Crystal Viper – “Queen Of The Witches” (AFM Records)
If this title of this 5th studio album has any bearing on founder main woman Marta Gabriel, then surely its a well deserved one. Formed by Gabriel in 2003, this Polish ‘true’ metal band have gone from strength to strength in that underground genre, along with her own profile as the main composer lyricist, not to mention her other careers as a clothing designer and session musician, guesting on albums by Sabaton, Vader and Manilla Road. Beset by health problems in 2013, Crystal Viper were forced into hiatus, but now have returned with this terrific comeback album! Although classified as a ‘true’ metal, “Queen Of The Witches” is very much a NWOBHM album, which is well timed given the return of so many traditional bands who made their name during that era. Heavily steeped in old school Maiden, songs like ‘Burn My Fire Burn’ do exactly that, galloping along to heavy melody or even take a darker Angel Witch tone in ‘Rise Of The Witch Queen’ as Gabriel shrieks and shrills when she’s not singing in a slightly gravelly tone. Adding to the NWOBHM flavor are guests like Venom’s Mantas on ‘Flames And Blood’ and a mighty big surprise in Saracen’s Steve Bettney, who does a dual vocal ballad would ya believe with Gabriel in a clean, soulful vocal mode! Still, the best for me was the epic chugging rocker with none other than Ross The Boss (Death Dealer, Manowar) with his unmistakable riffing and firebrand soloing that really made the number. Headbanging hymns, speed metal monsters, and power ballads, Gabriel covers it all well to form over 10 heavy but catchy tracks, including a cover of the NWOBHM classic ‘See You In Hell’ – complete with sustained power scream – no better timed than now with Grim Reaper’s own vocalist Steve Grimmett making his own recovery. “Queen Of The Witches” brings the best of the past to present with a definite message of return in an excellent comeback album by all accounts!