Crystal Ball - Virtual Empire

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Nuclear Blast
Catalog Number: NB0329
Format: CD
Total Time: 53:54:00

There aren't many bands emanating from Switzerland and Crystal Ball, who do hail from there, are releasing their 3rd album on the non-melodic metal label Nuclear Blast. Virtual Empire is a cool name for an album and looking at the sleeve all I can think of is "hair band." The five members possess a lot of hair but as the saying goes, "hair doesn"t maketh a band" [or something like that - PPO Ed].

Crystal Ball's music struggles to find a true consistency throughout, although it has minute elements of Kiske-era Helloween in songs such as "Am I Free?" and "Blind Side." Vocalist Mark Sweeney can't keep up with the high notes though and his voice quickly plateaus its way into the coarse melodic lower tones that might suit other bands but not this band. For a touch under half the album Sweeney is an asset but the problem is that the music is not written for his style of vocals - although it could be. Sweeney struggles on notes constantly although he has the potential to have a more pleasant voice. Just hearing him whine on some songs is soul stealing. You can listen to the "intrepid" ballad "Look In My Eyes" but there are plenty more examples.

At times, the album is heightened by atmospheric "sci-fi" punctuations but unfortunately they sound like they would appear in an OLD episode of Battlestar Galactica or from the movie Logan's Run ("When The Night Is Over"). It sounds a bit corny when they use it although the music has an old-time feel to it so why not use old-time ambience. Rhythm guitarist Tom Graber also handles the keys and again, it's a hit and miss affair. Some of it sounds so contrived that it's hard to fathom who decided to put it in. It's just a mess. The album just rambles on so badly that it's difficult to listen to even though it's produced by Tommy Newton (Ark, Helloween, Conception, Human Fortress). When they're good, Crystal Ball are an enjoyable band - "Talk In Circles," "Dance With The Devil," "Night And Day," and "Blind Side" are some of the better tracks. But when Crystal Ball are not so good, they are a painstaking band that I know can deliver bigger and better songs - and hopefully a more experienced or learned vocalist. The melodies are certainly there, they have a generally happy sound, but the combination of musicians just doesn't work. Oh, and don't read the lyrics - unless you want to have a huge laugh.

Virtual Empire is a friendly album that struggles to impact like other notables of late like Last Tribe or Harem Scarem. Leave this album alongside Myon's Heaven's Garden - remember that one? No? Well, this will most likely go the same way. This will sit, not in your CD Player, but in your CD collection collecting dust. It's not horrible but there's so much more out there I'd rather purchase than this album.

[This review originally appeared November 2002 at the ProgPower Online review site -ed.]

3rd Dimension / Hands Of God / Savage Mind / Am I Free / Virtual Empire / Night And Day / Dance With The Devil / When The Night Is Over / Look In My Eyes / Private Visitor / Find Your Ground / Blind Side

Marcel Sardella - drums
Dany Sch?llibaum- bass
Mark Sweeney - lead vocals
Scott Leach - lead and rhythm guitar
Tom Graber - keyboard and rhythm guitar

'Eye To Eye' (1998) (single, as Cherry Pie)
In The Beginning (1999)
Hard Impact (2000/2001)
'Look In My Eyes (2002) (single)
Virtual Empire (2002)
HELLvetia (2003)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin CH

Added: January 17th 2005
Reviewer: Gary Carson
Artist website:
Hits: 1098
Language: english


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