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Virgin Steele's stint of glory from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" up until "Visions of Eden" is a landmark in epic metal. For twelve years, David Defeis led his symphony of steel beyond the halls of Valhalla and through Olympus' clouds with his soaring fleet of iron might, and I show no shame in including Virgin Steele next to Iron Maiden or Judas Priest as one of metal's finest warriors; their material really is that exquisite. Now I was a little surprised by the immediate decline in content throughout "The Black Light Bacchanalia" following "Visions of Eden." Sure, it's another tale of grandiosity which wiggles next to most of the band's works, but the mask, once removed, reveals something tired and faceless. Virgin Steele did not abandon the charging anthems and high-flying characteristics of their prime; however, the meat and potatoes of the group's fire was stretched way too thin, leading "The Black Light Bacchanalia" down a path where sagas fade to one-dimensional fables and valor molests its own honor.
The focus of the album seems to be how many useless and overblown additives Defeis and crew can pile into their music, if I may be frank. Extravagant tunes with multiple layers including orchestral work and keyboards alongside the elongated duration of Virgin Steele's compositions have appeared beforehand in previous offerings of this group, but here they transfer from relevant to banal without really changing anything remarkably drastic. Beyond the gigantic film of extra crap (and there's plenty of it), there isn't anything noteworthy or captivating within this carnival of mediocrity. Occasionally a cool riff or pattern pops up, but these moments are usually drilled into oblivion once all the unneeded sections and useless fireworks show up and totally throw off whatever the band was originally conveying. They constantly jerk around from here to Asgard for the sole purpose of jerking around from here to Asgard, just a directionless show of Virgin Steele on sleep debt; the idea of recreating an epic anthem or something dramatic completely ruins most of the album, as it was clearly the point to bring one of Defeis' cinematic imaginations (which border on laughable at times) to life. Probably not the outcome he was hoping for.
Speaking of Defeis, what the hell happened to this guy's voice? Remember the rough, gritty tone and sky-high wailing of this banshee that immortalized his voice in the eternal halls of metal? Well, here he greatly restrains his ability as a vocalist, settling for vapid chimes and falsettos so falsely theatrical and roaring that they almost seem like a joke. Still, he hits notes that impress, yet his standard brilliance this is not. The only survivors are "By the Hammer of Zeus," the pounding "The Bread of Wickedness," and I have a little heart for "Eternal Regret," yet like most of the album, it could use a temporal shaving of about four or five minutes. Sure there are a few good tracks, but it's like these guys were trying to win a formula-1 race on tricycles, thinking the flames painted on their bikes would achieve hyperspeed and break the sound barrier. I could totally picture David Defeis doing that, by the way.
In its attempt to become a heroic tale of divinity and beauty, "The Black Light Bacchanalia" boasts the armor of Virgin Steele without having understood the knowledge of why or how Defeis and his precious child are heavy metal legends. Excessive orchestration and a multitude of tracks running beyond seven minutes equates to precisely nothing if the core fundamentals of passion and drama and power decide to skip out on the festival, and sadly, that's what happens here. In contradiction to the consistency of Virgin Steele, "The Black Light Bacchanalia" fails miserably at its desired objective, and I hereby state this is the band's worst full-length release since “Life Among the Ruins,“ easily. Boring, bland, and balderdash is this bacchanalia.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
Virgin Steele's latest album is one I was really excited about. While Visions of Eden didn't do that much for me it was far from bad. The problem with that record was, despite the weak production the lack of real killer material which made it an average album at best. Anyway, this reviews is about the most recent Virgin Steele so let's get started.
Now I'm not going to lie: at first I hated this record. The vocals were weak and the songs were quite bizarre. There was a lack of heaviness that I didn't like and I felt the songs were far from interesting. I decided to give this album another shot and eventually found out what I disliked the most about this album and sadly it's an very important thing; the vocals.
