Crystal Viper – Keep the Flame BurningFriday, 19th March 2021
Recording a new studio album quicker than anticipated when the pandemic shut down all touring, travel, and live show opportunities in early 2020, Poland’s Crystal Viper grabbed the creative bull by the horns to release a potent new metal record in The Cult. You’ll hear classic-oriented traditional riffs, strong melodic hooks, and other trademarks that remind listeners of the 80’s acts that burst onto the scene. Even with a new drummer and no ability to record together, the professionalism and execution prove this band can handle any challenge placed before them.
We reached out to vocalist/guitarist Marta Gabriel who was very enthusiastic to let us into what has been going on with Crystal Viper as of late. You’ll learn about their new record label, great new drummer, thoughts on recording Satan and King Diamond covers for this record, hobbies and interests, as well as hinting at a new musical project to expect down the line.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest Crystal Viper album The Cult is the first for your newest record deal with Listenable Records. Tell us about securing the new record deal and how this album differs or defines where the band is currently in terms of sound and style?
Marta Gabriel: To answer the first part of your question, after our previous album Tales of Fire and Ice was released, our contract with AFM Records expired. What we decided to do first was finish the new album and then to find a new record company for Crystal Viper. When the album was ready we received numerous offers, some of them were better, some of them worse just as it usually happens. We decided to proceed with Listenable Records. Joining a new record company is almost like being married – it’s important to get married to the right person. For musicians joining a new record company is like joining a new family. So far we are very happy with Listenable Records. They have great promotion and are still doing a great job with the promotion of the new album. What’s most important for us is that they are passionate about heavy metal. They know what Crystal Viper is all about. I feel like we have found the right home and a good home for the band.
Regarding the album itself and how it differs from the previous ones. I think each of our albums is different to one another. All of our previous albums are heavy metal albums, but on each of them you can find some different elements. On some of them you can find more melodic metal elements, power metal elements, some of them pure classic heavy metal albums, some of them even had thrash metal elements. The new album, I would say it’s the most classic heavy metal album we’ve ever done. The only difference regarding this album, it’s the way we were working on it. Everything was completely different. We were working on this album in a completely different situation. We haven’t seen each other in person for nearly a year, and we were working on this album completely online. We were exchanging ideas and conversations on messaging. We haven’t met in the recording studio, and this is the first time in history that we recorded a Crystal Viper album without seeing each other. Everybody recorded their tracks in their own home studio. And then when all the tracks were done, we sent them to Cederick Forsberg who is our new drummer, he did the mixes and we worked on the sound with Bart Gabriel my husband.
Regarding the songs there are two composers on the album, myself and Cederick. And regarding the sound, the production, it’s Bart and Cederick that are responsible for that.
Dead Rhetoric: You have a great musician Ced (Cederick Forsberg) from Sweden as your new drummer – who is very prolific as a musician, songwriter, engineer on his own accord. Tell us how you believe his experience and skills on many fronts will be beneficial for Crystal Viper in the long run?
Gabriel: It will be beneficial for sure. He is a super talented musician – he plays guitar, bass, drums, and he can sing. He composes great songs, and you can hear some on the new Crystal Viper album. He’s also a fantastic sound engineer, and he’s a lovely person. It’s a pleasure to work with him. At times you are closer with your bandmates than you are with your family, when you are going on tour with your band you are spending 100% of your time with your band. I can’t imagine to be in a band with a person that we don’t understand each other or that we don’t like one another. In Crystal Viper we don’t have this situation. This is important, musical skills are one thing, but the kind of a person someone is, it’s a more important thing.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the vibrant cover art Mario Lopez designed for The Cult? How did the process work from initial development to final completion – are you still excited by cover art in heavy metal these days?
Gabriel: Cover art – we had very specific idea for the cover art for this album. Because all of the lyrics on this album are inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. We wanted this cover art to be in a kind of Lovercraft-ish climate. We wanted to make sure that fans of Lovecraft would take a look at the cover and they will know at the same moment what this album is about. We wanted to have this classic little style, like the cover art in the 80’s. After we told our ideas to Mario Lopez who painted the cover art, he sent us the first sketch and we loved it. He did a great job, it’s fantastic. It looks even better on the vinyl because it’s bigger.
