Before we begin, there is something that needs saying: Marta Gabriel kicks ass. And not because of Crystal Viper‘s newest album, Queen of the Witches. No, she’s ruled since her first note on 2007’s The Curse of Crystal Viper. This may not be news to Viper fans, but someone needed to put it in writing. Whether you hold Crystal Viper in high esteem or not, there’s no denying her powerful voice or her strength to keep the band alive after nearly disbanding in 2013 because of health issues. Still, does this mean I would stack any of Viper‘s records up against the top records of acts like Blind Guardian, Helloween, or Manowar? Probably not, but this foursome continues to release album after album of consistent power metal. And now the Queen is back for more. And she’s brought along her Witches. Will this new record be as good as the band’s debut? Better than Legends? Shit, there’s no way this new release could top Crimen Excepta, could it? Don’t sweat it, you only need to wait eleven words more before you get the answers you’ve been waiting for.

No. But, that’s OK. Queen of the Witches is still right up there with the band’s best records. After slipping a little with 2013’s Possession (in both music and artwork), the band chose to keep it simple with this release. Hit “play” and you’ll find everything from ball-busting anthems reminiscent of Iron Maiden and Helloween, stomping mid-paced grooves reserved for old-school Manowar, and gentle ballads that prove Gabriel’s vocal versatility.

Queen of the Witches is also loaded with high-class legends lending their voices and axes to highlights like “Do or Die,” “Flames and Blood,” and “We Will Make It Last Forever.” Though there are other numbers like the Maiden-esque “Do or Die” (“I Fear No Evil” and “Burn My Fire Burn,” to name a couple), it’s the ridiculous chorus and Ross the Boss solo-work that give it staying power. Even though the song’s chorus is more befitting to a pirate metal outfit, the guitar work alone makes it worthwhile. And, if it wasn’t for “Burn My Fire Burn,” “Do or Die” might have the best leads on the album. 

That being said, it’s the riffs of opener “The Witch Is Back” and “Flames and Blood” that keep me coming back the most. The former opens with a throat-shredding scream before the guitars storm the walls, unleashing riff after punishing riff. “Flames and Blood,” on the other hand, is a bit more old-school; focusing on an anthemic chorus and the guitars (with contributions from Venom‘s Mantas). In the end, this song is nothing more than a classic, old-sch00l crowd-pleaser, but it’s too damn fun to say no to.

For me, the most pleasing tracks are the ballads and the cover track. The ballads make my top two picks not because I’m a sappy sumbitch (I am), but because this is a nice side of Gabriel we rarely get to see. Especially when we get to see it twice on one album. Both cuts are piano-driven beauties, but “Trapped Behind” is their quintessential tear-jerker while “We Will Make It Last Forever” is lighter on the sap and heavier on the… well, heavy [You’re a poseur.Steel Druhm]. It has the emotional builds to make it special, but the duet with Saracen‘s legendary Steve Bettney makes it damn-near perfect.

And then there’s the album’s closer. Depending on if you get a hold of the CD or LP version, you’ll get either a Grim Reaper or Exciter cover. Being that the promo is the CD version, I had the chance to bask in the rays of Grim Reaper‘s “See You In Hell.” I’m sure the band rocked Exciter‘s “Long Live the Loud,” but the Grim Reaper cover makes Queen of the Witches complete. Maybe it’s because of Steve Grimmett’s current health issues, or maybe it’s that you can sense the band’s genuine love for this song that just gets to me. Either way, this is the perfect way to close Queen of the Witches.

Now that it’s all out there, Crystal Viper is not going to convince power-metal haters to right their wrongs. And neither will Queen of the Witches. It’s a stronger release than Possession and it feels great on the ears, but the songwriting is pretty standard stuff. Just the same, I’ve had fun with this record and still think Crystal Viper is an underrated gem.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: AFM Records
Websites: www.crystalviper.com | facebook.com/crystalviperofficial
Releases Worldwide: February 17th, 2017

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  • Mauro Bossetti

    Sorry for the (maybe) dumb question, but how the hell do labels send material for review as 128 Kbps MP3? Even if I have a high end system, I don’t claim myself audiophile, far from it but, hell, 128 Kbps for review purpose…

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      That’s just what we get. Fucking sucks.

