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Virgin Steele was originally a glam metal act, as seen in their eponymous debut in 1982, and evolved into more of a traditional metal act, with some glam elements. They had some songs that ventured into power metal territory, particularly on Age of Consent, but it wasn't until The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Part I in 1994 that they would cement themselves in time as one of the greatest and most consistent epic power metallers of all time, with their string of five excellent albums in a row from 1994-2000. This is the last of those albums, and although it might not stand up to the likes of the Marriage album, it's still quite solid in its own right.
There's very little to bash here, overall; the production is crisp and clear, the riffs and vocals harmonize very naturally; the transitions are seamless, and the album flows very well from beginning to end. The piano is tasteful, elegant, and heart-filled; and David DeFeis is in top form, showing off his skill in range and execution that make him one of the best vocalists in heavy metal. While it's not quite as consistent as previous releases, at its best it is perfectly epic, bombastic, and proud.
DeFeis' voice is more sharp and controlled on this album than on the Marriage albums; the powerful roar he unleashed on those albums is replaced by thrashy, well-controlled shrieks, if anything even more powerful than the roar; it feels as if he's honing the power of his voice down to a fine blade, rather than a broad hammer. Along with the crunchy, crisp riffs, it gives the album a very sharp atmosphere, tight and aggressive without venturing into thrash territory.
The riffs feel as if they were written to harmonize with the vocal lines; DeFeis is clearly the center show here, but the riffs are excellent all on their own, completing the glorious, bombastic, sometimes somber power metal. In fact, the riffs often threaten to take the spotlight by their sheer catchiness, despite DeFeis obviously being the main attraction.
The album gets going with the speedy anthem "Wings of Vengeance", both savage and bombastic in its simplicity; that's the thing about Virgin Steele. They take simple riffs and melodies and milk them for all their worth; they layer the melodies to make them work for them. All the riffs in "Wings of Vengeance" are incredibly simple, and yet they create a huge atmosphere along with DeFeis' vocals; I guess it says something about DeFeis that he's a competent enough vocalist to fill into the atmosphere what the riffs lack.
"Fire of Ecstasy" is similar in style, but markedly more aggressive and less bombastic than "Wings of Vengeance". The quick riffs in the verses drive the song forward like troops into battle, culminating in the softer, more epic chorus that gives the song a more personal feel; like someone going after another person in vengeance, then shifting mood when another join's the assailant's company. This is represented by the lyrics, especially in the segment where DeFeis coos, "You and I will avenge our fathers!"
"The Voice as Weapon" combines the aggression and bombast of the previous two songs; the relentless, crushing riffs are complemented by DeFeis' sunny, sweet vocal lines. It works well, although not quite as well as the previous two songs; however, the riffs are mostly to blame - they're good, but not quite up to par for VS. Still, the song is solid and far from lacking.
"Moira" is a short, reflective half-ballad that starts out somber but grows more hopeful as the song continues, changing to a confident major chord, and then back again. It's decent, but doesn't really stand well on its own, there to support the progression of the concept, which it does adequately, but is lacking musically.
"Nemesis" is similarly shaky; more of an interlude than a ballad, really, as its purely an instrumental track, although at over three minutes it's one of the longer interludes here. The melodies are interesting, retaining a strong classical feel to them, until at one point in the song it abruptly becomes suspenseful and ominous, as the guitar joins in and it even begins to grow aggressive. Once again, helpful for the overall album, perhaps even musically, but weak on its own.
"The Wine of Violence" is a deliciously dark number, still with elements of bombast, particularly the opening and the chorus. This is quite possibly the catchiest and most anthemic chorus here, and is definitely the highlight of the song. I often find it hard to keep from singing along with DeFeis. "Wine of violence, takes your controooool!!!" Still, the verses have a very barbaric feel to them, providing a good contrast with the chorus.
"A Token of My Hatred" is very much glorious and bombastic, probably the most anthemic number here; it's huge, majestic, and grippingly powerful in its execution. The opening organ sets the mood, but then the song proper begins, and it's clearly a great one. For lack of a better word, "epic" definitely comes to mind here, hearkening thoughts of mighty Mount Olympus or an emperor's palace; someone important is around. Unfortunately, the song is a bit lopsided; for about the first half, it's probably the best thing on the album, possibly one of the best things VS has ever done, but then the solo comes in and it's decent at best, and the song more or less meanders from there. Still, this is definitely not a song to miss.
