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The House Of Atreus: Act I is a difficult album to both digest and put into words. I feel this is truly the point in Virgin Steele’s career where David DeFeis began to lose himself somewhat to pomposity, delving into deeper, more complex subject matter than ever before. The music would of course reflect this, and whilst his approach would later have some relatively serious repercussions on the band as a whole; here it works, to admittedly breath-taking effect.
Along with The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell: Part II, these were the albums that set me off on the Virgin Steele journey. Whilst I know the aforementioned like the back of my hand, at times I still get lost in The House Of Atreus: Act I. Whereas Invictus delivered a more song-orientated affair, here the band serves up twenty two tracks at well over an hour; with each track being absolutely integral to the experience. Whilst this isn’t bloated like its follow up, the album is without a doubt a massive undertaking, and should be approached with inquisitive intent.
I’m not going to delve too deeply into the storyline, as it can be easily found all over the net. Basically it’s inspired by Aeschylus’ Greek tragedy trilogy The Oresteia, concerning the House of Atreus following the end of the Trojan War. If you’re interested in the story expect a good deal of drama, and I’d say DeFeis did a pretty good job of conveying the subject matter through the music. What’s more impressive is that The House Of Atreus: Act I stands proud as a metal opera without crutching on an army of guest vocalists to play characters; likely taking cues from Savatage’s excellent approach to the medium.
Further impressive is how well Virgin Steele integrates the interludes, especially the likes of “A Song Of Prophecy” and “G Minor Invention (Descent Into Death’s Twilight Kingdom)”, which are stunning musical pieces: creating atmosphere and serving a lot of purpose. DeFeis’ orchestral and piano talents are seriously impressive here, and I feel that the interludes help to give the album its serious, dramatic feel.
Of course, the finest magic conjured in The House Of Atreus: Act I appears in the fully-fledged songs. Striking a dynamic balance between mighty, riff-oriented power metal cuts, poignant ballads, and stomping epic numbers, Virgin Steele continues on its path of dominating genre and style. If I’m completely honest, outside of its sequel, I don’t feel there is another album like The House Of Atreus: Act I. The band did a phenomenal job of conveying their theme in the music, and there’s a definite air of Mediterranean, as well as Eastern themed motifs, which lends the music its identity and a distinct mythological vibe. The music across the board is dense and multifaceted, and as I’ve said, it’s quite easy to get lost in the scope of the material here.
Whilst the album undoubtedly works at its finest when taken in whole, there are certainly a few individual tracks which really stand out, not just as some of the best songs on The House Of Atreus: Act I, but across the entire Virgin Steele catalog. “Kingdom Of The Fearless (The Destruction of Troy)” clearly deserves a mention, and is likely amongst the top ten Virgin Steele songs. A perfect marriage of the European and American styles of power metal, it is riff driven, symphony kissed, double kicked brilliance. “Child of Desolation” stands as maybe the finest Virgin Steele ballad: heart-rending in its delivery, with a jaw dropping revisit of the “Bury me beside the endless sea” motif which was spawned in “Crown Of Glory (Unscarred)” on The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell: Part II.
Everything from performance to production is across the board nearly flawless on The House Of Atreus: Act I; showcasing a band at the height of its prowess. Whilst I don’t think this quite matches the majesty of The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell albums, it is still a superlative release, and really one of Virgin Steele’s very finest to date. An essential piece of heavy metal which succeeds on many levels – from its artistic merit to its wonderful songs, this gets my whole-hearted recommendation to anyone remotely interested in progressive, power, or heavy metal. Truly spellbinding, get this now if you haven’t already!
Originally written for http://blackwindmetal.com
With a string of three concept albums under their belt, what would Virgin Steele attempt next? A fourth concept album, naturally! However, while the previous three albums had a few interludes here and there, they were more song-based than anything else, particularly Marriage I. Sure, the concept was there, but it was the second priority for the band; the first was clearly writing good songs, which, thankfully, they accomplished with flying colors. However, The House of Ateus: Act I pulls out all the stops, probably their most ambitious, diverse, and complex album to date; they put the concept at the forefront, with spoken interludes, songs from the points of view of various characters, and, in addition to all that, a track listing that's almost as consistent as Marriage II. Yes, folks, don't go away, because Virgin Steele show in 1999 that they are still very much alive and kicking.