      • Oscar Albretsen

        No physical CDs, eh? That does suck.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          Very rarely. Very.

        • [not a Dr]

          But they are not reviewing albums on their PS4…

      • Reese Burns

        In an ideal world, labels would send vinyl, CDs, tapes, etc, any format the album is being released on, and the reviewer can choose whichever format they wish to review it on.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          That would be magical.

        • SuzyC

          Labels sent real CDs and LPs when I did college radio in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was hardly a perfect world.

    • You think that’s bad? Wait until it’s all “stream only.” God damn it.

  • R.Daneel Olivaw
    • Venom Prison.

    • Oscar Albretsen

      She sounds quite more manly than most every other female singer I’ve heard.

      • ArtifeX

        Yep, she sounds good, reminds me a lot to Federica de Boni from White Skull. This is a female-fronted band that I could like.

      • R.Daneel Olivaw

        thanx again but no!!!

  • Jason

    I’ve never heard of this band before, but now I want to hear more.

  • Iain Gleasure

    Blind Guardian called and they want their album art back.

    Then Tolkien’s estate called and wanted his intellectual property back.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      That artwork certainly screams “Andreas Marschall”

      • Norpal Nordickson

        Yeah there’s a lot of very Marschally aspects in that cover art. Most of all, I’d say, the signature that says “Marschall”.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Indeed…

    • Oscar Albretsen

      Good observation, and that’s probably the exact reason I dig this album cover so much.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Let’s see, Marta Gabriel… black leather, black lace, hot looks, a V-shaped guitar she can actually play, a voice that reminds me of Leather Leone… She’s fucking awesome!

  • Señor Jefe El Rosa

    I can’t wait for this to come out. Excellent review!

  • defjam

    That lady’s titties revealed would yield a much better review in my scale. Wink wink or whatever.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Great review. Sounds fairly run of the mill, though.

    • I used to love heavy metal. Still love them old releases of the golden age, but the past 20 years haven’t really seen many releases to light me on fire. This does have some of the lively energy, thrust and edge that I’ve been missing though. Not great, but a good deal better than middling, I’d say.

  • beurbs

    I don’t get why reviewers always talk about a given female vocalist’s power when they usually exhibit a very narrow range or sing the same pitches a man would sing. It isn’t that impressive when you have the physiological advantage of being able to do everything a whole octave above a man, yet sing in the same octave as say Devin Townsend. Or in the case of some (Dickinson, Arch, Halford, Cornell etc) actually sing in a lower range than men.

    • tomasjacobi

      I don’t see why this matters. I would say what matters is if the vocals are any good or not.

      • beurbs

        Yeah I consider this an important aspect of whether the vocals are good

    • I see your point, but I’d say the challenge is going in the other direction; downward. Not too many women are able to rasp, roar or just sing with the proper edge and attitude of good ol’ heavy metal. In this respect, just doing as good a job as a male peer would impress, and I’d say she’s doing a fine job as such.

      • Oberon

        Are you familiar with Arkona, that lady does it all

        • Yes, but I feel that their music has grown a tad boring over the years.
          (I recently discovered Polish Arkona, though. This is becoming very off topic, but they kick some serious ass)

      • beurbs

        You might be right but personally I’m aware of several female metal singers that can sing low, roar etc, but very few that can sing in a female register like mezzo soprano. I’m not aware of any female metal singers that can sing soprano.

        • Real soprano would probably be rare to come by. I don’t know, I guess it’s just not metal.
          I used to like gothic metal when bands like Theatre of Tragedy, Sins of Thy Beloved and Tristania on their first albums, but I have no idea what technical class their vocal range belong to. Now a days, most female fronted bands with “operatic” vocal tend to be sugarcoated epic stuff that I shun whilst forming an inverted cross with any available object and hissing violently before rapidly withdrawing to the shadows whence I came.

          • beurbs

            It seems like a double standard since the male equivalent of a real soprano is a real tenor, of which there are zillions in metal. I suppose it’s possible that a stylistic hallmark of metal is women singing in a male range, and so female vocalists don’t attempt it even when they have the ability. But that seems to me like a waste of the variety afforded by the different physiologies of male and female voices.

