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Virgin Steele have had one of the most unusual career paths of any metal band. From their inconsistent 80’s albums to the bizarre Life Among the Ruins release to the glorious power metal releases from 1994 until 2000, the band always aimed for its own sound – sometimes I feel they perfected during the mid 90’s. Visions of Eden was released after a couple of years of silence, sounding quite different from their latter releases which now brings us The Black Light Bacchanalia: an album that sounds inspired, yet has so many flaws that it makes the music come off bland.
First of all, David DeFeis’ vocal lines are absolutely odd on this album. He’s known for his powerful roars and crazy high notes. While still demonstrating both (the latter way more however) his delivery is absolutely annoying in most cases here. Listen to ‘’By The Hammer of Zeus’’ and tell me that whispering after 30 seconds of enthusiastic wailing isn’t a letdown. Another example would be ‘’Pagan Heart’’ where the guy pulls of some demonic shrieking near the end after mumbling his way through the song. It doesn’t even sound like the guy is losing his voice. No, it sounds like he’s about to try EVERYTHING he’s capable of and put those lines into an album. Save for maybe a few tunes such as ‘’The Bread of Wickedness, ‘’Nepenthe’’ and ‘’The Torture of the Damned’’ his performance, despite being quite impressive , is hardly effective here.
Songwriting is also inconsistent here. The first four tracks are the best ones here however. The first two are good examples of bringing louder guitars back; offering interesting riffing ideas and still decent solos mixed with orchestration work. The latter two are good examples of catchier material. They’re not as emotional intense as some past tunes but exciting enough to keep me hooked. After that you're left with a soft tune, a chain reaction of overlong story telling by David, one decent break of the sleepy material named ''The Torture of the Damned'' and a final ballad track that's hardly emotional, full of uninspired, dull piano playing that's not grabbing my attention at all.
Production doesn’t do the songs justice. The guitars aren’t as in your face as they could be and still get drowned by other instruments. The sound comes off distant and is not something you would expect to hear of a 2010 release. The programmed drums are present once again – and while not always becoming irritating, I find the drum triggers to be very unfitting for the music, giving it a mechanic vibe.
For a good idea of how the songs are put down by basically all of the above, ‘’Pagan Heart’’ is an excellent example. It’s made up by some great riffs. It just doesn’t help that:
1: The guitars are hardly audible at times. I can hardly pick out the riffs during the verses. They’re getting overshadowed by the vocals.
B: When there’s no guitar riff sticking out, you’re left with David’s boring ‘’I’ve got better things to do’’ vocal approach which makes the song even more tiring than it already is.
The chorus riff has a cool middle Eastern kind of feeling to it and that thunderous riff around the 3 minute mark destroys everything in sight. The verses come off rather dull however.
The Black Light Bacchanalia definitely tries to be impressive. You can hear that these songs just weren’t put together in a couple of minutes. However, The Black Light Bacchanalia is also full of flaws I can simply not ignore. An overlong and over ambitious album this is – ready to test your patience. There’s still plenty of potential here but Virgin Steele have some things to work on before they’ll release another piece of work again. Verdict: listen to Virgin Steele's higher rated albums first and then maybe come back to give this album a chance as well.