To be completely honest, I never followed the complete concept of the Atreus series; it's obviously a Greek-style drama. There are definitely some familiar characters here; Agamemnon and Klytemnestra, who the casual scholar will recognize from Homer's The Odyssey, as well as Kassandra, who is recognizable from The Iliad. Perhaps you're more interested in that sort of thing than I am, but beyond that I never really bothered to follow the story; there's some anger, some battle, some pain; etc. Perhaps one day I'll sit down with the lyric sheet and really study what's going on here, but the songs are more than strong enough to speak for themselves, laden with a variety of emotion. We're also not without connections to the Marriage cycle, both lyrically and musically, with the title of the opening song, "Kingdom of the Fearless" having been referenced in Marriage II's "Emalaith", and the outro of "Child of Desolation" analogous to the intro and outro of "Crown of Glory".
The production here is pretty damn good on all accounts; be it a symphonic interlude, a ballad, or a ball-breaking slab of epic power metal, it's pretty enjoyable. The guitar tone is thick but not overpowering, an improvement over the thinner, sharper tone we heard on Invictus. The piano and synths are as enjoyable as they've always been; realistic and tasteful, although they're not as subtle now as they've been in the past, taking center stage at many points throughout the album. DeFeis's voice is in fine shape; while it's not as razor sharp and piercing as it was on the last album, his aggressive crooning still absolutely grabs the attention of the listener, charismatic as ever, if not more so.
As to the songs themselves, it's pretty much impossible to say much that encompasses all of them, or even place them into categories, short of metal songs, interludes, and ballads. This is easily the most musically diverse album VS have ever released, yet despite that fact it manages to be consistently great. However, there are two major highlights of this album. The first is "Kingdom of the Fearless" which ranks somewhere in my top 5 power metal songs of all time. Yes, it's that good. It is easily, easily the best song VS have ever written, which I wouldn't say lately, considering the amount of competition. However, "Kingdom of the Fearless" just completely grabs you by the balls and doesn't let go for the entirety of its 7 minutes and 39 seconds. We've got the whole shebang here; pompous, bombastic, majestic synths, epic, galloping riffs, out of this world vocal lines, and a huge atmosphere that just SCREAMS "epic" in every way possible. This was my first VS song ever, and after hearing it I knew I was going to love this band.
The other highlight is the second ballad, "Child of Desolation", which is one of my favorite ballads, and certainly the best one VS have ever written. The melancholy, grieving piano riffs create a beautiful atmosphere, coupled by DeFeis' fantastic performance, and an outro that's left me close to tears at times. However, don't let the fact that these are highlights throw you into thinking the rest of the album is half-assed; in fact there's not one worthless song here, although the first ballad, "Blaze of Victory (The Watchman's Song)" is a little dry at times, with lackluster piano riffs and spoken word from DeFeis. And since we're on the subject of ballads, the third and last of them, "Gate of Kings" definitely picks up the slack we hear on "The Watchman's Song", with hopeful, peaceful synths and a triumphant vocal delivery from DeFeis, not to mention a killer chorus. I'm not normally an advocate for metal albums having more than two ballads, but I have to say it works here; perhaps we could have done without "The Watchman's Song", but I don't come away with the feeling that the album had too many ballads, just that one of them could have been better. Hell, I could probably take a whole album of ballads if they were of the quality of "Child of Desolation" and "Gate of Kings".
As to the other metal songs, we've definitely got an all-star line-up here, with "Return of the King" ripping in a classic metal vein that sounds like it could have come straight out of Marriage I, minus perhaps a few flourishes. We also have a few songs that are simple, heavy, and straightforward in their glory; "Through the Ring of Fire", "The Fire God" and "Agony and Shame" sound like something that could have been written in the mid-80's, be it on Noble Savage, Exorcist's LP, Original Sin's LP, or - as was actually the case with "The Fire God" - Piledriver's second LP, which was written by frontmen DeFeis and Pursino. However, this sounds better than any of those, with riffs that will leave a lesser man bewildered and will give even the strongest a good ass-kicking. I'm actually surprised to hear that "Through the Ring of Fire" wasn't written fourteen years earlier - I wouldn't be at all surprised if it were.
Apart from that, we've got the dark, glorious "Flames of the Black Star", which builds tension and then breaks out into epic power metal, with huge multi-tracked choruses DeFeis style, and some straightforward riffs mixed with some dark, ponderous ones. Then we've got "Great Sword of Flame", which sounds like something straight out of Invictus; razor sharp, in-your-face power metal with a few heaps of epic poured on. Finally, there's "And Hecate Smiled", which is sort of half metal, half interlude, with the first minute or so riding a great metal riff, which is unfortunately short-lived as it breaks into synths.