          • You might be right. We might just be missing out on some idiosyncratic diversity due to adaption to a certain expectation or something.
            It’s not a big loss on my part though, as I basically preferere the lower more jarring end of the spectrum. But it’s nevertheless a thought.

          • Aguy

            “most female fronted bands with “operatic” vocal tend to be sugarcoated epic stuff”

            I blame the goddamn Dutch for that.

        • GardensTale

          I’m not too familiar with voice registers, but what about Diablo Swing Orchestra?

        • Aguy

          Lori Lewis and Tarja Turunen are supposedly sopranos.

    • LExpoZiod

      Range =/= power.

      If she can sing well in the range she has, how does it matter?

      • beurbs

        I don’t know how to answer that because I think every good singer has a wide range.

        • LExpoZiod

          But do you judge the quality of the vocal performance on a song by the interval between the lowest and the highest note that the vocalist hits?

          • beurbs

            No, a wide range is only one of several factors that I find important.

  • Thatguy

    This power metal hater has kept his mouth shut recently, but this is tired and the singer sounds like Suzi Quatro.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Hahaha Suzi Quatro… gold.

      • Thatguy

        Now you will never be able to unhear it.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          True. You’ve ruined me.

    • When have you kept your mouth shut exactly?

      • Thatguy

        I’m sure I did, once at least. The other day. You know…

  • Oberon

    This kinda reminds me of Battlebeast with Warlock sensibilities… I like it

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Exactly.

      • Oberon

        Going to spend the weekend digging into their back catalog, should be interesting

  • RuySan

    Just by looking at the cover and band name I though this was Spanish. And then I was wrong.

  • Wilhelm

    She has some pipes, the power metal is aggressive enough, but not sure that I can say the composition is brilliantly written. I see potential though, they have all the elements…it amazes me that PM bands cannot equal early Blind Guardian; there’s so many areas they can take a song, but they all end up sounding one dimensional and similar to each other.

    • GardensTale

      Ever tried Galneryus? Power metal to end power metal.

      • Wilhelm

        I just youtubed them, dragonforce styled power metal is the worst – it’s happy and bouncy, I like my PM dark.

  • The embedded track is almost good. The chorus sounds like it’s going to be good and then just sort of goes nowhere. A strong chorus is pretty much the most important thing in a power metal track as you’ve basically heard the whole song after the first verse and chorus anyway. That chorus is going to be repeated again and again so it has to be good.

    I quite like the vocals though and there’s enough to like in the embedded track to make me want to see if it’s one of the weaker links on the album.

    • Norpal Nordickson

      Agreed. The beginning got me all excited by being all crunchy and cool, but then the song just didn’t quite take off.

      She has a good raspy voice too, but it seems to me the vocals are buried too deep in the mix so she doesn’t really stand out like she should.

  • herrschobel

    now that is some functional design right there in the cover. It clearly communicates: you will not like the music on this record ! Power Metal is so lost in me..

  • antitayyip
  • Oberon

    I’m weird about the female vocals in the Blackened genre, it doesn’t really stand out to me. Bands like Edenbridge, Therion, and Sirenia were my gateway into the more “estoric” music, in my younger bad hair days

    Still a great song to knock out reports to and keep the more timid from interupting

  • Michael Gibson

    I believe the band should put Marta front and center and dump her guitar playing. She needs to be out front like Dickinson, Halford, Udo, Brian Johnson, etc….Her husband/producer/manager thinks otherwise. What do you guys think? The band has been at it for 14 years and hardly anyone in the U.S. has ever heard of them. It might be too late to do this because it seems most bands hit it big in their 20’s.

    • FelixtheMetalcat

      Nope, I happen to love the fact she plays guitar. I think it lets the overall sound of the band breathe better rather than forcing Andy to be filling every space with another riff.
      Part of the problem not enough people have heard of them here in the US is there just aren’t enough touring opportunities for smaller bands like this. They also are quite traditional in their approach and sometimes I feel that hurts the band since farr too many people insist on “unique” or harsher sounds. I’m sure they have plenty of exposure in Europe and I for one will continue to support these guys, all their albums have been damn good.