I will tell you one very interesting thing about the cover. I’m not sure if you have seen the big version in high resolution, because if you take a look closely you can see all the band members in the cover. I will give you a hint – on the left in the balcony, there are all of us. You can even see who is who – I think Mario was painting us with a needle or something, I have no idea how he was able to do this. We are so super tiny on the cover art, that’s incredible.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you handle criticism these days – as many people seemed slightly disappointed and confused with many of the modern hooks/keyboard aspects to your last record Tales of Fire and Ice?
Gabriel: My opinion is, I believe that every person has their own musical taste, and some people like other things. I also don’t love all genres of music, there are albums of my favorite bands that I don’t listen to as often as other ones. That is fine with me. Regarding experimenting with your own music, for us it’s like having fun with music. As long as you are recording songs and albums you are happy with, it’s okay. I cannot imagine (recording) music that somebody forced me to compose in a different style than I wanted to do. With Tales of Fire and Ice we simply wanted to put more keyboards on this album. I’m listening to a lot of different music, between my very first band there were bands like Savatage and Virgin Steele, and there are a huge amount of keyboards and piano in their music. This is actually something I wanted to do for years. It was very natural for me to put keyboards on the album, not many people know that piano was my very first instrument. I started playing when I was seven years old. It was super natural for me to arrange songs that way.
Everybody likes something different. If there are Crystal Viper fans that don’t like to listen to our previous album, that’s fine for me.
Dead Rhetoric: Crystal Viper has always delivered great cover songs to expose listeners to many classic metal songs – how did the decisions come about for the vinyl and CD bonus cuts for Satan “Trial by Fire” and King Diamond “Welcome Home” with Andy LaRocque as a special guest? What have those artists meant to you when it comes to your vision, feelings, and outlook on the metal genre?
Gabriel: Well, let me put it this way. In Crystal Viper it’s a tradition that we put cover songs on our releases. For us it’s very important to do that. First of all, thanks to our cover songs we are able to show to our younger listeners where Crystal Viper is coming from musically. The second thing, thanks to recording cover songs we are able to pay tribute to our favorite artists. Satan and King Diamond are two of them. These are two of my very favorite bands. How we choose those two – finally the time had come to record those two songs. I wanted to record “Welcome Home” for years, I’ve always dreamt of recording this. When we are choosing songs to put on the album, we always try to match the fit of the cover song to the regular songs on the album. For example, “Welcome Home” wouldn’t have fit Tales of Fire and Ice, that’s why we put Dokken’s “Dream Warriors” on that album. Right now, when we recorded The Cult album, it has this horror climate and atmosphere, it was the right time for “Welcome Home”.
Regarding Andy LaRocque, he’s actually our friend for years. Not many people know, but he co-produced one of our previous albums, Metal Nation. We are in touch since then, Andy is one of the most talented guitarists ever and a super nice person. It was an honor for us when he agreed to join us for “Welcome Home”. We were super excited, and it was also interesting for him as he’s been performing that song for more than three decades. Now he was asked by another band to record a new solo for a new version. He liked our version.
Dead Rhetoric: You did a great job, especially considering how high the falsetto notes are from King in that song. It challenged you to work on your vocals for that performance.
Gabriel: Thank you very much! It was challenging for me as a vocalist to record this song. I’ve never sung the song before, I didn’t know what to expect from my voice. I remember when I started recording the song and practicing it, I was surprised a few times that I was able to sing some parts with completely different sounds from my voice. I learned a lot, I had a plan to record the song in a similar atmosphere as King Diamond had. I didn’t plan to copy him, but I wanted to do the vocal lines very close to his. I wanted to play the roles, the characters from the lyrics. I had to modulate my voice in some weird ways that I didn’t know before. There were some pretty funny moments from me, recording this song. I had to sit on the couch and wait until I stopped laughing because it was so funny to hear these weird voices from my mouth. The final result its great. Thanks to that I learned a few new vocal techniques and I’m wondering how an entire album would sound vocally. This was the last song we recorded for the album.
Dead Rhetoric: Maybe you’ll be able to apply this to the next record. You are already a great vocalist, but it’s important to challenge yourself the deeper you are into your career…
Gabriel: Of course! Not only as a vocalist, but as a musician it’s important to learn all the time. If you are practicing, you are challenging yourself. With my vocals it was the same. I am looking forward to the next recording and using those techniques. Maybe not all of them, but its cool to know that I can do some new stuff.