Of course, this album is riddled with interludes, and thankfully, most of them are good, adding to the album rather than detracting from it. Some standouts are "Prelude in A Minor", which is regal with its use of organ synths, "A Song of Prophecy", which has a similar atmosphere to "Child of Desolation" and has some beautifully somber piano riffs, "G Minor Invention", which throws heaps of epic on the table, symphonic style, and "Garden of Lamentation", which is actually more or less a short ballad, with a nice passionate vocal performance from DeFeis. Overall, this album is greater than the sum of its parts; the interludes and cohesive story provide a sense of overall progression to the album so that it flows like a good book, and even without that, the individual songs are great most of the time. While not quite VS's strongest release, it's an album that surpasses anything most other power metal bands could remotely approach, and it's a very, very worthwhile listen.
Every once in a while when life gets futile, there comes a light of hope. Every once a while when the music scene becomes dominated with talentless, poseurs, there emrges an album which changes the entire look of the scene. The year was 1998 and Virgin Steele's The House of Atreus: Act I was such an album. Who the hell would have thought that these shabby chaps who made albums like Age Of Consent, would one day go on to deliver one of the greatest albums ever, both in terms of songwriting and performance? But any way, they did it and here we are back to the review.
Musically The House of Atreus: Act I consists of 22 tracks with 75 minutes of music. The tracks range from 7 minute epics to a minute long interludes. On the whole the album isn't very much song oriented and is little hard to digest. The music is closer to what Manowar did on their Into Glory Ride album except with more symphonic elements and a much better performance. The story is based on the aftermath of Agamemnon after the war of troy. The album sounds more like a play in musical form. Describing each track will be useless and hence I will avoid that. I will describe how to listen to this album.
The album can be divided into 6 sectionsaccording to the story. If you piece every track in it's proper section you will soon realise why they made so many interludes. You will also realise why a certain song is fast, slow, long, simple, heavy, etc.
Section 1: War of troy
The entire war of troy is covered in the single sng, the opener, Kingdom of the Fearless (The Destruction of Troy). As it is based on the war, it is mostly fast and aggressive. It is the longest song of the album and also the most complex. The war of troy was also long and complex so we can see why the song is constructed so.
Section 2: Return home
In this section, Agamemnon returns home, while his wife keeps preparations ready for his return. A watchman is kept at the roof to watch the sign of victory, which he sees on a cold night. Hence Blaze of Victory (The Watchman's Song) is dark, reflecting both the night and also the dark things going on in the house. The following song Through the Ring of Fire is Agamemnon being satisfied at his conquest and return home. The rest of the 3 interludes describe Agamemnon returning home. It is described in 3 various moods, hence they used 3 diffrent interludes instead of using a single one.
Section 3: Welcome home
The section starts with Return of the King which is Agamemnon's return and welcome home, while the queen is plotting in her mind as to the revenge and the elders are trying to warn him of the coming danger. Flames of the Black Star (The Arrows of Herakles) describes, Agamemnon's resurrection to the throne as well as Klytemnestra cursing him for his cruel deeds.
Section 4: Plan of revenge
The whole plan of revenge is made up by interludes. It starts with Narcissus which indeed feels like some dark and mysterious plot being weaved. And Hecate Smiled and A Song of Prophecy are about Cassandra's prophecies and Agamemnon ignoring them. They are not related to the actual planning, but in the end become significant as to the fate of Agamemnon.
Section 5: The death of Cassandra and Agamemnon
This is the most important section of the album, in short the heart of the album. It starts in the form Child of Desolation which marks the death of Cassandra. Cassandra died innocently and hence Child of Desolation is a beautifull piano ballad easilly reflecting Cassandra's innosence. G Minor Invention (Descent into Death's Twilight Kingdom) is an instrumental which marks the final death of Cassandra. Day of Wrath is an interlude marking the execution of the main plan to kill Agamemnon. The death of Agamemnon is marked in the song Great Sword of Flame. Unlike Cassandra, Agamemnon died fighting for his life hence Great Sword of Flame is total speed metal, the heaviest song from the album. The Gift of Tantalos and Iphigenia in Hades
describe the diffrent emotions that both Agisthos and Klytemnestra felt on the death of Agamemnon. While Agisthos was happy and vented his happiness in the form of anger, Klytemnestra's were also of hapiness but also sadness because of losing her husband. The emotions are superbly described in both the songs.
