The good thing about heavy metal – the best thing – is its timelessness. From its early days (Sabbath, Hawkwind) right up to today’s titans (Metallica, Slipknot) it has rested on a bedrock of riffs, drums and kick-ass vocals. It’s the reason why so many metal bands still pay homage to their heroes, starting with a foundation of classic metal and adding their own flavour to create their sound. Take Crystal Viper, a Polish metal band formed principally as a studio project for powerhouse vocalist Marta Gabriel. Their passion for and dedication to classic metal, particularly from the Eighties, shines like a diamond in their music, and yet they sound as fresh and modern as those bands did back in the day.
From their humble beginnings in 2003, they soon grew into a proper band, releasing 5 albums between 2007 and 2013. When their front woman then became ill they were forced to go on hiatus for four years, before re-emerging in 2017 with album number six, Queen of the Witches, which some critics have called their best work to date.
Their enforced time off seems to have done little to slow their prolific song writing: although Queen…was only released a year ago, a limited edition EP of new tracks has been added to their discography. At the Edge of Time, out now on AFM Records, contains five tracks; three are new, one is an alternative version of a previous song, and one is a cover. If you are a fan of Crystal Viper this is an absolute must.
The EP begins with the title track, a riff-filled monster that continues the band’s tradition of paying homage to metal’s classic roots. Gabriel absolutely smashes her vocals: sounding a bit like a deeper version of Doro Pesch, she nails every note with gusto and grace. For Polish fans of the band, they also perform this song in their native tongue, resulting in a slightly more confident performance from Gabriel (for obvious reasons). The song’s beautifully melodic instrumental section is a particular high point.
‘When the Sun Goes Down’ was originally found on the band’s comeback album; here, it is given a ‘movie soundtrack’ style overhaul, complete with nature sounds and a creepy, Hammer-esque organ overlay. There’s not a huge difference between this and the original, but top marks must be given to the imaginative use of the organ.
For something completely different, look no further than track four, the haunting ‘When Are You’. This simple, piano-led ballad sees Gabriel give an absolutely knock-out, goosebump-inducing vocal performance, showing of her range masterfully and taking the listener’s breath away. It may not scream ‘metal’ but for sheer impact, it’s an essential addition.
Classic metallers Quartz never made it as big as they probably should have been, given that they were guided in their early days by none other than Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi; in fact, their entire early career was influenced both personally and musically by the Brummies. One of their biggest hits, ‘Tell Me Why’, is given a spirited rendition here, as the final track on the EP. Its catchy harmonies and effortless, airy feel may be a slightly unusual choice for a cover, but Crystal Viper do it faithfully and do it well.
EP’s like this can often be seen as trying to ‘cash in’ on a band’s popularity and take advantage of fans’ enthusiasm; given the circumstances here, though, it’s clear that that’s patently not the case. Revelling in their comeback, Crystal Viper simply have so much to offer (and time to catch up on) that they’ve released more music. Given such enthusiasm, it will undoubtedly only be a (short) matter of time before we hear more of their modern take on classic heavy metal; bring it on, we say.
Review by Melanie Brehaut