Label: Frontiers Records
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Denmark’s Pretty Maids have been making great hard rock and metal for more than three decades. While it might not be that surprising that most Americans have yet to hear them, it’s pretty odd that someone who has been writing about heavy music for almost a quarter century hadn’t listened to them since their brilliant 1987 epic, “Future World“. With the release of Pretty Maids‘ thirteenth studio album, “Motherland” I want to kick my own ass for letting them slip off my radar.
“Motherland” is an absorbing and dramatic heavy metal album on many levels: Excellent performances, insightful lyrics, and well-crafted and melodic songs all put together in one dynamic 13-track record. It marks the second studio album with the band’s new line-up, though at seven years in two of the three new members are veterans of the band. Founders Ronnie Atkins (vocals) and Ken Hammer (guitars) added keyboardist Morten Sandager (Mercenary) and drummer Allan Tschicaja (Royal Hunt, Kingdom Come) in 2006. In 2011, bassist Rene Shades (Mike Tramp) joined the fold.
For the new album the Pretty Maids once again turned to brilliant producer, Jacob Hansen (Volbeat, Amaranthe) who did a fantastic job on the band’s 2010 release, “Pandemonium“. That album was hailed as a stunning return for the Danes but “Motherland” takes it all up another notch.
The onslaught opens with “Mother of All Lies”, a grandiose wall of pulsing rhythms, crisp guitars, and fluid keys. Atkins’ engaging vocal delivery helps take the sting out of the powerfully prophetic lyrics. “Powerwhores and presidents, breaking down our confidence, fooled again, we’re witnessing the mother of all lies…”
That same lyrical theme follows through on “To Fool a Nation”, which rolls through with a slower but no less melodic tempo. Even though they’re a Danish band it suddenly it feels like the soundtrack for the death of America. The criminal deceit of our president, our government is all spelled out over the course of the first two songs presented on “Motherland“. “Sickened fascist frame of mind, ticking bomb on borrowed time.”
Next up we return to an evil we can wrap out head’s around with the serial killer coupling of the spoken word segue “Confession” and the driving headbanger, “The Iceman”. The songs recalls something of Kamelot in their delivery. Hammer does some stunning work here both as a guitarist and a composer. Sandager also shines with some beautiful keyboard flourishes.
“Sad To See You Suffer” takes the melody into overdrive on a track that could have been a platinum hit off any 80’s Def Leppard album. It is instantly addictive and once the hook sets, good luck in working it loose.
Shades brings the rumble and groove on mammoth rocker, “Hooligan” with its gang chorus and chugging guitars. The track cuts through the center of the album like a ripsaw. In the frayed nerves left behind we feel the melancholy emotions that resonate through the ballad, “Infinity”. Again I hear the bite of Leppard’s Joe Elliott in Atkins delivery and it carries over into the hammering “Why So Serious?” Another one of the many infectious numbers that cling to your ears long after its gone. Hammer delivers another emotive solo.
Tschicaja ratchets the momentum forward with the almost Priest-esque juggernaut of a title track, “Motherland”. The vocals soar above the rolling keyboards and propulsive drum work. That heaviness carries over into the hard riffing intro to “I See Ghosts”. This is one of the album’s more guitar weighted tracks, with thick chords, and a throbbing bass line from Shades. The solo has an Arabian nuance to it.
The one oddity on the record is the somewhat Honeymoon Suite flavored, pop-oriented, “Bullet For You”. It’s a very solid track, but somehow doesn’t quite fit the flow of the album. But Pretty Maids bring it back around on “Who What Where When Why”. The intro and verses have a Rob Zombie tint, but the chorus is another mammoth and melodic beast.
Just as the album began, with a massive wall of sound, so it ends on “Wasted”: Another power ballad that would have fit quite nicely in the 80s, but stands up beautifully today.
Pretty Maids have delivered with “Motherland” one of the year’s most impressive, powerful and melodic metal albums. They have managed to pull together the best elements of hard rock, symphonic and power metal, and blend it into a real rock and roll statement that reminds us that true heavy music can still be accessible and memorable.