Section 6: Aftermath
After the death of Agamemnon his daughter Electra was enaraged with her mother but helpless because of Agisthos. In the song The Fire God, she reqeuests fire god to help her take revenge on the them both. Hence it featrues the most angry vocals by DeFeies in the album. The fire God advices her to sent her brother, Orestes, who is still a minor, to Phocis for his safety and his future role in the revenge. Garden of Lamentation describes Electra saying goodbye to Orestes, hence it is a sad ballad. Agisthos has taken over Agamemnon's kingdom, so to smuggle Orestes uot of the palace, the elders divert Agisthos' attention by challenging him while Orestes is safely taken out of the palace. All of this is described in the song Agony and Shame, which is again a complex song and contains many sections. The opening melody used is same as that used in In Triumph or Tragedy indicating that Agisthos took what was Agamemnon's. Gate of Kings is about Electra, the Elders and Orestes telling themselves and each other that even if we are so far from each other, we won't lose hope and have our task accomplishedand that we won't lose sight of it. Hence it is an uplifting ballad, which feels hopeful. Via Sacra is nothing but just a closing piece.
If you follow the story and listen to the album according to the sections, it will be much easier to understand. The music and songwriting here is of the highest caliber I have ever heard. The ability to express the story through the music is just ultimate and the lyrics also are above par. So concluding I would say that whatever type of music you may like please get this album, it's one of the best ever released.
David DeFeis' inspiration which was brought to him by Zeus' testicle enlarging genius imbuing spell wasn't obviously enough for David, therefore he decided to fuck it all and go wild by cutting Zeus in half with an axe then eating his organs. This time Virgin Steele's back with yet another style change, tossing away Endiamon's victory upon the gods and going a bit forward, or back in our case into Ancient Greece.
Let's just say when you thought that Invictus was the top of the top, the undeniable king of epic Virgin Steele comes again to prove you wrong; While Invictus was the Darkness Descends of power metal and never stopped pounding your vagina, HoA is more of a diverse album, taking more from Marriage than the former.
We have speed metal raging crushers such as Kingdom of the Fearless, we got narrative ballads like The Watchman's Song, we got bombastic interludes and subtle instrumentals and then of course we got the epic 6 minute or more monsters that only apparently Virgin Steele can produce.
And last but not the least you get here and then a melody or a narration coming from the previous albums very subtly like a older man offering chocolate to children if they come to a ride to wonderland. This is very reminiscent to The Crimson Idol of a certain band, but instead of a sense of continuity inside one album Virgin Steele decided to spread it over 5 years and albums worth of ideas.
The story follows the House of Atreus and all the nifty betrayals, rapes and murders that come within, but then again the way Virgin Steele delivers they might as well be singing about fairy dust and leprechauns, I wouldn't see the difference; This album captivates you from the very start and it won't let go til the very end.
Strangely enough, other than the opener and closer and the two amazingly epic songs Flames of the Black star and the bombastic Agony and Shame, I found myself enjoying the before mentioned Watchman Song followed by And Hecate Smiled. Virgin Steele doesn't only do songs right, but the little interludes I keep constantly writing actually feel epic on their own and if only 1-2 minutes long deliver without flaw.
Therefore 4 years and 3 style changes later Virgin Steele seem to be going on a inspiration frenzy, something they surely can't continue for another 10 years... or could they?
Come on, how were they able to pull this thing off? Yes, I guess Mr. Defeis had been reading about the Trojan war while stoned out of his mind, so a concept album Greek mythology would come out naturally. However, how did they manage to tell the story in an original way, while having the perfect music to back it up? How were Virgin Steele capable to create a concept album that required heavy knowledge of Greek literature to be totally understood, yet were smart enough to keep the tale away from those who didn't want to get into it? How the fuck do you put 12 interludes and instrumentals in your album that all sound interesting? I don't know, but this (Along with The Spectre Within) is the best power metal album I have ever heard, and I encourage you to listen to it at least one hundred times before you die.