David DeFeis just doesn't live up to the nickname ''the lion'' here and is whispering thorough the album singing with very little effort this time. It's sad because despite his age he can still pull those wild cat screams off. They're as natural and aggressive as they ever were so I'm having my doubts about him losing his voice after all. I wish there were more midrange vocal lines which would do the album much more justice; even the heavier songs here have an laid back feeling just by the vocal delivery alone. DeFeis occasionally uses his midrange but there are sadly very few actual good vocal lines to be found here, with the exception of those powerful screams that basically every song is full of.
On the other hand, there's besides the vocals not much to complain about; the production, while not perfect is alright. There's no longer a distant feeling and the guitars are most of the time audible. They occasionally get overshadowed by the piano but besides that there's not much to worry about. Speaking of guitars, I'm glad they're back in the mix. While the riffs aren't as vicious and as they once were there are some great stuff to here hear: the intro riff of ''The Orpheus Taboo'' sounds as vicious as some of the older stuff, while ''In a Dream of Fire'' isn't as riff-oriented but still has an enjoyable catchy lead to offer around 3:10 minute mark.
The songs themselves are quite varied. The openings track is the heaviest one here with some great heavy, pounding riffs and crazy solos in between. Despite the soft vocals this is what Virgin Steele is all about. ''In a Dream of Fire'' is another great one; being more of a laid back moody song. ''The Torture's of the Damned'' is the shortest song here and while it's not even 3 minutes long I still find the haunting mood of it enjoyable and reminds me of something that would fit right away on the Atreus series.
Many songs didn't do much for me at all though. ''Pagan Heart'' for example, sounded rather dull to my ears at first; the guitars weren't as loud and the vocals didn't impress me either. The same counts for ''The Orpheus Taboo'' which starts vicious before leading into a mysterious mess. DeFeis screams Fuck you! The of the hero is mine! in the middle of the track which got me pretty excited, yet the music again features catchy, safe yet enjoyable verses. Misleading seems to be the right word here; just when you think hell is about to get unleashed it never does.
In the end, The Black Light Bacchanalia is a decent album. It has potential, but sadly the vocals are the most annoying factor here. The production is better than the one on Visions of Eden and could be a little better but it's not much to worry about at all. The material is varied, which is enjoyable, yet the misleading moments in between could turn you off. Get some of the band's later era first (starting with Marriage) and check this out later.
Something has to be said for the hard-nosed existences of older rock/metal acts who just don’t know when to quit. I’m not saying that to be a dick, or anything, like certain acts should just hang it up rather than tarnish their past reputation with albums that neither tackle those older ideals nor shed some evolutionary light (…OK, there are SPECIFIC acts out there that should really consider calling it a day. Won’t say who.). I’m actually praising some of these bands for not giving a fuck whether or not their particular style has outlived its usefulness and continue to record and tour. Dedication to their craft…something to admire. And it seems that one such act is this here Virgin Steele band, 30 years young and still goin’ at it.
And let’s see what they’ve been up to post-millennium…
I’ll admit it now; what drove me to this album, at first, were David DeFeis’ strange jaguar screams first head on the first track, and the fact that they kept coming during that first riff was just fantastic and had me hooked for the rest of the album. Things start out with that fist-pumpin’ heavy/power metal sound that is just cuh-LASSIC to the bone, sounding simultaneously catchy and aged and able to push everything with a good forward momentum that doesn’t lag too much on riffs and ideas that are weaker than they let on. Over time, though, things end up moving into a new direction that kinda betrays the album’s decidedly old-timey feel, entering the realm of rather fancy-sounding symphonic metal that doesn’t sound too far removed from a high-profile Broadway stage show, albeit with a group of long hairs at the helm. On that same musical end of things, this is some really rippin’ metal that has more than a lion’s share of melodic tandems and many moments to enjoy, where the distorted guitars and drum-machiney percussion meet lush orchestration, sharp piano interludes and strange, operatic/cat screeching singing that is both epically powerful (with the low, brooding approach) and annoyingly distracting (with the high, squeaky falsettos that just pop outta nowhere), taking song lengths into a dimension all their own due to the overwrought arrangements. The production doesn’t really do the material that much justice in that, at times, the instrumentation is scrunched under the weight of the monstrous vocal exercises, making it that much harder to take in and enjoy as much as I’m sure David would have wanted. Nevertheless, the differentiation present is almost enough to make up for the strangeness “The Black Light Bacchanalia” possesses, as songs like “By the Hammer of Zeus (and the Wrecking Ball of Thor)”, “In a Dream of Fire” and the closer, “Eternal Regret” can attest to.
