[schema type=”review” name=”Pretty Maids – Kingmaker” description=”Label: Frontiers Records” author=”Sarp Esin” pubdate=”2016-11-04″ ]
The band name is false advertisement – they are not (exactly) pretty and they are not maids. But that’s never stopped a heavy metal band before, and it won’t now. Let’s go.
Pretty Maids rate pretty solidly in the world of heavy metal, having been active since the 1980’s, and having had enough former members to populate an entire label by themselves. They have arrived at 2016 with only two of the founding members remaining, and they’ve delivered Kingmaker. Before we delve deeper into it, it must be said: it’s a testament to how the spirit of the music as it was founded is still alive.
For those who just found out this album, Pretty Maids play a blend of heavy metal that’s closer to the early days of the genre, featuring an obvious hard rock influence but still leaning close to the jeans and leather crowd. Ronnie Atkins’ lead vocals, vocal delivery and lyrical content are perhaps where this is the most obvious, as they don’t do it like this anymore. You have your simple yet catchy, effective riffs; good bass; plenty of impact-heavy drums and drum fills; on-point vocals that deliver songs about the ills of society or the type of love only hard rock can pull off. The songs are all pretty much standard-structure affairs that make no qualms about the tried-and-true methods of songwriting. Overall, the sound can be described as meat-and-potatoes heavy metal with some frills.
Which is exactly the downfall of Kingmaker. Ultimately, the major flaw of this album, apparent from the get-go is that it offers nothing new. If you are at all familiar with the two genres or their often cooked up hybrid, then you’ve already heard this album many, many times. While Kingmaker packs plenty of muscle and can get mean when it wants to (just check out “Civilized Monsters” or “Sickening”) but in the final analysis falls short of putting forward anything at all innovative. The sound, simply put, is dated, and it shows.
Let’s start with the strengths of the album, the good parts. Kingmaker delivers a solid opener with “When God Took a Day Off” and follows it up wonderfully with the titular, anthem-like “Kingmaker” both show off Pretty Maids’ muscle. The emotionally sound “Humanize Me” or the orchestrally-inclined, even somewhat power metal-like “Heaven’s Little Devil” mark the highs of the album, and they stick. Of particular mention is “King of Right Here and Now” which simply hits it out of the park and is easily one of the best tracks Kingmaker has to offer. There’s even a rather ham-fisted, “get up, do something!” song in the form of “Face the World” which, despite this, manages to come out a solid number.
However, an album like this is only as good as its focus and cohesion, and it’s ability to deliver songs that orbit closely a steady baseline of quality. Pretty Maids do have it down, but they have it down a bit too much, and the album falters quite a bit. For one thing, Pretty Maids’ insistence on attaching uplifting, rather bright choruses to darkly-toned tracks rob the songs of their strength and costs them their cohesion. For instance, “Civilized Monsters” is a hard-hitting track with clenched-teeth movement and battle-cry vibes, but its hook doesn’t carry the momentum on, it slows the whole thing down. The follow-up, “Sickening” makes it even more glaringly obvious, especially since it builds from classical, basic riffs a punchy, catchy verse and then brings it home with a chorus matching its mood and intensity – so, again, they can do it, after all.
That’s the frustrating aspect of the latter songs and mishaps, because its not like Pretty Maids can’t do better – they do. Just check out the closer that does a terrific job of leaving you wanting more: “Was That What You Wanted?” is positively delectable and the only answer to the question it poses is, yes, that’s exactly what we wanted, and we wanted more of it, but half the time there just isn’t enough to go around.
The shame about it all is that Kingmaker is not that bad of an album, it’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The problems that plague it bring it down, and for an album that’s already bringing nothing new to the table, that’s just not good. But give it a listen still, you might like it, as a whole or in part, if you like some of that stuff you used to know.
Ronnie Atkins – vocals / lyrics
Ken Hammer – guitars / songwriting
Allan Tschicaja – drums
René Shades – bass