Probably before even listening to the album itself, you’ll notice the huge track listing. There are 22 songs in here, and as I already said, 12 of them are interludes. Virgin Steele have already proved to be the masters at this, since other bands like Blind Guardian have filled entire albums with pointless interludes before, only to be forgotten 0.01 seconds after they end. Go ahead, tell me "In Triumph or Tragedy" isn't amazing on its own. Think of them as really good mini-songs instead of 'interludes'. They tie up longer songs together or end in a climax for the next one. "Agony and Shame" wouldn't be the same without "Garden of Lamentation" being a really quiet ballad behind, waiting for everything to explode into that immensely epic keyboard melody. What I'm trying to say is that The House of Atreus I is to be listened in its entirety, not having a single song to skip over.
'Steele had already proved to be the most epic power metal band out there, with albums such as Invictus and the Marriage... ones. However, this one blows them all away tenfold, maybe because it has a wider range of killer tracks merely than a bunch of 'really fucking good' ones. "Child of Desolations" is their greatest ballad, certainly one of the best power ballads of all times; having these kinds of songs is a great advantage. As I said, you shouldn't listen to any track on its own, they're all connected lyrically as well as musically. Hell, some themes from Marriage and Invictus appear here, for example, an expanded version of themes found in "Emalaith" that made up "Descent into Death's Twilight Kingdom"; you can play around and find all the references. There's no "Marriage of Heaven and Hell" theme though, which is a shame, but there are so many more; in riffs, in keyboard solos, in vocal melodies, etc.
Not to say this sounds like a bunch of recycled ideas from other albums, they're just ways of going on with the story; since somehow Marriage's story is connected to Atreus. I don't understand everything from the tales themselves, but it doesn't matter because the story is there only if you want to get into it. Besides, look at the crew! There's no need to 'get' a concept album when you have David Defeis' perfect taste for powerful keyboard lines, emotional melodies, excellent lyrics, and being an all around amazing singer. To that, add Edward Pursino's impeccable guitar work. He's one of the best guitar players in power metal, both riff wise (highlighting "Flames of the Black Star"s main riff), and solo wise, which highlights any of his solos in Virgin Steele, ever; but in here you can single "Kingdom of the Fearless". The drumming is very well done, no bass-drum wankery at all times for the sake of having them in the front. Without being overused, they inject even more power into specially climatic moments. And there's also the bass.
The House of Atreus is a metal opera like no other (at least like no one but Virgin Steele could pull off), epic power metal from start to finish. Sometimes it'll make you headbang and air guitar around your house ("Flames of the Black Star", "Kingdom of the Fearless"), sometimes it'll bring you to the brink of tears ("Gate of Kings", "Child of Desolations"), and other times it will be a huge combination of every single one of those emotions, to the power of 'epically awesome', plus one. This last one comes in the form of "Agony and Shame", undoubtedly the absolute highlight of this work of art, which is complemented perfectly by "Garden of Lamentation" and segues into "Gate of Kings" which segues into "Via Sacra". At the end someone should yell "COMBO BREAKER!" for having such a strong, continuous suite. That's how good this album is.
Yep, this the most epic album ever. One of the best power metal opuses (well it's better than pretty much every single one of them out there), with the added value that it fucking teaches you Greek history. I passed a philosophy test based on Greek mythology thanks to The House of Atreus I. Maybe because I was lucky that it was based on what happened after...ehem, 'the destruction of Troy'. What more is there to say? Oh wait.
Virgin Steele rules.
A number of people have repetitively told me to check this band out, but being the lazy human scum that I am, and my musical preference being what they are, I didn't till sometime last week. I obtained The House of Atreus Act I, and now power metal has been murdered for me. I have not listened to a better power metal act (then again, I haven't listened to all that much power metal), and definitively one of the few that actually deserve the title of "epic".
This album is twenty two tracks long, clocking in at roughly one hour and 13 minutes, and every second of it is pure gold. The riffing is brilliant; the soloing is literally some of the best that I've heard in my life, and you can count on at least one per song, which makes it all the more enjoyable. The drumming varies from almost nonexistent from some tracks (see Narcissus or Via Sacra for examples, among others) to speedy, such as in Kingdom of Fearless. The keyboards are tasteful, varied and not overbearing, unlike a lot of bands seem to make them. The vocals... Ye gods, a better power metal vocalist than David DeFeis there cannot be. His singing is powerful and commanding when need be (such as Kingdom of Fearless), but also heartrendingly beautiful as seen in Gate of Kings. He also does a lot of choral work, which I am always partial to in this kind of music. The album is based around the greek mythos, most prominent being the events of the fall of Troy and what befell after.
