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This album was my introduction to Virgin Steele, after having heard several people who's musical taste is not too far from mine highly recommending the band. I downloaded it, listened to it and thought, "Hey, this is pretty good indeed". Not all that amazing I thought at first, but very enjoyable.
Fast forward three weeks or so. I'm listening to this album in the evening. I listen to it the next morning as well. And the next evening. For the first time in ages, I listen to an album several times on the same day, and can't get enough. It really needed a little while to sink in, but it has gotten better and better with every listen. In fact, it's getting better yet right now. And while I've extended my Virgin Steele collection a fair bit (all the 4 albums that came after this one), I still consider this one their best, for various reasons and at times for reasons I don't know myself. It's not a concept album like the 3 latest releases, and does not strictly demand all-at-once listening to carry you through the storyline and continuous music - yet I always listen to it in one run, simply because it is so goddamn awesome throughout. Everything here has its place, from the pure metal onslaughts over little ballad passages in the first two tracks, over the piano/orchestra track Warrior's Lament, the purely beautiful ballads Forever Will I Roam and House of Dust to the final song of the album, the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. And all over it is what I see as the best vocal performance ever delivered on any metal album, coming from Metal's top vocalist David Defeis. He does it all, from lower-pitched notes all the way to soprano tones that would make Halford envious, from soft ballad singing to amazing power vocals in the heavier tracks, and manages to sound like several different people in a way that other than him, I've only heard Geoff Tate do it. And thankfully, unlike on the later albums, he is never trying to sound like Eric Adams, but is himself all the time, absolutely unique and not sounding like any other singer out there.
Basically, every song on this album is good at least, and in most cases totally fucking awesome. The best - all the first four tracks are totally mindblowing, same with the last six tracks. In the middle, the quality drops to "just" good. Most notable is the godly opener "I Will Come for you", which starts this album totally straightforward with metal - something I missed in the next three albums, which all had rather long intros before they really got going. As all songs, it's complex in structure - the chorus is repeated very few times, there are various alternating verses, a soft ballad passage and the first appearance of the Marriage theme in the middle, at the end the chorus leads into a final new powerful passage.
"Weeping of the Spirits" has the ballad parts at the beginning and the end, while the middle is totally all-out mid-paced metal, a good bit heavier than the opener. "Blood And Gasoline" is a very different track from almost everything else Virgin Steele has ever done, and most likely features the best riffing on this album, as well as absolutely great pianos throguhout. "Self Crucifiction"'s chorus is mind-blowing and only "Life Among the Ruins" rivals it in this respect.
Now, the weaker middle part. With the next three tracks, the pace drops down a bit, especially on "Last Supper", probably the weakest song on the album (and mind you, it's still good). "Warrior's Lament" may not be your taste - a piano solo with some mild orchestration along (mostly trumpets I'd believe). I happen to love this song, but it's a clear case of classical influence alert. "Trail of Tears" is a solid epic, but fails to bring up the pace enough after the slowdown of the previous two tracks - the heavy riffing at the beginning is nice, but something faster would've been better here. It does not pick up any pace until after two minutes with a brief half minute of instrumental Speed Metal - then the pace drops to medium, until ending in a last minute of acoustic balladry with Defeis chanting some soft high-pitched notes. The next track would have been better situated before rather than after Trail of Tears - "The Raven's Song" is one of the fastest on this album, borderline speed metal. Again good, but something seems to be missing here that I cannot identify. Somehow, it seems like there's not quite enough power in the chorus.
From this point on, it all explodes to fucking orgasmic pwnage again. Two perfectly done all-out ballads and two genius heavier, faster tracks with excellent riff-onslaughts are intertwined, the second-last song is a brillaint semi-epic with,as noted before, a godly chorus, and finally, the instrumental closer, the Marriage of Heaven and Hell theme. The greatest, deserving special mention, are "Life Among the Ruins" ( probably the absolute culmination of all the awesomeness on this album), and the ballad "Forever Will I Roam".
So overall summarizing this album as a whole, we have some incredbile Epic Power Metal, mostly mid-paced with the occasional Speed Metal moment; riffing that is very good overall, mostly solid while at times incredible; wise use of keyboards that perfectly blends with the rest of the music (unlike a lot of keyboards-for-the-sake-of-keyboards bands do it these days...), in the form of piano in most cases and at times mild orchestration; ballad-passages in various songs as well as all-out complete ballads that are plain beautiful; solos that, while short of outstanding and mostly not showing impressive talent, manage to fit into the music very well - overall song structure is surely put over technicality here; impressive drumming that is responsible for various speed metal moments and very far from monotonous, and thankfully low in the field of double-bass (another thing often overdone in Power Metal these days); complex song structures that never heard the word "repetitive"; not a single bad song out of fourteen tracks that come together to an overlong album of over 70 minutes; and, most of all, most likely the best singer in metal and in fact one of the greatest in all of music delivering a performance beyond perfect.
Forever will this be my personal favorite out of Virgin Steele's discography. It's not as epic as the follow-ups, nor a concept album with an ongoing story like the last three works, nor as strongly orchestrated - but song-wise, it's a masterpiece beyond all the others, all the tracks add up near-perfectly to the album as a whole - and, most of all, the vocals are 100% perfect and the best Defeis would ever deliver. Here, he's not trying to be someone he's not, he's just being himself, and boy this is the key to perfection for him.
If you've not heard this album yet then, first of all, be fucking ashamed of yourself, and secondly, get it. Now.