Friday, November 4, 2016

Album Review: Pretty Maids - Kingmaker

It's been a busy year for Ronnie Atkins. The singer popped up as a guest on this year's Avantasia album, turning in one of the best performances throughout that record. Around the same time, he joined forces in the Nordic Union project, which released one of the absolute best albums of the year. So without his main band lifting a finger, it's been a productive, and excellent year for Ronnie. But now, as the year winds down, he keeps up the workload with a new Pretty Maids album. This is something that two years ago I would have put at the bottom of my pile, and gotten to it if I had extra time, because I was never privy to the legacy of Pretty Maids. But with this year being what it's been, this became a priority listen.

Ronnie has a voice that can work across the rock/metal spectrum. He can sing the most melodic of material, but he can also put a rough rasp onto his voice to work with heavier songs. Pretty Maids put that range of talents to use here, but not always to the best of effects. He sounds great throughout, but the songs where his harsher approach pop up tend to be less interesting than the more melodic fare. The opening "When God Took A Day Off" takes a while to get going, and once it does, the end result is a song that is trying too hard to be heavy. The song is lacking a strong melody to anchor it, which puts all the emphasis on the guitars. That can work, but the riffs in the song aren't the kind that can serve as the entire hook, so the song feels weak as an opener, despite trying to portray heaviness and strength.

By contrast, songs like "Face The World" and "Humanize Me" are able to be plenty heavy enough, but also retain the big hooks that make melodic metal so engaging. It's hard to listen to those songs and not get caught up in the spirit of the music. It's not easy to write music that is heavy and catchy at the same time, but Pretty Maids prove several times that they can do it masterfully. And really, after that awkward opening track, "Kingmaker" reveals itself to be not that dissimilar from the Nordic Union album. It's heavy, sticky music that balances big guitars and catchy melodies. There isn't a better formula out there, so it's hard to find much fault with what Pretty Maids are doing here.

It would be unfair to compare this to the Nordic Union album, since they have different aims, but I'm going to do so anyway. That project was pop metal perfection, while Pretty Maids are more of a straight-forward rock/metal band. Taking that into consideration, what "Kingmaker" does is almost as impressive as what one of the handful of best records of the year managed. Yes, I'm saying I prefer that record to "Kingmaker", but Pretty Maids have made the better metal record. Anyone who's a fan of melodic metal will love "Kingmaker", because it's a great album.

Ronnie Atkins was already the star of 2016, and "Kingmaker" just keeps adding to what has been one heck of a year for him.

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