Crystal Ball - Virtual Empire
It's always a nice thing when you get hold of a band you'd never heard before and that was the case with Crystal Ball for me. Although this Swiss band was formed in 1995 and the debut In the Beginning was released 1999 they still hadn't come to my knowledge until now.
Virtual Empire is the third album from the band and is produced by Tommy Newton who's also responsible for among many others Helloween's Keeper of the Seven Keys albums. Since Crystal Ball had the same producer on their first two albums too the band hasn't changed a winning team and the result is a very good production.
Crystal Ball is however being categorised as melodic power metal but I would settle for just calling it melodic metal 'cause this is what were talking about here. The album is dominated by more mid-tempo tracks and could have needed at least two more double bass drum speed rockets and a much heavier sound to really end up in that genre. And I can't even begin to imagine that the band members themselves would prefer to call their music power metal.
Listening to Virtual Empire makes me a bit nostalgic though 'cause this is the kind of metal I used to listen to with my friends when I was younger and it's got a very classic "80's metal-feeling" over it. That means you will recognise the sound and feel you've heard it before but it still sounds very fresh. The best way to describe the sound is to say that Crystal Ball is a mix between Pink Cream 69, Dokken, a bit of Def Leppard, Bonfire and the way Pretty Maids sounded like on their Jump the Gun album. A mix of many I know but at least you know what kind of metal we're dealing with.
In the time of writing this review I've listened to the album at least 5 times and it just keeps getting better and better for every turnaround. I have to admit that if that hadn't been the case the number of chalices wouldn't have been very high 'cause the first listening session made a very mediocre impression and I thought it was way to soft for my taste.
But then the nostalgia sort of crept up from behind and all I can say now is that I think Crystal Ball is a great band. Usually I don't like this kind of metal but there's definitely something about this band that I really like. I can't really put my finger on some exact detail or something but a large contribution to my opinion in this matter is the vocalist Mark Sweeney.
He is a very good one and one of the major reasons to why I think Virtual Empire is such a good release, although it's a part of metal I usually don't appreciate. His voice is excellent and I think that when you play this kind of metal the vocalist become even more important and Mark Sweeney definitely knows what he's doing and could easily have made any other metal band. But of course it takes a little more than a good vocalist to make a good band so added to his great singing are of course very catchy melodies and the kind of choruses that this kind of metal should have. That is, all the band members participate in the chorus-choir and the nostalgic feeling for me is even more pronounced when that happens.
The overall sound of the album is as I've already mentioned a mid-tempo metal one but there are four more faster tracks and I feel I just have to mention one especially. That is the absolute brilliant Blind Side that is as catchy as a faster melodic metal track can get and it's got a touch of Freedom Call over it that even would make those guys a bit jealous! Other great tracks are the great opener Hands of God, the mid-tempo ones Savage Mind, Night and Day, and Find your Ground plus of course the faster title track.
But like I said, this is not a fast speed-rocket album and if orgies in double bass drums, swirling harmony solos and fast heavy guitars are what you're after Crystal Ball is nothing for you. But if you instead like the kind of band that focuses on more traditional melodic 80's influenced metal and the kind of guitar-riffing and keys and such that goes with that you should give this band a well-deserved chance.
The description "this is where the sound comes out and shines into every heart" from the promo-info sheet is perhaps a bit too much. However, Virtual Empire has lightened up my life at least a bit and hopefully there are many more of you out there who share my opinion. This is for me the album that proves that old traditional melodic metal never goes out of style!
also review of: HELLvetia