The absolute highlight of the album, though, is probably "Summoning the Powers". This strange, dark, epic number still never fails to send shivers down my spine, especially the eerie opening guitar. The main song has a desperate, almost infernal sound to it, as if the listener is entering a forbidden, unknown realm. The dark, evil sounding riffs work perfectly with this premise, as does the conservative use of a dark organ sound. The best part of the song is defintiely where DeFeis does some wicked-sounding high croons, and then the instruments back off and he sings "Gods of the silence, gods of the damned, offer no mercy, withdraw your hand!". It's pretty hard to disagree with someone who sounds so godly himself. The song has some middle-eastern sounding influences later in the song, but they're worked in perfectly as usual, only adding to the infernal epicness.
"Flames of Thy Power" is an atmospheric, keyboard-driven number which builds tension into an a reflective, regretful chorus that works beautifully. The song sets the tone for the last leg of the album, which is morose and remorseful for the most part. This isn't the strongest song here, but it's solid nonetheless.
"Arms of Mercury" may as well be "A Token of My Hatred" pt. 2; it's more or less the main melodies from that song in a mournful, piano-driven ballad. As such, it's definitely good; although I prefer "Token", "Arms of Mercury" definitely has its own mood and personality to it, and the melodies are great, without breaking into the mediocre soloing we hear in "Token". Definitely a great song.
"By the Gods" is a gruff, barbaric number that unfortunately has pretty weak riffs and doesn't do much of anything. There are one or two good ideas here, but ultimately the song is weak and forgettable.
Following are a number of interludes that do little on their own, with the exception of "The Judgment of the Son", which is a short, succinct song which displays a crisp dichotomy of emotions; dark, mournful verses contrast with a hopeful, bombastic chorus; both are excellent, and the contrast makes the feelings even more intense and poignant. It contains few ideas, but those it has are executed well. As far as the rest, there are some good ideas scattered here and there, but for the most part they might as well be skipped; they add to the concept but don't contribute much musically.
"When the Legends Die" is another dark, keyboard-driven ballad. Unfortunately, this is another weak song that drones on and on, leaving the listener just wanting it to finally end. Again, there are a few good ideas here, but it's drowned under the pompous, dull ramblings of DeFeis.
The next three songs are also interludes, and do very little musically. Not much else to report here.
Last is "Resurrection Day", an epic which sadly has more in common with the last few songs of the album than anything else; it's decent, but spotty, with some good ideas and some bad ones thrown together, and at times feels more like a rock song to me than anything else. It reuses the melody from "The Judgment of the Son", which is one of the good ideas, but has a lot of weak riffs and a poor acoustic opening. It may not be completely skippable, but it's certainly not worthy to join the ranks of album closers like "Veni, Vidi, Vici". Ultimately a mediocre ending to what is largely a great album.
Although it drops off after "Arms of Mercury", The House of Atreus: Act II is a worthy follow up to Act I, powerful in its dichotomy of bombast and sorrow (at least up to "Arms of Mercury"), and offering some of the choicest selections in VS's discography. Again, while it's probably the weakest of the five "classic" albums beginning with Marriage I, it's still definitely an album you don't want to miss.
Yet another day passes and Virgin Steele goes over the fucking top again; The top being the edge of the Universe and Defeis cutting through his foes with his mighty sidekick Pursino wielding a sword of planetary proportions riding on a Unicorn with balls of steele all while satisfying 96 females with only his voice. You guessed it, Virgin Steele went beyond their limits and the limits of music itself.
„Surely you jest“ you must say, but this album speaks for itself. Riffs, emotion, melody, and more murder and rape inside an incestuous House of Greek fellows while following Orestes on his bloody murder spree only to get crushed like a bug by the Gods makes up for all the shit life drops on you. Give me an abandoned island with no water and this album and it'll provide the food and water for me; Hell, I'm surprised this CD doesn't mop the floors and wash the dishes for me, it's that amazing.
What we have here is essentially all the Virgin Steele styles in one, with accent on speed metal riffs and double pedal bass, keyboards and that silly little Defeis fellow delivering punishment upon our souls for not worshipping this band every single day for the rest of our lives.
