When vocalist/guitarist Marta Gabriel founded Polish Heavy Metal titans Crystal Viper in 2003, few could have accurately predicted the impact the group would soon have on the the genre. Issuing their full-length debut The Curse of Crystal Viper (2007) and it's equally well-regarded follow-up Metal Nation in 2009, the group would ultimately serve as the epitome of the then 'new wave' of aggressive, female-fronted artists and groups. Inking a long-term deal with AFM Records in 2009, they methodically asserted themselves as as an innovative--if not outright groundbreaking--creative force not to be ignored via both Legends (2010) and Crimen Excepta in 2012 (a conceptual opus with lyrics based upon Polish legends and stories). Needless to say, with the release of the highly-anticipated The Cult (2021) having officially arrived, the group sees itself the focal point of new passion.
Todd: With the COVID-19 pandemic obviously having a significant impact, how did the recording process for The Cult (2021) differ from previous efforts? Was it difficult to record new material under these circumstances?
Marta: “Everything was different, literally everything. Let me start by saying that this is the first Crystal Viper album that we haven't recorded in the studio. We were working on this album completely online because this pandemic began last year in March. All the members of Crystal Viper members live in three different countries, in Poland, in Germany, and in Sweden, so it was impossible to travel between some countries without risk being quarantined. ...Another big difference is that we recorded this album with our new drummer Forsberg (Blazon Stone, Cloven Altar, ex-The Storyteller). He joined us at the ending of 2019, right after we released Tales Of Fire And Ice (2019). It's also our first album for a new record company because after Tales Of Fire And Ice , our contract with AFM Records expired and we all agreed it will be better for everyone to not extend it. We ended up signing to Listenable Records instead. ...This album is different from our previous albums, but it's also like (the group's sophomore full-length release) Metal Nation (2009) because of our circumstances at the time. We were working as an independent band without record company behind us because we were still unsigned. When we were working on our first album The Curse Of Curse Of Crystal Viper (2007), we were unsigned. We were an independent band and were working on music only when we were recording the album. We recorded it and we didn't knew what the future would bring...if we would be signed or anything like that. It was exactly the same with this album because after our contract with AFM expired after releasing Tales Of Fire And Ice, we decided to focus on music only first and just finish the new album. We wanted to get the album done and get everything finished with the cover art and everything so we could then show to record companies what we had.”
Todd: With that in mind, it's almost as if The Cult served as an auditory résumé for the group. Taking everything into consideration, it was definitely a very serious statement of intent. What message(s) do you feel it delivered?
Marta: “It said 'Hi, this is what Crystal Viper is about. This is who we are'. It was difficult to work in a way that we were separated because we aren't just the bandmates, we are also really good friends. We like to spend time together and hang out when it's possible. When we would work together in the studio, it wasn't like working, It was like sharing your passion, which is the music, with your friends. We stayed in constant touch on Messenger, WhatsApp and on the phone. It's much, much easier than it was, for example, fifteen years ago. It's much easier to work that way, but it was not the same. I missed that magical music climate inside the recording studio. When you are in the recording studio, there's this climate that you can focus on the music only and the outside world doesn't exist at all. When you are recording in your home studio, there's always something in the back of your head telling you that there is something else you need to do after you've finished recording your tracks. That was pretty interesting for me. I have had my own recording studio at home for many years, but whenever I was recording albums in the past, I was always going to the recording studio to record vocals. This time it was much different for me. I found it kind of comfortable because, for example, when you are recording an album and the studio is booked, it doesn't matter if you are tired or not, or if you feel well or not. You just have to go to record your tracks because the studio time is booked. ...When I was recording this album at home, it was different because, for example, if I hadn't got sleep or something like that and was tired, I just wouldn't record. It was like 'Okay, I can do it tomorrow. It's not a problem'. I did like that style of working. It was different, but also weird.”
Todd: When it became apparent that the group would need to recruit a new drummer (to replace Tomasz 'Golem' Dańczak, who chose to depart to focus on outside musical projects), was it a challenge to find proper personnel?
