There’s always a certain risk involved in putting out the album featuring only a few recently written tracks surrounded by the rearranged or rerecorded old stuff. The fans, as everyone probably know, tend to complain about every single thing, usually threatening to quit following the band and to burn all records they’ve ever bought, and this could a perfect reason for them to start doing exactly that. The reason could be those brand new songs had turned out to be not what they’ve expected, or perhaps they’re great yet there’s too little fresh material, or something else, you name it. Pretty Maids, however, don’t seem afraid to take this road, and the solid ground their new record, Louder Than Ever, stands is most certainly strengthened by their recent output, Motherland, which was released a year ago and acclaimed by both fanbase and musical critics.
Pretty Maids is a Danish band, and quite a veteran on the metal scene, for to trace its roots you have to go back all the way to 1981, when Ken Hammer and Ronnie Atkins formed what now become such a beast of a project. It’s remarkable and yet natural both are still in the band to this day, Ken tirelessly rips it on the guitars, while Ronnie basically slays everything with his unique voice, varying it from gritty, raspy screams to a soulful, deep singing. The current lineup also includes Rene Shades, which is quite a fitting surname for a bass player, Morten Sandager on keyboards and Allan Tschicaja crashing those drums. Speaking of drums, on Louder Than Ever they are brought quite forward in the mix. While I feel this is a debatable from our fellow guitarists’ and drummers’ point of view, I like this approach. In a lot of cases, drums are being overlooked by the casual listeners, and besides their lack of attention, the main reason is all these subtle drum-fills and other neat sections are drawn in the mix or sound outright flat. No such issues there.
Now, what do we have on Louder Than Ever? There are exactly four out of twelve new, previously unreleased songs. First, let’s take a brief look on old material. These are the tracks taken from five different studio albums, ranging from Scream (1995) to Wake Up to the Real World (2006). While it’s indeed the same songs, there’s no doubt they sound much more favourable now. First and foremost, the sound quality improved drastically over the years. Though, of course, it’s not the only advantage. The biggest positive surprise for me is how incredible Ronnie sounds on calm soft song parts. His voice feels more emotional and mature now, and believe me, this makes a gaping difference. Sometimes it’s not even so obvious, but even a short inspired inflexion in his voice turns the generic song section into a moment when you want to just close your eyes in a sheer enjoyment. It allowed me to appreciate such songs as Virtual Brutality and With These Eyes even more, but don’t underestimate new sounding of such classics as, say, Playing God, which is absolutely tremendous now.
Deranged is a first new piece from Danish metal monsters and also the album’s opener. This tune leans to the heavy metal approach, with low and a bit hoarse vocals on verses and a mid-range onslaught at choruses. Ronnie adds a few yeahs and rights here and there, and there is a nice guitar-solo… which somehow ends even before you realize it has begun. I feel this song could use another minute going, perhaps with longer instrumental parts. Though that’s how Pretty Maids roll: enter in with a blast, sweep the scene in a mere few minutes and leave the listener astounded.
Let’s fast-forward now to My Soul to Take, the second newcomer, which bears more similarities with hard rock, being mellow and relaxing. I can imagine myself listening to this some Friday evening with friends, a peaceful, simple little song. The pacing is quite important here, for My Soul to Take comes fourth in the playlist, right after three rock-your-socks-off songs in a row, offering a space to breathe. That’s actually a clever play on the band’s part, they quite wear you down with the first, intense few movements, and then everything relatively calms down and you start wishing for something destructive, shattering you to pieces again…
…right when the ninth track, Nuclear Boomerang makes its appearance. First, an atmospheric, sinister intro featuring the spoken samples about the nuclear attack at Hiroshima during WWII, takes place, and then the whole band kicks in. Ronnie’s aggressive singing style fits the song impeccably, and these five minutes make one of the best heavy tracks Pretty Maids released the last few years.
I said one of the best heavy tracks, because the ballads always have a special place in my heart. A Heart Without a Home, thankfully, didn’t happen to become an exception. A longing tune, casting a projection of a crimson sun sinking into the ocean on my imagination and supported by evocative lyrics, it belongs to the campfire kind of songs. Creating a serene mood and putting your soul in peace, this is a perfect one to listen to after a long, exhausting, yet pleasantly satisfying journey, which is exactly how Louder Than Ever could be described.
Despite the shortage of new material, this record will probably be appealing to both old wizened fans and young followers. The first ones will buy this anyway, and I don’t doubt will enjoy another rendition of the well-known tracks along with the brilliant new ones; and for the people unfamiliar with Pretty Maids, this could be a good point to start. Anyway, I feel the guys had made indeed the right decision both from musical and business point of view, releasing one more decent record to lighten up the suspense over the next brand new effort. Yet with us fans it doesn’t help much. We’re waiting!