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What has three album covers and was once known as Virgin Steele II? Why it’s Guardians Of The Flame, the sophomore effort from our favourite “barbaric-romantic” heavy metal act! Their eponymous debut was undoubtedly rough around the edges; a first impression from a young band. However, here on Guardians Of The Flame, Virgin Steele give us a clearer glimpse into the majestic future they would carve out for themselves.
There is still a wealth of early eighties metal sensibility on Guardians…, and Jack Starr was still blazing the six string. In fact, I’d say this album basically plays out like a stronger, better constructed version of Virgin Steele. David DeFeis sounds way more powerful, yet retains and refines his signature banshee howl. Jack’s playing is ace as per, and I’d rank this album amongst his finest performances. The youthful energy displayed on the debut is also retained here, and brought to a boil with a greater level of song writing.
Just like the debut, the album’s longest tracks are situated bang in the middle, and here on Guardians…, we have the massive “The Redeemer”, which was one of the finest tracks the bands had done at the time. Following up and bridged by a short intro is the album’s title track, which shows future promise and plays out like a Rainbow-style epic. Both numbers really show what Virgin Steele was capable of, and they would continue the evolution of this style right up until this very day.
That isn’t to say there isn’t a boat load of ridiculous eighties metal to sink your teeth into. The album kicks off with an AOR-style chord-ringing, keyboard-accented type of section before launching into a storming gallop, and is probably my favorite song on the album (get me drunk and I’ll sing it for you). Another cool thing about Guardians… is that it’s all killer heavy metal right up until the closing ballad which is surprisingly rather enjoyable (they just so happened to re-record a superb version of this on The Book of Burning as well).
This was the first of many leaps in quality that Virgin Steele would take, and when compared with their debut Guardians Of The Flame, it looks doubly mighty. I can imagine I would have gone nuts over this had I been around when it was released, and whilst it might sound a little dated today, this one still gets my recommendation. If you like Virgin Steele, then you should pick this up for a better representation of where they came from. If you like early eighties metal, then you should just pick this up because it’s one of the cooler releases from 1983. However, things would only get better for Virgin Steele from here on…
Originally written for http://blackwindmetal.com
After their less than iconic debut the year before, Virgin Steele cast aside their wild spirited approach to music for a more ambitious, carefully molded stance. The result is a lovable 49 minutes of wonderfully made stomping metal with distinct shades of the epic craft that would define the band in albums to come. "Guardians of the Flame" was also the last album to feature guitarist Jack Starr and he owns every bit of it with his fiery chops burning the last word in every musical statement. These were the days before David DeFeis singularly controlled all the songwriting and the band was a more cohesive and collaborative unit. The playing was the tightest it had ever been, void of any excesses, and the songs were all the more memorable for it. Room was made for only one ballad and DeFeis and Starr's lofty aspirations were satisfied with two certifiable epic tracks that barely cracked the eight minute mark. It is a very honest album - concise and straightforward, baring its heart and soul yet still proud and noble in demeanor.
"Guardians of the Flame" has since been dwarfed by the creations that succeeded it but if we're to evaluate with the benefit of hindsight, it is a very important album. Keyboards played a very minimal role in the architecture of sound and general aesthetic values and it is without a doubt, the only Virgin Steele album where power was singularly wielded by the guitar. Jack Starr's riffing and melodic texturing influenced many a USPM band and this album was the finest showcase for his prowess. On the muscular "Go Down Fighting", originally issued on the "Wait for the Night" EP and the equally energetic "Burn The Sun", he started things off with witchy spiraling riffs that led to exciting super tight mid sections which when embedded into Joe O'Reilly and Joey A's consistent bass and drum rhythm synergy gave such a propellant head banging experience similar to what was happening in the thrash metal world at the time. Starr’s guitar solos on "Burn The Sun", "The Redeemer" and "Go All The Way" sound mature and expertly executed. The tone is just right and all the nuances are captured.
"Go All The Way" pays homage to Led Zeppelin with a clearly Plant-obsessed DeFeis yelping uncontrollably and Starr's clever start stop riff at the beginning evoking Jimmy Page's "For Your Life" intro. Other influences abound elsewhere but the band had clearly developed immeasurably at this point and were on the verge of becoming a major force. Sadly, Jack Starr was fired by DeFeis who then took on the bulk of songwriting resulting in the largely inconsistent "Noble Savage". The album's legacy lives on though and it is arguably the best of their 80's output. Much more honest and noble in its intentions than anything after it.
Maybe its a sin, but this is probably my favorite Virgin Steele album. It pretty much always has been and I don't think that'll ever change. Drastically different than the Virgin Steele most people have come to know and love, and definitely showcases a younger and experimenting band, but this is hands down their most consistent release from their golden days. That was a major issue with their debut, and their next few albums "Noble Savage", "Age Of Consent", and "Life Among The Ruins", the inconsistency and there were too many times when it seemed like Defeis wanted to transform them into a hard rock band. "Guardians of the Flame" however is probably their "most metal" release out of their prime and has more than a handful of classics all over it.
