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A bit of a letdown, to be honest - 82%

L_H, April 14th, 2007

It would appear, both from the existing reviews here and numerous reviews and comments I have encountered on other sites that this is widely considered among the best of Virgin Steele's works. And, hard though it is for me to speak unfavorably of this band, I have to disagree on this point.

This is actually the band's first attempt at a concept album, and marks, in a way, the transgression from releases that, while driven by a constant theme, were still song-oriented to more comprehensive, continuous conceptual albums with an overarching storyline that the music fluently explores. Indeed, this album and the following two show very well how closely music and story are related on concept albums.

One thing you will no doubt notice upon reading the synopsis of the story given by the booklet is that, well, there isn't really a lot of it. This album revolves about the revolution, the insurgency of repressed mankind against the gods that seek to rule and repress men and women alike. The two heroes of the story learn of many previous lives challenging the gods, and decide to take up the fight again to end things once and for all. And they fight. And they fight. And they fight more. And then they win.

Yes, it does sound very simple, does it not? The story as such is for long parts rather monotonous. There are not a whole lot of changes and twists going on, of a multitude of characters displaying the various sides of their personalities, leaving none as black or white but rather as following their own understandable motivations that inevitably force them to clash in murderous conflict as one would see in the House of Atreus series. And this, unfortunately is mirrored by the music. David Defeis said that part of his motivation behind this release was anger and aggression on his part caused by "several people around me who are in urgent need of having their heads removed from their necks." Indeed, anger and aggression are by far the dominant emotions on this album. This is nowhere near the rollercoaster of emotions that is "House of Atreus Act One", constantly shifting between hate and love, anger and joy, fear and triumph in a manner so abrupt yet fluent at the same time that it leaves you with the profound question of "How the fuck are they doing that?"

No, instead, for the very largest part, this album seeks to continuously enforce the "aggression" theme without leaving room for much else. This is, for one thing, a weak spot because eventually, it gets rather old and repetitive. For another, the band does not always do a very good job at being aggressive and heavy. Sometimes, they do - the opener with its utterly powerful chorus or "Dust from the Burning" with its extremely heavy main riff come to mind. However, in other places, it drags out too long ("A Whisper of Death"), it doesn't really go anywhere ("Sword of the Gods") or suddenly crashes and burns from an awesome build-up into a lame, plodding, dragged-out chorus ("Mind, Body, Spirit" for the first four minutes). It is also hurt severely by the fact that the guitar work, by and large, is somewhat insufficient. More than a few times, the type of songs make you think that there really should be a riff present, but there isn't. Definitely not a good sign.

Another complaint is the „must...be...aggressive!“ approach to the vocals. In many parts Defeis goes into an unmelodious, overly rough snarling style of vocals that is both unpleasant, severely limited in range and completely belies a vocalist of his talent and skill. Combined with that is the worsening of a problem that had occasionally surfaced on the second „Marriage“ album: He simply does too many vocals, snarling, singing or screaming at unfitting moments, at times adding a „rrraaaah“ or „yeeaaaooow“ after the ordinary singing lines for no apparent reason, adding nothing to the music except for a sour aftertaste.

Now, bear in mind this is critique on a rather high level. We are talking about the band of David Defeis, one of the most innately talented composers metal was ever blessed with. Even while this album is by and large pretty monotonous for a Virgin Steele release, it nonetheless offers a variety in emotion and melody alike that is well above average amongst metal bands. While the aggression theme does bear heavily for the largest part of the album, there are notable exceptions that provide enough contrast to keep its status as a thoroughly enjoyable release. While sadly we are not given any true ballads from the almost-undisputed masters of that category (with only Blind Guardian and possibly Riot really having a veritable claim to such consistent balladry success as Virgin Steele portrayed on the past six albums), there a few moments for us fans of their softer moments to rejoice as there are the moments of triumph and happiness that this band is so skillful at including in their works. These are the true highlights of the release, from the last three minutes of melancholy at the end of the up until then largely plodding, wannabe-heavy „Mind, Body, Spirit“ over the little piano-and-vocals interlude „God of Our Sorrows“ to the more triumphant, joyous numbers „Dominion Day“ and „Veni, Vidi, Vici“ which close the album in a flash of glory while skillfully interspersing bridges that change the thematic focus into a more thoughtful, reflective direction, refusing to simply close the album with victory in battle and instead ending it on a questioning note, leaving one to wonder if the victors will be capable to follow destruction of their tyrants with creation of the beauty that was withheld from them or fail to realize their potential and dabble in the same territories their tyrants had dwelt in before.

So yes, this album most certainly has its moments. When Virgin Steele go for their more complex, reflective, high-art approach to European-styled, classical-influenced power metal, they still hit spot-on for the most part. Combined with the moments when the far more dominant aggressive approach does succeed, the overall result certainly makes this a very good album overall. While the weakest of their still ongoing „Golden Age“ period that was initiated by their crowning achievement „The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part One“, I will not deny its qualities. It does make, overall, for their heaviest release, compared to both its predecessors and its successors. It manages to be more accessible to the uninitiated than the far more complex releases that would follow, being more straightforward, heavier and admittedly also more metal than the over-the-top, dominantly classical-influenced and highly balladic (and also, in my opinion, superior) „House of Atreus“ saga and „Visions of Eden“ . And, being an intermediate album of sorts between the two eras, it does try to be more of an „epic“ album than its predecessors did - not as in „there are epic songs“ but as in „the album as a whole provides a continuous, fluid piece of epic music“ rather than being mostly focused around individual songs.

No, it does not do this perfectly, but certainly with a degree of success considerable enough to make this an album well worth listening.