The Silver Key

I’ve spent time reviewing CRYSTAL VIPER in the past. 2017’s Queen Of The Witches and 2021’s The Cult were both solid without inspiring. It’s perhaps unsurprising therefore that The Silver Key, the band’s ninth album, follows very much in the vein of their previous releases, albeit with added oomph.

Entering their third decade as a band, CRYSTAL VIPER is still very much a vehicle for vocalist Marta Gabriel, who takes on bass duties on this album for the first time, having previously added rhythm guitar to the mix. There’s a new member in the mix this time around, with Kuba Galwas making his recording debut. He does a fine job with a powerful delivery. Nowhere is this more apparent than on opening track Fever Of The Gods. A teasingly fast track, there are elements of the band’s fusion of traditional and power metal styles with the dual guitars of Lukasz ‘Andy Wave’ Halczuch and Eric Juris razor sharp. It’s a decent start, the quartet blazing their way into the album.

However, after the promising start we hit the default style of the band, which is why they are likely to remain in their current position. The music is solid, yet unimaginative, repetitive and overindulgent. CRYSTAL VIPER has made it evidently clear where their influences lie. Park that bus outside the door of Iron Maiden and pull up the handbrake. They’ve been close to plagiarising Maiden’s riffs in previous albums, and whilst they don’t get quite so close to the flame here, there is no doubt that on tracks like The Key Is Lost they are in modern Maiden territory. Whilst you can’t fault them for effort, it’s all a little too close for comfort.

Yes, of course, bands that play this hybrid power / traditional metal are likely to suffer from comparisons, but one can’t help feeling that a little more self-expression and originality would pay dividends. Heading Kadath for example isn’t a bad song, yet it fades from the memory almost as soon as the next track kicks in. Indeed, three plays of The Silver Key in a row took place, and all I could recall was blisteringly fast kick drums, dual guitar harmonies and Gabriel’s intense and high-pitched vocals.

I may be being uber critical here, for there are flashes of real quality here. The title track, despite it’s Maiden feel, takes a slower and more measured approach, which provides the band with the option to tell the song’s story without the relentless breakneck speed. It still has echoes of Empire Of The Clouds, but it at least provides a little variation. Of course, you need to be careful what you wish for, as Wayfaring Dreamer is a stripped back vocal / piano track which is completely different to all that has gone before it. To me it sounds like there is another vocalist alongside Gabriel, although I may be wrong here.

Musically, the band are spot on. The production is solid and the artwork certainly works, thanks to another great piece courtesy of Mario Lopez. And to be fair, CRYSTAL VIPER finish strongly with Cosmic Forces Overtake (the next single) and the thunderous Gods Of Thunder Of Wind And Of Rain(the bonus track). There are many who will find the Poles’ latest release a fine effort. For me, it’s not an album that I’d rapidly return to for further listens, but I’m glad that I did spend some time with The Silver Key.

Paul Hutchings