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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.