CRYSTAL VIPER – Queen of the Witches (Album Review)

Crystal Viper: what a great heavy metal name which certainly invokes the required image and reflects the music they produce. The vocals are beautiful and pure (in the main) but the music is striking and powerful; a great match.

This Polish metal band was formed in 2006 and released their debut album a year later. Queen of the Witches is their sixth full-length studio album and the first in four years following health issues of guitarist/lead singer and composer Marta Gabriel. Fortunately, all is well now and the band can look forward to a healthy and prosperous future.

Crystal Viper are completed by Andy Wave on guitar, Blaze J. Grygiel on bass and Tomasz “Golem” Danczak on drums. They give us a tight-knit unit providing power metal but with a more traditional edge hailing back to the 1980’s. The solos are not noodly and fit well into the songs’ framework and while the music is heavy it still possesses great pace and rhythm.

Out on AFM Records, Queen of the Witches is a strong album which grows into itself as it goes deeper and features appearances by three special guests but more of that later.

Right, let’s get stuck in:

The album opens with “The Witch Is Back” and in particular a piercing scream from Marta Gabriel, exactly like that of Freddie Mercury on Queen’s classic deep cut “Ogre Battle” from Queen II. Quite the introduction to Queen of the Witches. The song, however, feels quite formulaic and disjointed but fortunately, things get better, and quickly.

The improvement begins with “I Fear No Evil” which has a rollicking opening riff. Pace and power are present in lorry loads with Gabriel’s vocal giving us a bashing. She definitely has the sound of Rock Goddess vocalist Jody Turner, which is a huge compliment in my book. The first good solo of the album by Andy Wave tops it off nicely.

“When The Sun Goes Down” brings the first foot-stomper and fist-pumper. An excellent slower groove maintains this track throughout, led by Blaze J. Grygiel, and Marta is at the top of her game vocally. An even better solo leads me to expect great things for the rest of the album and I’m not disappointed.

Gabriel shows her versatility on “Trapped Behind” proving she’s not all eyeballs-out in your face power. On this track it is just her and a piano, creating an emotional journey before we get back to ripping it up on “Do Or Die”. This track has the first guest appearance, with Manowar legend (not forgetting Shakin’ Street) Ross The Boss delivering a scorching solo in a song which would fit neatly into the Manowar compendium.

The power continues with “Burn My Fire Burn” which got my head nodding to the powerful riffs and air-twiddling to a great solo. It’s about this time that it dawned on me what a great job Blaze and drummer Tomasz “Golem” Danczak do in driving and maintaining the pace and power.

More of the same comes in the form of “Flames and Blood” which sees our second guest performer. This time it’s Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn of Venom fame, the self-proclaimed creators of death metal. Another scorcher of a solo is despatched but it always ever thus.

Golem / Andy Wave / Marta Gabriel / Blaze J. Grygiel – photo by Black Mausoleum Arts

The mood is taken down with “We Will Make It Last Forever” where Gabriel duets with our final guest, Saracen legend Steve Bettney. The great thing about these guest appearances is that they fit perfectly onto songs which suit their style and this is no exception. Saracen are no balls-out metallers but this song isn’t that either. This is a powerful ballad which captivates the mind and both singers express themselves to the max. And don’t forget the solo, a fine example of matching the mood of the track and elevating it to another emotional level.

As if we haven’t had enough pace and power already on Queen of the Witches, we are treated to probably the fastest track on the album, “Rise of the Witch Queen”. Danczak gives it big licks and there’s speed-riffing all over the place. Absolutely great fun.

“Rise of the Witch Queen” was the last of the original songs on the album but what a treat we are in for to finish. For fans of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, this probably could not get any better. Crystal Viper give us the benefit of their version of Grim Reaper’s “See You In Hell” and it’s an absolute belter. What. A. Finish.

What Crystal Viper have served us up here is a top quality metal album of pace, power, emotion and variety. It’s great to see Marta Gabriel back on form with her talented band of individuals. They kicked ass on this album and are clearly ready to kick some more. Yes, please!

BUY: QUEEN OF THE WITCHES

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