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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.