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I have to wonder what someone would have expected of a Virgin Steele release in 1994. Grunge was on the rise, and many metal bands were trying to change their sound to gain popularity. This is evident in VS's previous release, Life Among the Ruins, in which they changed sound completely from glam metal/epic power metal to hard rock. Even given the album's title, the average VS fan would most likely have had low expectations. "I bet it'll be another shitty hard rock album," a fan of the epic power metallers we glimpsed on Noble Savage and Age of Consent. However, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part I is far from shitty hard rock; rather, it took the power metal we saw in only a few songs on the aforementioned album and made a concept out of it. For 1994, that was a pretty ballsy move, and it certainly paid off. Marriage I is one of my favorite power metal albums of all time.
Everything is in top form here, with a crisper, clearer production than we had with '80s VS, and David DeFeis sounding more refined and in control of his voice than he was in the past. Essentially, VS have taken everything that was working for them in the '80s and dialed it up a notch. The album starts off with the dark, cavernous, malicious "I Will Come For You", in which DeFeis sounds like some maniac hunting a child through some dark, remote tunnel. It quickly becomes obvious that, while the album is primarily power metal, it has significant classic metal influences in the riffing; it is less bombastic and more gritty than most power metal, while still retaining a slight epic flair. At any rate, "I Will Come For You" is a solid song, with savage riffs and malicious vocals, keeping the listener interested throughout.
"Weeping of the Spirits" starts with a moody acoustic intro, but soon becomes full on raging epic power metal. The riffs here are even better than those in "I Will Come For You". It's catchy, aggressive, and epic in mood; like someone ready for battle. Despite DeFeis' excellent performance, the riffs are so catchy that they threaten to take the spotlight throughout much of the song, but regardless of which one you're focused on, you're in for a treat here. "Blood & Gasoline" is at once glorious and gritty in its execution; it seems to effortlessly combine both the best aspects of classic heavy metal and epic power metal. The incredibly catchy chorus is the highlight here, but the entire song is excellent, with never a dull moment and consistently good riffs throughout. "Self Crucifixion" is a half-ballad of sorts, building up with an ominous keyboard-laden intro into an equally ominous chorus. The riffs here are very simple but effective, melodic and catchy. This is definitely a solid track worth hearing. "Last Supper" is a slow, dark, crushing song with a simple, barbaric main riff that is good but a bit overused, and the song quickly becomes dull and repetitive, not really worth hearing.
"Warrior's Lament" is one of, thankfully, only two interludes on the album, as it's not very good and doesn't contribute much of anything musically. It leads into "Trail of Tears" which, like "Last Supper" is dark, desperate, and angry. Unfortunately, it has the same problem of using a riff which, while good, doesn't hold up under constant use. Luckily, the song stops using it partway through, although the ideas that come in at that point are mixed in quality. Overall, the song is decent, but it's a bit too long and kind of meanders around for awhile. Thankfully, the album starts to pick back up with "The Raven Song" which is speedy, aggressive, and cavernous, a bit like "I Will Come For You"; it gets going from the start and never lets up. The riffs here are great, and there are finally enough to go around. I'm not sure what it is about DeFeis' vocals here but it really sounds like he's singing from the depths of some murky underground cavern, and it only helps to fit the atmosphere. "Forever I Will Roam" is a ballad that starts off with a promising emotive, wistful acoustic intro, but quickly loses my interest when the electric guitars come in; something about them just kills the atmosphere. The intro is good as an intro, but the melody is repeated as a verse throughout the song, and just doesn't stand up too well. Ultimately the song is pretty mediocre.
"I Wake Up Screaming" is a straightforward rocker, and this one's excellent. The riffs are great, and DeFeis displays some of his best vocals on the album, especially when the guitars back off and he coos, "I am trapped here in this prison..." There are some background keys here, too, and they add to the atmosphere nicely. The lyrics here are pretty cool too; while I haven't read them for the song as a whole, the ones I notice stand out to me; lines like "I am drowning in your bullshit!" and "So you think you want to fuck with me?" convey DeFeis' angry tone pretty nicely. "House of Dust" is another ballad, and thankfully this one is good. It is sorrowful, nostalgic, and forlorn; more than any other song on the album, the mood really paints a picture for me, of someone trapped somewhere in a completely hopeless situation with no way out, searching for someone to help him yet no one will. His performance almost brings me to tears at moments, especially when he shrieks plaintively, "Heaven will not receive me, nobody will believe me!!!" This is no doubt one of the best songs here.
"Blood of the Saints" is another slab of epic power metal, with a fantastic main riff and some very interesting lyrics that seem to cover different literary works; the LoTR reference is pretty obvious with the line "One ring to rule, and one ring to find them all!". I haven't picked out any other references, which may or may not be there, but I liked the nod to Tolkien mixed in with everything else. "Life Among the Ruins" is one of the better songs here, bombastic and powerful with a feel a bit more in tune with Marriage II than anything else on the album. The chorus is spectacular, the highlight of the song and perhaps the best chorus on the album. This is definitely a song you don't want to miss. Finally, we have the interlude "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", which has the integral melody we heard on "I Will Come For You", and it's very nice as interludes go; possibly enough to even stand on its own, and certainly enough to complete the album.
Overall, Marriage I isn't incredibly consistent, but it's got some great songs and some more solid ones, and for 1994 it may as well have singlehandedly resurrected that classic, gritty, simple heavy metal from the '80s we all know and love. It doesn't have as much atmosphere as some of the later albums, but DeFeis makes up for it with pure charm and charisma, and most of the riffs are infectiously catchy. If you're a fan of VS, power metal, or classic heavy metal, give this album a spin; it won't disappoint you.