If you’re a friend of mine or has followed my site, you know that I’m a massive fan of Danish rockers Pretty Maids, a fan to the point of I’m almost hesitant if I can stay objective when writing reviews of their albums. Jokingly aside, I have loved Pretty Maids big-time since I first heard “Back To Back” on the radio back in 1984 and they’re among my top five favorite bands of all time, with no album out worse than damn good. Any bad songs? I actually can’t think of one. Less good, there are a few, but no bad ones. When it comes to writing songs, Ronnie Atkins (vocals) and Ken Hammer (guitars) has a lowest level that’s so high it’s unreal and to manage to keep the enormous high qualities album after album for 35 years (the new album is their 17th studio album if you count their self-titled debut E.P. from 1983) is damn impressive – and then some! Whenever Pretty Maids releases a new album I KNOW it’s going to be at least a good one.
However, to review their new album, the first including “new” keyboardsman (and live rhythm guitarist) Chris Laney, turned out to be a bittersweet task. Only weeks before the release of the album, Atkins broke the news that he was battling lungcancer. Heartbreaking news that left me devastated. However, Atkins is determined to beat the disease and the doctors seem hopeful, so let’s keep our fingers crossed, folks. The last album Kingmaker (2016) got mixed from the fans, something that I still can’t fathom as I hold it as one of their absolute best albums ever, if not the actual best. I gave it the full monty, something people here and there has been giving me a hard time for. But I stand by that score. Sure there are a couple of songs which aren’t exactly as strong as the rest, but they are still great tunes. I gave it a 10 because it’s closer to a 10 than a 9 and I don’t use decimals so…let’s say 9,75 then.
Since their “comeback” back in 2010 with the amazing Pandemonium, Pretty Maids has released some of their best albums of their career and the band has been growing bigger and bigger. This means that every new release is crucial to their career and every new release comes with expectations so big it’s almost unfair. Me, I wondered how they were gonna top Kingmaker – or even make it its equal. So when the opening intro “Intro” (why is it that all opening intros must be named – preferably “Intro” – as a song of their own these days?) starts, it’s with great anticipation on my behalf. Pretty Maids have always been great at creating atmospheric intros to their songs and this is no different. Dark and sullen with an almost eerie outlook, this prelude is here to create an atmosphere – and so it does. It then leads us to the album’s opening track and leading single.
Pre-dating the album’s release, I had already given the video for “Serpentine” lots of spins but the fact is, the tune hit me right between the eyes the first time I heard it. It opens upbeat and heavy but as soon as the verses comes in it brings on a slightly mellower outlook, still on a punchy and straight forward note. It took me two seconds of the chorus to get why it was chosen as the first single. It’s full of hooks and the catchiness goes right for the throat without giving in on the heaviness. It’s not cheesy at all, it’s just so striking it’s impossible not surrender to it. In a just world, it should have taken over rock-radio and become a huge it. One thing struck me, though. Pretty Maids always had hard, fast and rough opening tracks – think “Future World”, “Lethal Heroes”, “Pandemonium”, “Back To Back” etc. – but this one isn’t. To me, this is not really an opening track at all. Be that as it may, it’s brilliant song.
The album’s second taster “Firesoul Fly” is next up. It begins with a clean guitar riff that immediately gives away what we’re about be treated with here. When the tune gets going it’s on a stomping groove, upbeat with a pop-rock outlook and a rhythm made for the live show. The refrain is massive with a million hooks going bananas and it’s so amazingly catchy I had to gasp for air – this is Pretty Maids going pop-metal on us at their best. Why this song wasn’t treated with a video is really beyond me because I smell a hit here. Fan-bloody-tastic! Next up, the title-track. It kicks-off brutal, heavy, aggressive and fast, even on the brink to Thrash Metal. They lower the tempo in a pre-verse section, still heavy and rowdy, full of heavy Metal riffing. When the verse comes along, it gets somewhat mellower without losing any heaviness only for the majestic chorus to come in and kick your jaw into smithereens, but also with lots of finesse and major catchiness. It’s a magnificent tune that will go down great live. This one should have been the album’s opening track.