Too much praise? Nay, too little of it! This album has it all, it's the Spirit of Steele incorporated, it's the reason metal fucking owns every single genre in the world, and it's the reason why David Defeis should be crowned God of the universe. It's aggressive, well produced, every song offers us brain defiling amounts of metal and it simply cannot be denied as the pinnacle of power metal.
This is the be all and end all power metal release. This is what defines the genre, shapes it and makes it what it is. You can say it might be so, but only for the USA, surely, Europe has a completely own style of play.
Yes, Helloween, Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Scanner, Iron Savior, they've all done their own to the history of metal, and while respecting that I can freely say they shiver before the might and giant which is called Virgin Steele.
When you simply have a band that transcends it's own music 5 times in a row for 5 years, you have THE band of all time.
And that's why this long praise book of a cheesy review is just 10% of what Virgin Steele deserves; Buy it, listen to it, read the lyrics, not a single band will deliver what Virgin Steele does, you WILL feel enriched after listening to them and I recommend them as the best band in history.
They've taken all the best elements from heavy metal and combined them into a fucking art form.
I came to know about Virgin Steele pretty late in my tenure as a metal head, long after indoctrinating myself into the genres of Power, Progressive, Gothic, Symphonic, and Thrash Metal. It is ironic in the sense that Virgin Steele as a band pre-dates most of the significant figures in these genres, and to an extent exhibits several qualities of each. At this point in their career, they have been basically functioning in the studio as a rather impressive power trio, although now they are a functioning metal quartet that no doubt exhibits the same musical brilliance.
The best way to describe their sound is as American Pre-Thrash metal or Classic Metal with traces of Power. They exhibit the same high level of progressiveness that Iron Maiden did on their work before Number of the Beast, although there is a high level of keyboard work that hints at some influences from Rush, further displayed in Edward Pursino’s highly expressive style of soloing, balancing out amazing technical feats with a raw emotional element quite reminiscent of Alex Lifeson. One would be tempted to slate Virgin Steele as a Power/Prog. Outfit; but the high level of traditional metal influences makes this label only true in certain instances.
“The House of Atreus Part 2” is quite the magnum opus, contained in 2 CDs with over an hour and a half of total playing time. The lyrical side of this homage to the Ancient Greek tale is a brilliant poetic retelling, comparing both with the ingenuity of Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and any early romantic opera libretto. One can listen to this album and get a great collection of metal classics, and also be educated in a part of Ancient Greek culture that often takes the back seat to such Homer classics as “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad”.
Amongst the best songs on the first CD, we get an astounding collection of fast and riff happy classics such as “Wings of Vengeance”, “Fire of Ecstasy”, “Wine of Violence” and “Voice as Weapon”. All of these display the sheer intensity of Pursino’s playing and Defeis’ singing quite well. Other tracks such as “A Token of my Hatred” and “Summoning the Powers” are highly melodic, but structurally a lot more progressive, as both of them are loaded with keyboard work and clock in at over seven minutes. There are also some interesting brief interludes where parts of the story are told. “Hymn to the Gods of Night” is a catchy choral interlude with some nice keyboard work, while “Nemesis” is a rather intricate work that highlights some more eastern sounds, which are quite appropriate both to the title of the song and the setting of the entire story.
The second CD is a little bit harder to follow, mostly due to a rather large collection of shorter interludes, many of them occurring in succession. But you still have more great metal tracks such as the fast and heavy, yet progressive “Flames of thy Power”, featuring some crazy ass drumming and some brilliant piano work. “By the Gods” is a bit closer to the traditional roots of the band, as is the case with a large collection of the remaining full length songs on here. But staying true to the structure that large concept albums tend to have, Virgin Steele pulls no punches with its extravagant and complex epic closer “Resurrection Day”. It is a proper musical homage to the message articulated in this story, which is the senselessness of seeking revenge and the ruin that it always brings.
In conclusion, Virgin Steele has been going strong and shows little signs of quitting. This CD is probably among their more progressive releases, and probably would be a bit much for some more traditional fans of metal. It definitely plays well in the Power and Progressive categories, the former for the melodies and riffs, the latter for the involved lyrics and interesting structural devices in the songs. But more than any thing else, it owns in the sense that it displays a true mastery of the metal language, which can pretty much be molded into a veritable sculpture of universal greatness with the right kind of will.