David Defeis is hands down a top notch vocalist. Again however, I'm going to have to say I enjoy his vocals here more than his newer developed voice and singing style displayed from the Heaven and Hell albums and up, where he started staying in a darker mid-range and often sounds quite a bit like Eric Adams. He gives off quite an aggressive performance here, and throws out those longer notes effortlessly. Though I can't lie, the first time I heard some of those shrieks I couldn't help but laugh (just listen to the intro on Metal City). You will hear some -insanely- high pitched screaming here.
Style wise, the more straightforward Jack Starr influence is all over here (if you've heard his stuff off his Burning Starr band you should know what to expect). Jack Starr is one of the more energetic and true metal guitarists out there, and has been all over the place. Not a mindblowing figure or anything, but he's kept pretty true to his passion and his songs on here are pretty top notch. The guitarwork he displays here is top notch, filled with catchy rhythm's and great solo's. His writing along with Virgin Steele's main force David DeFeis definitely complement each other well here. There are a handful of epic moments too, though the keyboards and whatnot aren't much of a major focus here like they are with their newer works. Often the sound and style here could be compared to Attacker's "Battle At Helm's Deep", but a little more accessible and not as over the top.
Virgin Steele has also done a lot of remakes from this album, heard on their best of/compilations "Hymns to Victory" and "The Book of Burning". Though again, I'm going to have to say I enjoy the originals here a lot more. But if you want to compare old Virgin Steele to the new, listening to these original songs and then the remakes would definitely be the perfect way to do this.
The last two tracks Go All the Way and A Cry in the Night are to goofy for metal, but for the rest of the album its really enjoyable and catchy. The re-release includes five bonus tracks. I Am the One tends to stand out more than the rest, after its goofy intro is over with. The Interview track has DeFeis playing a bit on the piano before they actually start talking, nothing too incredible but for the huge fans it'll probably be interesting to hear, as it is literally an interview with the band. The first handful of tracks from Don't Say Goodbye Tonight to Guardians of the Flame are definitely a blast with some very catchy rhythm's and choruses. And Metal City's intro always brings a smile to my face.
Its goofy, but cheese doesn't get old and little bit here and there can't hurt right? If you're a big fan of the band but have only heard their newer stuff, definitely reconsider giving this album a chance. There is quite an odd and majestic vibe to be heard here. The only other band Virgin Steele reminds me of is probably Manowar, so if you're a fan you just may love this and vice versa. Fans of energetic, catchy, and happier-than-most metal should definitely check into this album.
I am giddy to have Virgin Steele’s sophomore effort, GUARDIANS OF THE FLAME, finally released onto CD, sitting in my hands. For years, I had scoured various shops and sources to acquire Virgin Steele’s long out of print early recordings on vinyl, and my patience has finally paid off to find their first two albums released for the first time on CD.
GUARDIANS OF THE FLAME, released just half a year after their s/t debut, shows the band playing galloping classic American power metal, much like on the s/t, but with a more epic flair, more mature songwriting, and better production. The lineup on this album remains the same as the debut: David DeFeis (vocals, keys), Jack Starr (guitars), Joey Ayvazian (drums) and Joe O’Rielly (bass).
The maturation of the band since the s/t is evident from the opening track, “Don’t Say Goodbye (Tonight),” a galloping anthemic track with some great symphonic elements. David Defeis’ vocals are more refined on this album, pushing the epic style synonymous with Virgin Steele today. Next up is “Burn The Sun,” a hard-hitting and fairly straightforward rocker of a track featuring some great riffs courtesy of Mr. Starr. “Life Of Crime” is another typical Jack Starr track like the previous. “The Redeemer” is one of the most epic songs on the disc, clocking in at just over 7 minutes in length, and is one of my favourites. It starts out somewhat slow, and rather heavy. As the song builds, it gets faster and more symphonic until it breaks into a ripping lead to close out the track. Utterly amazing, and an absolute Virgin Steele classic. The title track of the album is another great one. Here, one can hear the groundwork for the future epic, symphonic sound of Virgin Steele, though now the sound is still in its raw, unrefined form. The final highlight for the album for me is the closer to the original LP, “A Cry In The Night.” This is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, and one of David DeFeis’ finest songwriting moments. Very much in the style of the Marriage albums, the song is the perfect closer to the album. I absolutely love the classical-styled solo towards the end of the track.
In addition to the ten tracks from the original LP, this reissue features five bonus tracks. Three of them, “I Am the One,” “Go Down Fighting,” and “Wait For The Night” are fast furious tunes that I would love to have on the original album. Obviously, time constraints rather than quality forced the elimination of these songs from the original LP. In addition, we have an interview from 1982 conducted by Mark Snider (Brother of Dee) with the band. Closing the album is a live track from 1990 titled “Blues Deluxe Oreganata (I Might Drown). The tune itself is pretty cool, but the audience recording is absolutely appalling.
In addition to the improved songwriting and musicianship displayed on GUARDIANS OF THE FLAME, the production is also beefed up to the levels demanded by Virgin Steele’s music. Though some of the tracks may sound dated to the modern ear, remember that this album was, and still remains, a groundbreaking slab of true metal from 20 years ago. Do yourselves a favour and check out this amazing album from the best power metal band ever. While you’re at it, go ahead and check out the rest of their catalog.