Dead Rhetoric: Back in 2018 you had to deal with a very stressful situation concerning your clothing business Thunderball clothing, Arch Enemy, and a photograph that caused a copyright controversy – to the point that you shut down the company. How has your health – and mental health – been in those years since, and what do you think you learned most from this situation?
Gabriel: My mental health is completely fine. I wasn’t depressed or anything like that. If I learned something, hmm. I don’t know, it’s very difficult for me to answer that question because I don’t really think about this. I’m thinking more about the things I’m going to do in the future. This is the chapter I closed, it was three years ago. I don’t get back to that situation at all.
Dead Rhetoric: How are you handling the challenges of being a musician during this pandemic? Do you believe the live music circuit will come out stronger and better than ever when touring and festivals return to normal, or will it be even more of a competitive marketplace?
Gabriel: Well, I believe it’s a very difficult time for everyone. No live shows, no travelling. In Crystal Viper we are trying to stay as busy as possible as musicians. Music, this is something we love the most to do in our lives. This pandemic was the reason why we recorded The Cult so early after releasing Tales of Fire and Ice. That was released at the end of 2019, in November, and four months later we started working on The Cult, and the Cult was ready in the summer. It was a very short period of time. When The Cult was ready in August, we started to work on the next music project. We are very, very close to announcing very cool news. I would love to tell you more right now, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. We have to wait a little more time longer.
I hope the pandemic ends soon, because we are recording music to play it live. Now we cannot play it live, so it’s difficult. It’s not possible to visit friends that live far away from Poland. I love to travel with my husband, we love to go to the mountains, the seaside and so on. When the borders are closed, it’s not possible to travel far from the place we live.
Dead Rhetoric: The traditional metal scene seems alive and well, not just with the popularity of classic bands but a great infusion of younger bands from all over the globe creating great albums and live shows. How do you see the evolution of this style, and what excites you or worries you about the future?
Gabriel: Regarding traditional heavy metal, I don’t have a comparison to the 80’s as I was born in the 80’s. Traditional heavy metal, let’s be honest, it’s not the most popular genre of metal. It’s a niche, right? It’s always a heartwarming thing for me to see new bands that come out wanting to play this kind of music. Not only because its my favorite genre of metal, but it’s a classic genre and classics in every genre of music, they will never end. The same with blues or jazz. Trends come and go, traditional heavy metal still remains the same. It will remain the same, I don’t think there will be a super band that will cause everyone to listen to this genre and land the band on the biggest magazine covers, or on the radio or television. We try to keep the flame burning, and this is beautiful.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see are mistakes or missteps that younger metal musicians make that maybe you wish they would think harder about and avoid? Can you think back to a specific mistake or misstep that maybe you made in your metal journey and how you learned from it to become stronger or more successful as a result?
Gabriel: We made a lot of mistakes in the past. This happens to everyone, in all kinds of things in your life. When you are making mistakes, you are learning to not make the same mistakes in the future. I always want to do something even if it will be a mistake, and later to regret that mistake that I didn’t do this. All mistakes are important, the most important is to be able to learn from them.
When it comes to new bands and young musicians, don’t make this kind of mistake and try to find easier paths to something. It’s very important to not take a quick path to success.
Dead Rhetoric: What interests, hobbies, or passions do you have away from music that you like to pursue? And can you discuss the importance of having Bart your husband in your life as a manager and producer to work as a team for all of your music endeavors?
Gabriel: Having Bart as a producer and manager is a wonderful thing. It’s something beautiful personally, I am able to share my passion which is music with a person that I love. This is no doubt, it’s great to me. From the other side, working with him as a band it’s great in a way. He knows me well, he knows Crystal Viper well and what we are all about. He knows our roots. He was with me when I was creating the band, he helped me a lot. He has been this kind of producer that never wanted to change Crystal Viper, our music. He never wanted to change anything. He always wants to take out of us what is the best in us musically.
I’ve always liked to read books with Bart. We love to travel, I’m looking forward to that a little bit more. We love to visit our friends. We like to watch old movies, love to listen to music. It’s actually connected with music. Sports is one of my biggest hobbies. I lift, I do yoga, and I ride a bicycle and I swim. I work out pretty hard almost every single day.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year or two for Crystal Viper playing out in terms of promotion, shows, videos, etc.?
Gabriel: Regarding the pandemic and playing live shows, I really don’t know. The truth is no one knows what will happen. Our plans for this year, we are focusing on promoting the new album and our additional projects. Very soon we will announce some news.