Crystal Viper are a traditional/power metal band from Katowice, Poland. (Their third album, Legends, was reviewed here about six years ago.) Their singer and rhythm guitarist, Marta Gabriel, is the group’s leader and dominant creative force, and she’s determined to keep to the old ways. This is metal that owes absolutely nothing to any changes in the genre post-1985, and that’s being generous. Their music is similar to Manowar‘s in that they want you to pump your fist and bang your head. This isn’t moshpit music, and it’s not really built for small clubs. Though Crystal Viper are far from a big-name act, they write and perform their music in a manner that implies it should be heard through a two-story stack of amplifiers in a gigantic arena.
They’ve been off for several years—Gabriel suffered health problems in 2013, following the release of their fifth album, Possession—but they’re back at full strength. Their new album, Queen of the Witches (get it from Amazon), opens with a piercing scream from Gabriel, which launches the song “The Witch is Back.” It gallops along, driven by drummer Tomasz “Golem” Dańczak, whose kit sounds like it’s made out of metal barrels and played with riot batons. “I Fear No Evil” is built around a riff—and driving bass line from Błażej Grygiel—straight out of Paul DiAnno-era Iron Maiden. “Trapped Behind,” meanwhile, is a piano ballad reminiscent of latter-day Scorpions. Gabriel is a good singer from a technical standpoint, so she can carry off the softer material, but her accent is thick enough that it sounds like they’re submitting an entry to the Eurovision Song Contest.
The galloping drums return on “Do or Die,” though the song has a too-upbeat chorus that almost recalls the folk metal of goofy acts like Korpiklaani or Turisas. But they’ve brought along a guest: founding Manowar guitarist Ross the Boss, who delivers an absolutely face-ripping solo. There’s another slow song tucked into the album’s second half, but “We Will Make It Last Forever” is a power ballad, and a duet with Steve Bettney of the English band Saracen. The album proper concludes with “Rise of the Witch Queen,” a hard-driving burner that’s mostly an excuse for some seriously shredtastic guitar work from Andy Wave. But there’s a CD bonus track: a cover of Grim Reaper‘s “See You in Hell.” It’s a perfect fit for Crystal Viper: Gabriel’s voice is actually much more pleasurable to listen to than GR frontman Steve Grimmett‘s wall-rattling shriek (though she nails the closing scream), and the band absolutely pounds the music home. Fans of old-school, fist-pumping metal will love this record.