So Marta Gabriel and her merry band of Heavy Metal hotshots return with the follow up to their 2010 effort “Legends," and where “Legends” was a decent if slightly unfocused and indistinct release, “Crimen Excepta” is possibly the band performing as close to the peak of their potential as heard so far. For those not in the know, CRYSTAL VIPER are a Polish band who adhere to a code where if it doesn’t contain a mountain of guitar-wailing, double-bass and fist-clenched-to-the-sky choruses then it isn’t worth a damn.
When you worship at the feet of Heavy Metal legends such as RUNNING WILD, OMEN and IRON MAIDEN like these guys do you’d be forgiven for wondering how it’s physically possible to release an album less than perfect; well “Crimen Excepta” is arguably the closest they’ve come yet, maybe even slightly bettering their fantastic debut album. “The Curse of Crystal Viper” was nothing but naive, ingenious Heavy Metal flamboyance with a certain swagger that hasn’t been seen again among these ranks until now. “Crimen Excepta” has everything any self-respecting fan of classic Heavy Metal should ever want or need; it’s utterly anthemic and unashamedly retro yet harbours enough character and is refined enough to prevent it from ever setting foot in ‘cheese’ territory, which is a difficult thing to achieve these days.
The opener "Witches Mark" is the weakest track on the album, it just doesn’t grab you with the same magnitude that others like "It’s Your Omen" or "The Spell of Death" do. It finally feels like they’ve broken the chains that shackled them on their previous release and are now free to run riot, none more evident than in the aforementioned tracks, which showcase CRYSTAL VIPER at the combined pinnacle of their creative forces so far. "It’s Your Omen" for example is everything a Heavy Metal song should be, balls out and swamped with steely riffing, blistering solos and Marta’s vividly catchy, unique and authoritative vocal patterns. This woman has some seriously impressive vocals that are tailor made for this type of music, unmistakable and commanding she wraps you around each note with that abrasive wail fluently.
The title track even features Dave Bower of HELL fame towards the end which adds a nice dramatic finish to an otherwise great song, and when not completely castrated by Andy Sneap’s production skills (...or lack of) he is actually pretty good. He actually sounds a bit like Marco Hietala from early TAROT days here, which certainly is no bad thing. The whole album is overflowing with RUNNING WILD-esque riffs and driving double bass which is a concoction that is certain to get the blood flowing, most noticeable in the remarkable "The Spell of Death" which is the standout highlight here. High tempo, energetic and absolutely ripping, it’s CRYSTAL VIPER at the best I’ve ever heard them, they make it all appear so effortless here compared to past releases.
Bonus track "Ghosts of Sherwood" is actually one of the strongest tracks on this release, the band slow it down a notch to the point it’s almost a ballad, something they’ve always been rather proficient at but the VADER cover seems a bit pointless. I’ve never really been a huge VADER fan though so it does nothing for me; it just seems a bit throwaway. Aside from that the only other gripe I have is with the production which is slightly stifling and muddied, but it doesn’t affect “Crimen Excepta” too much to be a significant problem.
It’s CRYSTAL VIPER as we’ve come to know them by now, powerful and extravagant, but this is on another level completely compared to the last album. It’s not original at all, but who ever decided that something needs to be original to sound good? It’s so shamelessly rooted in the eighties and early nineties Power Metal that I adore it, it’s like they’ve finally rediscovered that spark has been absent ever since “The Curse...”. This is what Heavy Metal is all about, flashy guitar work, glass rattling choruses and saturated in attitude. It puts HUNTRESS’s latest shallow attempt at Heavy Metal to the sword, and then stamps on it a few times for good measure. “Crimen Excepta” is everything that album isn’t.
(Online May 13, 2012)