man of stone
10. Black leviathan
11. T.V. war

Some of you may be thinking that this review is badly outdated because this CD was released last year. If you are of that mindsight, well, you’re half right. Crystal Viper’s ‘Legends’ opus did come out last year... in Europe. Thanks to that miserable, dastardly phenomenon known as staggered release dates, our friends at AFM did not see fit to unleash ‘Legends’ on the USA until last month. Perhaps street dates for physical product are a quaint, anachronistic concept in a world of immediate gratification and instantaneous Internet downloads (legal or otherwise); however, this stubborn, defiantly old-school scribe elects to listen to music exclusively via physical media rather than downloads, so those street dates retain great significance to me. More importantly, ‘Legends’ is a very fine CD by a band that ranks among my favorite new acts of the last half-decade or so; therefore, I’m eager to use my bully pulpit to spread the word, whether it be old news or not. Okay, end of rant.

For those unfortunate souls not yet acquainted with the band, Crystal Viper are a female-fronted Polish quartet who proudly fly the flag of traditional, German-flavored speedy true/power metal. Imagine a stout foundation of Teutonic steel in the time-honored tradition of Running Wild, Wizard, Paragon, Stormwarrior, Stormhunter, and so on, then mix in some Hammerfall-styled anthemic simple catchiness with compelling female vocals that range from gritty mids to crystalline highs to banshee screams. That’s Crystal Viper for you. After issuing 2 head-turning full-length CDs and a lengthy EP with covers and live tracks on Germany’s Karthago Records, Crystal Viper graduated last year to the much higher profile AFM Records. A strong live CD entitled ‘Defenders of the magic circle’ paved the way for this prolific band’s 3rd full-length effort. Entitled ‘Legends’, this CD includes lyrics that explore Polish legends and folktales. There are no modern war dramas here (a la Sabaton’s “Uprising” or “40:1”), as Crystal Viper have instead elected to tell tales of ghostly ships, knights defending castles, dark queens wielding golden scythes, and a rum-soaked scallywag of a pirate named The Black Leviathan. The subject matter is definitely fun and definitely metal.

Happily, singer/guitarist/songwriter Marta Gabriel’s Midas touch shows no signs of abating. She has a real knack for penning straightforward ditties that are heavy enough to keep the tried’n’true denim’n’patches rivetheads banging away, but catchy enough for the tralala flower metal crowd to keep prancing and singing along. “The ghost ship” and “Black leviathan” are massive uptempo seafaring numbers torn straight from the Running Wild/Lonewolf playbook, with distinctive Rock’n’Rolf style picking and melodies, and choruses that stick for days. “Night of the sin” is an unadulterated hammer and one of Crystal Viper’s best songs ever. It should go down a storm in the live setting with its gang-shouted “Black sabbat at midnight” chorus (sung here with the aid of a pair of Wizard members). “Blood of the heroes” is a frenetic speed burst, with audible backing vocal contributions from special guest Mat Sinner. “Greed is blind” and “A man of stone” showcase Crystal Viper’s ability to excel at more melodic, less speed-driven fare, although the latter’s definitely got some kick to it. And closer “T.V. war” is a well-executed Accept cover culled from the overlooked and underrated ‘Russian roulette’ platter. The only unconvincing tune on display is the piano ballad, “Sydonia Bork”, which doesn’t fit with the rest of the energetic material and suffers from Gabriel’s thick Polish accent. (I’m not criticizing her for having an accent, by the way. Having visited Poland, I’ve experienced firsthand how impossibly impenetrable the language is, so Gabriel is to be commended for writing and singing in English as well as she does.)

Those who scour the alpha-links on this site will know that I previously awarded numerical ratings of 4.5/5 to both of Crystal Viper’s previous CDs, ‘The curse of Crystal Viper’ and ‘Metal nation’. A similar score for ‘Legends’ would absolutely be justifiable. The material is mostly outstanding, the performances are convincing, and Crystal Viper have made a CD that existing fans will cherish and that will undoubtedly garner them a wider audience courtesy of AFM’s marketing muscle. After much careful deliberation, however, I’ll grade ‘Legends’ a 4/5 because, for whatever reason, it doesn’t strike me quite as hard as its predecessors did. Maybe after 2 stellar CDs, Crystal Viper’s decision to mine the same musical territory a 3rd time without any changes seems just a trifle stale. (The same could be said of Sabaton on their recent ‘Coat of arms’ CD, to illustrate the point.) I was kind of hoping for the band to take some chances, try their hand at a more intricate/epic piece, or tweak the formula just a bit. They didn’t. Now, Crystal Viper’s formula is quite good, and they’re most adept at executing it. But ‘Legends’ seems to fall a hair short of their other CDs, probably because of the predictability factor. Also, take out the Accept cover, the spoken-word intro, and the previously released song (“Secret of the black water”, which also appeared as a bonus track on the live CD), and you’re left with 8 songs clocking in at well under 40 minutes. Kinda skimpy. Still and all, for aficionados of pure, catchy, speedy old-school European true metal, ‘Legends’ fits into the “buy or die” category.




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