Marta: “For a band like Crystal Viper that has already existed for so many years, it's always very difficult. The first thing is that band is a team of people who have been working together for year. You know each other very well, and we like each other. With a new member in a band, it's always a risk that maybe some members won't like each other or something like that. But in our case, with the line-up that we have right now is just right. For example, when we were looking for a second guitarist during the time I stopped playing guitar. We left some info on our Social Medias that we were looking for a guitarist and I received a message on my Instagram from (Los Angeles College of Music graduate) Eric Juris. He wrote to me and said 'Hey, go check your email. I just contacted you regarding this thing that you are looking for'. So I started to scrolling down his Instagram profile and the first thing I noticed was that he's using the exact same guitar amplifier that I'm using. And the next thing I noticed was that he's also using exactly the same guitar cabinet that I was. I said to the guys from my band ...'I think it's a type of destiny. We need to meet with this guy. We need to check who he is because we just have to.'”
Todd: Was the chemistry between Cederick and the remainder of the band immediate or was it something that had to grow over time? I would imagine it would be quite understandable if there were a period for adjustments.
Marta: “He lives in Germany and when he came to Poland to meet us, to play with us a bit and so on, it was like we know each other for years, and it's always a good sign when you feel something like that. Whenever there are new members in the band, they also bring new energy. There's always this kind of excitement because you are looking forward to the future; you cannot wait what will happen next, so it's also pretty exciting. With Cederick, it's a totally different story because we've known each other for a long time. How he joined Crystal Viper is a funny story. Last year, when it was clear for us that Golem is going to quit, I started to look for a a new drummer. I contacted a friend of mine from Sweden who is also a drummer Karl (Löfgren) from Follow The Cipher, the Swedish Power Metal band. I asked Karl if he could join Crystal Viper or maybe if he could tell me if he knows someone that would be interesting in playing Crystal Viper. He says he would love to help us, but it was around the time that his child was going to be born and he didn't want to leave his wife alone with a newborn child. This was right after we released Tales Of Fire And Ice. Then he asked me why I hadn't contacted Cederick Forsberg, especially since we already know each other. And I said to Carl that I hadn't contacted Cederick because Cederick doesn't play drums. I only knew that Cederick played guitar and bass guitar and he also sings. ...I had already worked with Cederick in the past, but I had no idea that he played drums. He was surprised that I didn't know that Cederick plays drums because drums are Cederick's true first instrument. Seven days later, he came to Poland to play, spend time and hang out with us all. And he's been in Crystal Viper since.”
Todd: What inspired the group to record covers of King Diamond's “Welcome Home” (from Them, 1988) and “Trial By Fire” by Satan? How do you choose which artist you are going to cover? It can't be too easy to decide.
Marta: “Those two songs are great. They are two Heavy Metal songs that I really, really love. When it comes to choose songs for our releases, we try to choose songs that would fit an entire album. ...We always try to create one the entire piece with our songs, cover art and cover songs that we put on our albums. In the past, the time was never right for (a cover of) “Welcome Home”, but I've wanted to record this song for years because I've always liked it and King Diamond had a huge influence on my songwriting. In general, recording cover songs is very important for us. First of all, it's a lot of fun for us to record cover songs and the second thing is that it allows us to show to people, especially to younger fans, our musical roots and where Crystal Viper is coming from musically. I'm super happy that we finally recorded those two songs. The right time finally came. On The Cult, you can find a lot of this horror and chilling elements and those are the kinds of things you can also find on any King Diamond album. We thought that it finally would match our material, which is why we chose those them. I truly love “Welcome Home” as well as “Trial By Fire” by (NWOBHM giants) Satan (from Court In The Act, 1983) Also, when it comes to recording cover songs, if you're fan, you get to play all of your favorite songs by yourself when your cooking dinner, but if you're a musician, you get to play them with your bandmates. It's double the fun because you're happy because you are playing your favorite Heavy Metal song and then your audience is also excited because you are playing some of their favorite songs as well. It's all really so beautiful.”
Todd: Aside from what we've already discussed, what were your main influences when you first began singing?
Marta: “When I started singing in local bands when I was a teenager, I loved voice of Tony Martin from Black Sabbath and Rob Halford from Judas Priest. I was listening to a lot of (vocalist) Doro (Pesch) from (Germanic Power Metal pioneers) Warlock and Leather Leone from Chastain. ...When I was singing when I was practicing, I was trying to sing in a similar way to those vocalists. I was trying to learn new things, but the truth is, the vocalist that I am right now is all because of Crystal Viper songs because when I'm composing music, there's always this melody in my head. I'm imagining myself singing stuff and some of them are things, for example, are things I'm not able to sing. I'm always trying to learn to sing them in the way that I imagine them. When you are a vocalist or are a musician in general, you're always learning your entire life. You are always practicing and learning new techniques. You keep getting better in everything you do musically. This is how it works with me, too. I learned a lot while recording the King Diamond cover. It was such a huge challenge for me, to be honest.”
