Thursday, March 28, 2013
REVIEW: Pretty Maids - Motherland
I'll admit, I was a little late to the Pretty Maids party.
The Danish heavy metal band formed in 1981 (I was 4) and I didn't become aware of them until around 1996. Even then, my initial introduction came about not through their music but through a want ad in the back of a Metal Edge magazine. The now defunct rag had a section in each issue where fans could trade tapes and memorabilia with other like-minded fans. I used to scan these listings periodically for the names of bands I hadn't heard yet. I'd warrant that 65% of the bands in my current collection came from those classified ads. By 1996, however, I had become familiar with most of the A, B, and C-level bands of the 80s and early 90s. I had almost given up even checking the classifieds at all. That was when I saw the two words that would haunt me forever: PRETTY MAIDS. I immediately assumed they were an LA-based glam group...one with minimal studio output. Still, being the completest that I was (and still am), I filed the name away in my subconscious under the heading: MUST HEAR.
Six months later, while digging through dusty boxes of used cassettes at the local CD warehouse, I came across Future World. I snatched it up immediately due in part to the collector in me but more so because of the fantastical futuristic landscape and regal logo emblazoned across the front cover. Simply put, it looked bad ass. I got it home, put it in, and turned it up. I was hooked.
I don't need to go into the merits of Future World. If you're familiar with the Maids, you're already well versed in that seminal slab of melodic stadium metal. I will say this: It was the perfect record to solidify me as a fan. Future World sounded like nothing I had ever heard before from that era. Future World sounded futuristic.
I needed more. The problem was, I wasn't even sure there was more. Remember, this was in the early days of the internet...and I lived in the United States. As far as I knew, this was the only record this amazing band had ever recorded. Four months later, I found Jump The Gun. Two months after that, I found Sin-Decade. My mind was blown.
I just couldn't believe this band existed. Here were three albums of top notch hard rock released in an era dominated by the genre and yet, they were virtually unknown to the general population. How was this possible? As the years went on, and as I obsessively acquired every last studio album, EP, live set, and Best Of in their catalog, I came to the realization that there really was no explanation.
With the release of their latest album, Motherland, the Maids have amassed a combined total of 13 studio albums, 6 EPs, 3 live albums, and 2 compilations. All of this over a career spanning 30 years. And yet, they are still very much a cult band. If Motherland proves anything, however, it's that the Maids are still hungry for more...
Motherland is the highly anticipated followup to 2010's critically and commercially successful comeback album Pandemonium. Pandemonium was a great record...but I don't consider it the unabashed classic that some do. True, it was the freshest and most vital the band had sounded since the early 90s but it also had its share of filler as well. Beautiful Madness and Breathless always struck me as leftovers...possibly from the previous release Wake Up To The Real World. Also, I felt the inclusion of a remixed version of It Comes At Night was unnecessary and damaged the flow of the album.
It's always difficult to follow a successful record. I remember reading interviews with the band where this was addressed over the last couple years. Well, they don't need to worry. Motherland surpasses Pandemonium easily.
The production is absolutely stellar. It stomps all over Pandemonium from a height of 10 miles. It makes Wake Up To The Real World sound like a collection of demos. I'm not exaggerating. Go listen to that album and then chase it with Motherland. They sound 20 years apart. Jacob Hansen (Volbeat) has given the band a sound that not only reinvigorates them but also incorporates the soundscapes of the past. This is Pretty Maids circa 1987, shoved into a time machine, and dropped off in 2013. It is modern and classic at the same time. Jacob Hansen might be the Maids' very own Mutt Lange.
Another huge part of this new sound is Morten Sandager (ex-Mercenary) whose keyboard work is epic and moving but non-intrusive. His work here is ambient and chilling in places and warm and connecting in others. Above all, it is modern and gives all these songs an heir of respectability and power. It's been a while since the Maids had an official keyboard player in the band...Morten was a fabulous choice.
What can be said about Ronnie Atkins and Ken Hammer? One of the best writing teams in the genre. Atkins' voice just gets better as the years go by. Menacing and vicious one minute, melodic and soothing the next...he's truly a marvel and I suspect an inspiration to many melodic death vocalists today. Motherland is his shining moment. I really can't say he's sung better on any other album. He's always sounded awesome...but this is another level entirely. Likewise, Hammer is on fire here and lays down some of his heaviest riffs in recent memory. The definition of underrated.
Every track on this thing is worthy of attention whether its the dark, mid-tempo crush of Mother Of All Lies and To Fool A Nation, the face melting stormers The Iceman and Hooligan, the ultra groove monsters Motherland and Who What Why Where When, the top-flight melodic metal of Why So Serious and I See Ghosts (this one is going to be an absolute corker live), or the lush, commercial stadium anthems Sad To See You Suffer, Infinity, Bullet For You, and Wasted.
Wasted, in particular, is one of the greatest heavy ballads the band has ever produced. This is a true modern lighters in the air power ballad. Massive vocals on the hook, that haunting keyboard riff...they really nailed this one. Just brilliant.
Motherland marks a new sound. A new focus. A new beginning. If you've never heard Pretty Maids, this is a perfect place to start.
Don't be late to the party.