Style: Heavy Metal
Release Date: 8 Nov 2019
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Frontiers Records are putting out a heck of a lot of good stuff nowadays and I really should be reviewing more of it. They're based in Italy but they're releasing new material from a lot of classic names and finding some quality new bands too. Sure, I wasn't too impressed with the latest Quiet Riot album but this new Pretty Maids is pure class, I have another Frontiers album down for review tomorrow and I can't wait for the new Blue Öyster Cult album, due in January.
I knew that Pretty Maids were still around because Ronnie Atkins has been a guest vocalist on the last few Avantasia albums, including Moonglow, but I was surprised to find that they've never really gone away since I first heard them back in 1985 on The Friday Rock Show. There was a brief moment in 1991 when they technically seem to have split up but it only lasted long enough for a rethink and they were back up and running. Given how good this album is, I really should take a look back at the last few because this is their fourth in seven years.
If you haven't heard them, they're a melodic heavy metal band from Denmark, which is unsurprising nowadays but was far from the norm in 1985. They're a pristine example of how a band can be heavy without ever losing an inherent focus on melody. I wrote it that way deliberately because, however much of an influence they've been on European power metal, that's not what they are. Power metal starts with the power and brings in the melody. It feels like a Pretty Maids song starts with the melody and brings in the power.
In fact, the majority of songs here could be covered by a soft rock band and still sound amazing. Sure, there are heavied up ballads that could easily be de-heavied like Shadowlands and Strength of a Rose, but someone like Richard Marx could take on Will You Still Kiss Me (If I See You in Heaven), which is a heavy song with a heavy build, and it would still sound great without any of that heaviness.
The heaviest song here is surely If You Want Peace (Prepare for War), which chugs along as well as any death metal song I've heard this year, albeit a little less extreme. Pretty Maids aren't an extreme band, but it's not hard to see why more extreme bands see them as an influence. If a band closer to the soft end of the spectrum could cover other songs, I could see a heavier band covering this one.
The best song may well be the one in between the two I just mentioned at the heart of the album. It's Runaway World and it's class throughout. It starts out softly with Chris Laney's keyboards swirling to set the mood. It builds with vocal harmonies as the instruments kick in. The verse is a textbook of how to build to a chorus and the hooks when it arrives are fantastic. I have to say that I'm surprised that it isn't apparently seen as single material, the two released thus far being the openers, Serpentine and Firesoul Fly.
If the best material is in the middle of the album, they're a strong way to begin it. They're a little subtler than Runaway World but they're both great songs. With a really strong first half and a glorious middle, it's somewhat inevitable that the second half fades a little but it's still decent. It's a quieter affair, after If You Want Peace, because the last four songs include the two ballads, which fortunately aren't remotely soporific.
This is the band's sixteenth studio album and it sounds like they're as good now as they've ever been. I enjoyed them back in the late eighties but they weren't anywhere near this good then. This is much slicker than Red, Hot and Heavy but heavier and more consistent than Future World. Ronnie's voice has matured well over the years too and he has a really tight band behind him at the moment. Obviously there's a lot of material in between those early days and now and I'm going to be very interested in seeing how long they've been up to this standard.