At the end of the day,Virgin Steele’s latest is a mixed bag of musical fanciness and weird vocal aesthetics that stands on its own two feet, but doesn’t come off as completely gelled. It’s ambitious, sure, but the remaining loose ends and sharp corners can come off as too distracting to enjoy completely. Recommended, but with caution.
Brace yourselves, 'cause this is going to be a long one.
Virgin Steele should need no introduction around these parts, and I'm sure that the majority of us are no stranger to this album by now with plenty of healthy discussion taking place on the boards. I've had the promo for this for quite some time, and when the release date came around I nabbed a copy straight away. Since then I've spun this just about every day, some days permitting multiple spins, and I'm in no rush to stop spinning The Black Light Bacchanalia any time soon.
I'm going to get the negatives out of the way first. The production struck me as quite bizarre on first impression, the vocals felt really high in the mix and the drum kit felt quite electronic. Also DeFeis, while owning the first 30 seconds of the opening track utilizes a whispered style of delivery in the verses, which was alarming at first. However I don't feel that the vocal style is used to compensate for the shortcomings brought on by father time, if that were the case his high register and falsettos would be the first to go. He proves throughout The Black Light Bacchanalia that he can still do them in spades. I also wish they used Edward Pursino a little more, sure Joshua Block is awesome, and his leads are quality but I prefer Edward's style which was one of the best parts about their classic five.
So getting into the actual meat of The Black Light Bacchanalia the album opens up with one of my personal favorite tracks of both the album and 2010. "By The Hammer Of Zeus (And The Wrecking Ball Of Thor)" is Virgin Steele doing what they do best, having no need for build up or introduction. This kicks straight in with DeFeis owning the place left right and centre, delivering what I'm taking as an homage to the late Ronnie James Dio in that "Look Out!". From here onwards Virgin Steele tear through metallic brilliance, moody piano passages, and progressive arrangement, both hungry and emotional, burning with intensity throughout.
Just about every track stand out to me as great, although picking favorites I'd have to go with the aforementioned opener. "In A Dream Of Fire" which matches the description of "barbaric-romantic" metal they use so often. The twin punch of "The Orpheus Taboo" and "To Crown Them With Halos Parts 1 & 2" again both standout as fantastic, with the latter having some truly amazing passages throughout its 11+ minute runtime. Closing up on the favorites "Eternal Regret" quickly rose as a favorite of mine in the last few days, about the lamentation of god and the damage he has done throughout the events in tracks on here and the last album Visions of Eden, that in the end comes out as a very emotional track with some of the album's finest piano work. Fortunately there aren't any particularly bad tracks here, although if I had to pick a least favorite it would probably be "Nepenthe (I Live Tomorrow)" however I still think it's a good song.
For the performances, as I mentioned before, I feel DeFeis is definitely on form. His vocals are excellent and his range majestic however I will admit that it had to grow on me. As is the norm with Virgin Steele the keyboards and orchestration are flawless though maybe a little overbearing for some. Pursino and Black both deliver great guitar performances particularly in the leads, melodies and harmonies, and Frank Gilchriest puts forth another brilliant drum performance.
It is in repeated listens that the beauty of The Black Light Bacchanalia opens up, I'd say at around two or three full listens I was pretty much sold. Since then I've went on to listen to this album countless times, and I just can't help going back to it. At over 76 minutes this is a big investment of time, and as is usually the case with albums of this length you expect a fair share of filler. Well it seems Virgin Steele truly are pros at doing lengthy albums and as with their last six studio releases there is no room for filler (okay, maybe Atreus: Act II was pushing it a bit at an hour and a half).