If you are a power metal fan and haven't heard this band or album, do yourself a favour and do so right away. Virgin Steele simultaneously deliver a masterpiece and blow anything calling itself "epic" power metal out of the water. Picking out individual songs as highlights would be a disgrace to the rest of the album; just listen to the whole damn thing, the way it's meant to be heard.
...when you cannot decide which album from a band is your favorite album ever? I was thinking of it quite a lot, and I've come to a conclusion that I gave too many high rates to albums I reviewed. But I regret nothing, and when writing about Virgin Steele only thoughts of glory and magnificence come to me. I worship this band more than any other metal band, not because they're the greatest, the most complicated, the truest or whatever, it's because their music simply inspires me. I won't bring out anything new here, I said enough of the last 3 reviews.
The thing is though, this album is pure emotion, it radiates with power, sadness, magic unseen. There aren't many albums like this around, actually there is no album like this one and while I didn't listen to it like I listened to Invictus, it's simply too goddamn amazing to be ignored.
This is the greatest power metal album ever. Period.
There is a big fat line between this album and Invictus, and I cannot say why. It feels different, the former was heavy metal, it was close to Manowar and WASP and Judas Priest, while being superior by many factors, and this one has nothing to do with them, it's like inserting Bach into 80's power metal and coming out with a masterpiece. Take The Watchman's Song for example, the parts after the narration, it's one of the most amazing things I ever heard and it explains the perfection of this release.
Then of course there's the Kingdom Of The Fearless, the greatest song I ever heard with it's amazing intro and of course Defeis. As you already know... this man is man no longer in my eyes - he's a god and such he shall stay.
As UltraBoris said, this album is no small thing, and should be listened all at once, it's a epic story 1 hour and 13 minutes long. No intro, no little piano piece is out of place here, it perfectly balanced and connected and every song here is crucial.
You just have to experience it for yourself so I won't continue with this review anymore, I'll just mention my favs.
Flames Of The Black Star comes in after The kingdom of the fearless for me, and it slowly builds up to a masterpiece, then there's And Hecate Smiled a great intro piece to the Child Of Desolation one of the greatest ballads ever made by man, and of course The Fire God and Agony and Shame introducing you to the Virgin Steele power metal riffing mania.
This is the greatest power metal album ever. Those who cannot enjoy it are sick, or simply retarded. Worship it, for that's the only thing you can do.
Without a doubt Virgin Steel's finest moment so far - no matter on how good the previous set of albums where - all gets topped once again by Defeis's most ambitious project / concept so far - a stroy (spread out over three discs, starting with part I, ending in the double disc part II) about the Trojan War.
Everything on this album just fall in place perfectly, be it the excellent songs or the small instrumental interludes. But be warned, basically this album has to be experienced as a whole - although most "long" songs can be experienced seperate as well - it's not untill you can listen to the entire picture that "House..." shows its magic.
Personal classic moments are the amazing opener "Kingdom Of The Fearless" (brilliant !!), the all-shattering "Flames Of The Black Star", "Great Sword Of Flame" and Vs's best ballad ever "Gate Of Kings" (which has somewhat of a Manowar ring to it).
Excellent and once again shows that by now, Virgin Steele is a force to be reckoned with....
This is one of those albums that has to be listened to all at once. I've listened to it a few hundred times, and I still don't know the individual trackings - there are a total of 22 tracks, which vary in length from 7 minutes to about 30 seconds. Everything here has its place, from the little piano pieces, to the spoken word parts, to the long guitar segments.
Highlights - well, if I really gotta break it down into individual songs. "Agony and Shame" has a really cool middle part, with a melodic break that has the same general tune as "Sword of the Gods" from Invictus. It's kinda cool, I mean if you're going to recycle riffs, you may as well be completely and totally overt about it. It gives a sense of continuity, as that basic melody has appeared on about 4 Virgin Steele albums.
Also, "Great Sword of Flame" is nice speed metal. "Gate of Kings" and "Child of Desolation" are awesome ballads, some of the best ever written. David DeFeis definitely figured out how to write ballads since around Noble Savage. "Through the Ring of Fire" has some really cool layered vocals. Etc etc, there are highlights everywhere, but this album isn't about the individual pieces, it's about everything coming together for 71 minutes of musical perfection.