Ballads has always been something Pretty Maids does extremely well – name one bad PM-ballad if you can. Here’s another killer one. “Will You Still Kiss Me (If I See You In Heaven)” is a monster-ballad. It’s dark, melancholic, heavy and emotional and holds so much feel it’s hurtful. The chorus is a bit more upbeat – and it’s so catchy and amazingly written it’s unreal. Also, the heavied up, dynamic and fat-riffing passage right after the refrain gives the tune a new character as well. Lyrically, it’s heart-wrecking as well. I’m sure it’s a personal song to Ronnie as you can hear the pain in Ronnie’s voice when he sings. Damn! This is not a cheesy, sugary la-la-la love song ballad with any added sugar, this is powerful stuff that goes straight for the heart. Since it’s their new single, I hope it becomes a major hit.
And speaking of singles, say hello to “Runaway World”. Starting off with an atmospheric keyboard intro, the tune continues with a stompy, upbeat rhythm upon which a verse so immediate and catchy, it could be the chorus. I’m already lost by then. Then the actual chorus shows up and completely knock me off my rocker – effective, direct and so striking I start thinking I’m brainwashed here. It’s crunchy and quite ballsy but also pop-laden, but it’s never mawkish or syrupy. A solid rocker that must be a future single – phenomenal. On a more aggressive and metal-laden note, “If You Want Peace (Prepare For War)” treats us with fat riffing and heavy guitars, a rough and edgy sound and a rhythm-section that sure kicks up some major dust. It’s very direct and in-your-face but that said, it also hold glistening melodies and the refrain hits like a ton of bricks – so awesome!
The rowdiness and heaviness continues with the fat, aggressive and headbang-friendly belter “Slavedriver”, a song that shows that Pretty Maids’ metal-roots are still very much a part of their music. Edgy and rocket-fuel injected, the tune isn’t here to take prisoners and fires on all cylinders and will definitely take your breath away. As the icing on the cake, it comes with a striking refrain that hits like a punch in the gut. Radio-catchy it is all but, but I reckon this will be a killer live. Brilliant! On the ballad side, “Shadowlands” is more upbeat and straight-forward and holds a hooky main melody and a big groove, classic Pretty Maids style. The massive chorus with catchiness enough to sell reminds me some of Nordic Union, the project Atkins has with Eclipse man Erik Mårtensson without taking away any of Pretty Maids’ identity. I do smell a hit here so I guess this might be a future single-candidate. Another tune that completely knocked me for six.
On a mix of classic Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, the hard and punchy “Black Thunder” attacks and commands us to head-bang wherever we might be. On a bouncy and crunchy rhythm, steadily built by bassist Rene Shades and drummer Allan Sorensen, Ken Hammer riffs away like his life depended on it (the guy’s such an underrated guitarist), making the tune heavy and raw with Atkins’ brilliant melodies and hooks bringing the tune home. The refrain is spot-on – slightly similar to “Kingmaker” in the shout-back of the song’s title. The song sticks right away while still totally pop-less. Awesome. The first time I heard the closing ballad “Strength Of A Rose”, it felt kinda lukewarm and “meh”. The second time, I thought it was pretty good only for it to stick like glue the third time. It’s a soft and smooth number with a beautiful arrangement and a somewhat dark twist. While the verses are on the laid-back side, the gorgeous refrain heavies things up slightly and now that the tune has stuck, I’m in love with it. It grew on me quite fast – and it keeps on growing.
Holy damn, what a KO this album turned out to be. I’m completely floored. How Atkins and Hammer (with Laney on two tracks here) are able to come up with album after album with sky-high quality, keeping their sound without repeating themselves is mindblowing and startling. Together with producer – and sixth member kind of – Jacob Hansen, the guys has provided a great production as well. The sound is big, fat and in-your-face, clear yet rough, polished yet aggressive and heavy. This album could very well be PM’s most melodic one yet but on occasions it’s also their heaviest. I can’t find one bad second on this album. I can’t even find one song that’s only good here – they’re all brilliant, to the point of me not being able to find a favorite. The whole record’s my favorite song. I know there will be fans begging to differ with me on this, but hey that’s the beauty of having different taste and opinions. To me, this is nothing but a damn masterpiece! The album of the year, without a doubt!
To wrap it up, all my thoughts and prayers (not in a religious way, I have to add) to Ronnie Atkins. If you happen to read this, recover in your own time and when you’re well, we will be right here waiting.
More Pretty Maids reviews:
3. Firesoul Fly
4. Undress Your Madness
5. Will You Still Kiss Me (If I See You In Heaven)
6. Runaway World
7. If You Want Peace (Prepare For War)
10. Black Thunder
11. Strength Of A Rose