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Getting more with the times. - 78%

hells_unicorn, May 22nd, 2019
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Nuclear Blast

After a couple of blatant throwback offerings to the days when heavy metal was joined at the hip with AOR, right down to the campy Sci-Fi oriented album art work that was all the rage circa 1985, former Swiss cover band turned melodic power metal outfit Crystal Ball found themselves in the unique club of Nuclear Blast signed acts. Although they wouldn't full shed their older fantastical demeanor on their first LP on said label Virtual Empire, by 2003 it was fairly clear that the power metal winds were shifting to something that was more in line with their old school hard rock tendencies, but also something that was more modernized and less fantasy-obsessed than the millennial Helloween scene. The resulting fourth album (2nd with Nuclear Blast) Hellvetia thus stands as a fairly different, albeit not radically so creature that is more closely aligned with the aesthetic that became popularized by Masterplan's eponymous debut. Naturally the more progressive songwriting of Roland Grapow and colossal production job that Andy Sneap brought to said album are not perfectly analogous to this band's more concise and stylized approach, which is maintained on this album.

If there is a band that comes close to comparing to how things come out here, it would be the German power metal act Chinchilla, which is fairly fitting given that said band also goes back a fair way and came into things on more of an 80s vibe. The beefed up sound of the guitars, the still present but less intergalactic character of the keyboards, and Mark Sweeney's gravely vocal work are almost a perfect match for where Chinchilla was when they hit their stylistic stride on The Last Millennium and continued on for their next two subsequent LPs. Perhaps the chief distinction between the two lay in a bit more of a latent rocking character on the part of Crystal Ball, having perhaps a stronger dose of Accept and even occasional Deep Purple tendencies that still give off an occasional retro-80s vibe. It's most noticeable on the opening fist-raising rocker of a title song (the yodeling chant intro at the beginning not withstanding), the bluesy groove and rock organ steeped down-tempo anthem "My Life", and the mid-80s infused anthem with the same Jon Lord-inspired organ backdrop "Bird On A Wire", arguably the most memorable set of crunch riff work and fanfare-like chorus material on here.

All that being said, this is also an album that is a bit more consistently defined by metallic riffing and a less atmospheric character, hence the aforementioned modern tendencies. While older songs in this outfit's catalog could easily be mistaken for something recorded at the height of keyboard-driven AOR in 1985, this is an album that more easily fits the power metal mold and has more frequent moments of impact-based execution. Though not quite speed metal, there is a level of coasting power metal tendencies with a mid-paced double kick assault to be found on "Forever And Eternally", not to mentioned a Freedom Call-like chorus section that's a bit more harmonically elaborate than a mid-80s arena anthem. Things do hit more of a speed-based level on the cruising riff monsters "Want It All" and "Misery Needs Company", both dovetailing a bit more with the faster end of Chinchilla's repertoire, or the occasional fast-paced material that Black Sabbath dabbled with in during the Tony Martin era, namely "Law Maker" and "Devil And Daughter". Along for the ride is a somewhat more advanced and swift display during various guitar solo sections that swings a bit closer to the likes of Vivian Campbell rather than the overt Ritchie Blackmore tendencies of before.

From the perspective of a metal head, this album is more in line with the definition of power metal than anything that was released by Crystal Ball previously, but it's also a tad bit weaker due to a less elaborate arrangement and a greater degree of sameness in songwriting. Apart from the sappy piano ballad closer "Wasn't It Love", which may as well be skipped over the way most Kiss fans probably do "Beth", things largely differ based on tempo, as the same combination of keyboard sounds intermingle with a still largely simplified songwriting formula. In contrast to Chinchilla's solid 1, 2, 3 punches that rounded out 2002-2004, there are only a couple of really memorable standouts that fully close the deal and demand repeated listens like a "Nighttrain of Death" or "Victims Of The Night". Chalk it up to a band in a state of transition that was still trying to fully solidify a new direction following their time with Point Music, but would nevertheless continue to plug along and weather a turbulent time of change in the power metal world. It's worth a listen or two for those who lean in more of a melodic metal direction, but it's among the weaker offerings in their sizable body of work.