Todd: Do you consider The Cult a concept album? Is there an intentional, re-occurring lyrical theme you added?
Marta: “I can say that it's a kind of concept, but it's also not a concept at the same time. All lyrics on the new album are inspired by works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, so every song tells was a different story. Every song was inspired by different stories from Lovecraft and I believe that if someone knows his works, his stories, his novels, that person will listen to this album, I'm sure they would knew after a couple of seconds that the songs were inspired via Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Maybe it's not a single story, but the songs are all linked together.”
Todd: The entirety of The Cult was inspired by Lovecraft? Now that I've had he opportunity to wholeheartedly 'experience' this music, that factor is certainly palpable. As a lyricist, was this a conscious decision on your part?
Marta: “Actually, yes. At the beginning of last year, I started reading Lovecraft stories. ...And my husband had been reading him a lot of Lovecraft before me and he told me many times that I should start reading his stories because he was sure that I would love them. Finally, at the beginning of 2020, I started reading his stories. For me, it was like 'Wow. These stories are fantastic'. In general, I love to read books. I try to read during every free moment, so I read a lot. But this was the first time in my life where I started to read a story and couldn't stop myself. ...For example, when I started to read one story and I couldn't finish because there was something else to do, I put on my headphones and finished the story by listening to it as an audiobook. I just had to know what would happen next. Reading his stories would give me an injection with ideas for lyrics and for music, so when we started working on the album, I already knew that the album was going to be about because Lovecraft's works had such a huge impact on me. ...When I was reading at night before going to sleep, I was even having dreams about the stories, so in the morning I was waking up with my head full of ideas for lyrics and for music. It was like when I was reading his stories, the music was playing in my head. But at the same moment, when I was reading a new Lovercraft story, I was basically composing a soundtrack It was all so very, very incredible.”
Todd: As a touring musician, how difficult is it to deal with the issues the COVID-19 Pandemic has caused you?
Marta: “It's very difficult because you have to stay home and you cannot go on tour. The truth is that you are actually doing nothing. You are sitting at home, you are not playing live shows, and so on. That was actually the reason why we started to work on The Cult. In the beginning of 2020, we knew that we wouldn't be able to play live and in March, it was became even more clear for us because we started receiving info about our tours being canceled. We could have sat at home and did nothing, but we decided we should instead work on a new album. We'd decided to not wait out the entire year so we could all stay active musically and keep on doing something.”
Todd: When you initially launched Crystal Viper, did you ever foresee the group experiencing such longevity? Did you immediately feel as if you would be able to reach these grandiose accomplishments or was there doubt?
Marta: “When I started Crystal Viper a long time ago (i.e., 2003), I didn't even expect that we would release the first album because I was still just a teenager. All I ever wanted to do was to play and to perform. I didn't dream about traveling to so many countries...and I didn't even dare to dream about recording all those albums and so on. I had that feeling that this was something I would love to do with my life, but it was unreachable for me at the beginning. But after we recorded the first album, I realized that everything is possible. Then we got signed to a record company and we recorded second album. Then I found out that there are people who want to listen to the music that I'm composing and that there are people who wants to see us live. For me, it's beautiful and I really appreciate every moment that Crystal Viper exists. I appreciate every single second that I'm on stage and that I'm creating music. Even right now, I see myself, for example, in thirty years with gray hair and a guitar on stage still headbanging to Metal Nation. I think it will continue as it is right now because it is really what I want to do and this is what I do best. Composing music and playing it live. ...This is like living a dream to be honest.”
The Cult (2021)
Tales Of Fire And Ice (2019)
At The Edge Of Time (EP) (2018)
Queen Of The Witches (2017)
Crimen Excepta (2012)
Defenders Of The Magic Circle: Live In Germany (2010)
Metal Nation (2009)
Sleeping Swords (2009)
The Last Axeman (2008)
The Curse Of Crystal Viper (2007)
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