Overall Virgin Steele have done it again. Some people will whine and twist that this isn't Invictus or House of Atreus, that the riffs aren't as prominent as they once were, but I believe its unfair to the band to expect that from them. Virgin Steele will continue to push on with their sound and who knows what could come next, which is why Virgin Steele are one of the most exciting bands around. The Black Light Bacchanalia ranks among the finest this year has to offer, and while admittedly not as great as the classic five I feel this isn't too far behind in terms of quality. Highly recommended
The age of the hero is mine...
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
Well, this was bound to happen sometime or other. I love Virgin Steele, and at their best they really are one of the classiest and best metal acts out there, but even the gods aren’t infallible. Apparently after almost 10 years gone from the scene they seem to have lost their marbles, or at the very least have bitten off more than they could chew. Visions of Eden was a detour, and one that could be excused – they’d still come back to their regular sound later, right? Experimentation is fine, but there are ways to take it too far…which this album does rather garishly. The train has run itself off the tracks, people.
This is called The Black Light Bacchanalia, and we have the first flaw of this album right there. Virgin Steele has simply gotten too wrapped up in DeFeis’ own mythos and pretentiousness. The 90s stuff was always elaborate, sure, but it was always rooted to Earth with catchy riffs, choruses and an adherence to some semblance of the heavy metal style. This stuff…is just too much. I mean it’s not like they’ve lost the ability to write songs, but it’s more like they’re more concerned now with trying to write some kind of faux-opera story with multiple characters and parts and storylines, except they never really go all the way with that either, not like they did on the Atreus albums. Instead they just keep trudging through overly long and overly progressive songs in a manner that suggests they think they are being clever – or rather, DeFeis does, as he is the only one who really wrote any songs on this.
It’s frustrating because there are some really good parts to this album that remind me of the kind of music this band is capable of at their best “By the Hammer of Zeus” rocks, and it’s followed with slices of majestic metal like “Pagan Heart” and the melodic, gloomy “In a Dream of Fire,” but sadly these opening songs are the only good ones on here. After that the album just kind of loses itself up DeFeis’ polished ass and meanders around for a good 55 minutes, producing only moments of actual tension and grandiosity amongst many, many more of pointless and directionless stumbling. Listen to the storming, riff-crammed openings of “The Orpheus Taboo” or the title track and you will be incredibly disappointed as they sink into asininely restrained prog jerking that just doesn’t end up interesting at all.
Every song is like that really; lots of masturbatory pianos and ornate guitar work with very little substance or direction. “To Crown Them With Halos” is trying, and it’s definitely really elaborate and structured, but I can’t help but think it just doesn’t reach its point fast enough, if it even has one. “Necropolis” is long and overly mellow and like a less good version of “Emalaith” from the second Marriage album. Except, you know, on THAT album they didn’t have like 5 other songs trying to be “Emalaith,” too, so it was better, more surprising and more poignant. This is just overkill. By the time the slothful “Eternal Regret” rolls around this album is just completely tiresome, with very little to keep the listener hooked.
DeFeis’ vocals on here are overly adorned with pointless crooning and ridiculous castrati wailing contrasting his gurgling-broken-glass ‘harsh’ voice in a way that seems to be dodging the implication that maybe, just maybe, his regular voice isn’t cutting it anymore. The whole album is like a plastic Christmas tree. It’s flashy and it looks nice on paper but why bother with it when you could get the real, organic thing? That is, go listen to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Invictus or The House of Atreus instead. The Black Light Bacchanalia is simply too much music with too little real, actual meaning behind it – and no, I’m not counting the arbitrary, pompous lyrical storyline behind this whole thing…
I really don’t mean to be so venomous towards this, but really, Virgin Steele are one of my favorite bands and this album is incredibly annoying, especially when you get a section or two that really makes you think ‘Ooh, maybe I was wrong! Maybe this IS getting better!’ Newsflash: It’s not.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com