...but I think this is by far the best Virgin Steele album ever. Better than the house of Atreus pt 1, better than the marriage albums, hell, even better than Invictus. Virgin Steele is THE band when it comes to epic stories and I think they succeeded the best in it with this closing chapter of the House of Atreus. This is one of the few metal operas that really sounds like an opera (forget Avantasia, those records are not even close to the quality this album has, only Ayreon might get close).
There is no need to tell you about David's magnificent voice and writng skills. There also is no need to stress the facts that Edward Pursino is a great guitarplayer and Frank Gilchriest is one hell of a hard-hitting drummer. The songs are as good as part 1 with one big improvement: they sound like a complete story. Songs like Great Sword Of Flame from part I were absolutely great, but didn't really add much to the story. This time all the songs sound like a complete story together. In fact the (to some) pointless interludes aren't that bad this time (well, I like them anyway) since the most of them are to be found right after the other on the second cd.
The first cd contains more heavy speedy songs, while the second album (concerning the judgement of Orestes) has the more melancholic epic songs with The Arms Of Mercury and When The Legends Die as complete highlights. The other best songs are Fire Of Ecstasy, The Voice As Weapon and the mighty A Token Of My Hatred.
The House Of Atreus is lyricwise the best and most tragic concept album they ever wrote, musicwise it has the same quality of The House Of Atreus Act I. Virgin Steele lovers MUST buy this album!
Although the follow-up to the incredible "House Of Atreus" is still an excellent album in it's own rights - I can't help but feel just a tad dissapointed when comparing the two.
It just seems that this time - Defeis has gone overboard just a bit too much, resulting in an record which certainly houses more than a handfull of good songs, but in the long run - is probably just a tad too long and occasionally boring (his recycling of already used themes musically really begins to drag on a bit here) - just as a whole, the album is a lot less coherent than "House..." or even the "Marriage..." trilogy.
Still there is a lot to be enjoyed on here - and tracks like "Wings Of Vengeance", "The Wine Of Violence", "A Token Of My Hatred", "Flames Of Thy Power", "When The Legends Die" and "Resurrection Day" still are excellent in their own right - but in the end it just seems to drag on a bit.
Still in its own rights it's a very decent album - there's not really a weak song on there - but somehow it doesn't feel as good as "Invictus" or "House...I" for example - well worth getting though but better in small doses than as a whole...
Another in the series of absolute fucking winners for Virgin Steele. Though this one is not quite as strong as Invictus or Atreus I, it is still very very solid in its own right, and probably the most epic of their works.
It's two CDs, 90 minutes long... and all of it totally fucking owns. Atreus I left off at a very low point in the story, as illustrated by the song The Gate of Kings, so one may expect the album to pick up with a similar style, but no, it rockets out of the gate with the speedy Wings of Vengeance. There are a LOT of random interludes here that are all indispensable, but I cannot really remember them by title. So I'll go through the main features of the album only. "Fire of Ecstacy" is very cool as well, with some of Defeis's best vocals, and of course an eye-exploding solo by Edward Pursino. Yes, this guy is a total guitar god. "The Voice is Weapon" is a live setlist staple, as is "The Wine of Violence" - all of these are very strong songs, that manage to sound different and interesting, and in the context of the theme album, express a variety of emotions... it's absolutely incredible how Defeis and Pursino can come up with this stuff, time and time again - what is this, the FIFTH epic power metal album they've written in the past five years or so, and it all sounds fresh and exciting.
Disc two begins with "Flames of thy Power". This is one of the heavier songs on this disc, and this one tends to be a bit more balladic, due to the nature of what's going on in the story. If you've ever got a few hours, go through and read the lyrics, for there is a lot going on and the album can really appreciated on another few levels if you do so. "By the Gods" and "The Judgement of the Son" are more classic songs, and then we have the epic "When the Legends Die", with some of the best guitar work to be found on the entire album... this is another total furious banger... "WAR!!!"
We close with "Resurrection Day", which ends the story in glorious fashion - see "Veni Vidi Vici" for a comparison. While not quite as good, this is still incredibly solid.
Warning: the album may take a few listens to really understand - probably more than any other Virgin Steele release. It's probably not worth getting as the first VS album of your collection. But, if you liked Atreus I, or any of their other modern stuff, this is definitely worthy of that standard.