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Now that my cherished items are covered in a thick layer of plastic, allow me to inform you that this is an all-time favorite of mine. Yes, the second part of Virgin Steele’s rightfully-lauded “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” epic is not only the finest cut of the group’s excellent zenith, but a timeless classic whose obscurity among the herd is unpardonable. Much like the first part of the series, “Part Two” falls somewhere between the laurels of traditional heavy metal and the heroism of power metal, although the style is redefined by the untouchable chemistry between David DeFeis and Edward Pursino to make it distinctive among the other two chapters. “Part Two,” needless to say, holds the quintessential makings of a magnum opus. It’s the best of the best, and if you disagree, you are WRONG.
It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly this is the best of Virgin Steele’s outputs. To be honest, I don’t concern myself with pondering the big question. I mean, I could wonder why certain horror movies are scarier than others, or why certain bands manage to fall flat despite having the important factors of excellent music in order and ready to ship. Why is “Part Two” a masterpiece? Well, it just is. It has the tangibles and the intangibles that together make music, and specifically this brand of heavy metal, superb. Of course, a band as balanced and confident as Virgin Steele pulled off this unique, brazen style without batting an eye from the stellar performance they had issued on “Part One.” Same type and same themes, but just a notch better.
Virgin Steele’s finest asset is its profundity. On every conceivable level there are layers and layers of meaningful ingredients that are but fulcrums within the multifaceted entity that is Virgin Steele, and each plays a significant role in the success of the group’s artistic endeavors. David DeFeis’ sharp croons are unusual yet brilliant next to the staunch, robust brand of riffing from the weapons of Ed Pursino, which, when together, make a variety of situations natural. “Part 2” is very much a reflection of Virgin Steele itself: immeasurable in its depth, glorious in its ability to retain an unseen grace and variability among situations that most would find hazardous.
While most of Virgin Steele’s outputs feel comfortable in multiple skins, “Part 2” appears a step beyond mere coziness. The amount of musical ground covered here—heavy metal is an open-ended genre under the right management, you know—remains a remarkable feat, proving both the instrumental superiority of the band and the creative engines at work. Among the plethora of cuts are the standard representatives of Virgin Steele, songs layered intricately with the group’s balanced motifs of sharpness and elegance. Some are heavier and faster than others, of course, while others (mainly the quasi-ballads “Transfiguration” and “Strawgirl”) present a side of unrivaled grace and beauty. But under the organization of this sun, these cuts are immaculate; the embodiment of heavy metal perfection.
Nothing is remotely off-kilter on “A Symphony of Steele,” the record’s opener. The punchy, triumphant rhythms, leading to its gallant chorus, create a wonderful introduction to one of the album’s many themes. These up-tempo numbers are spectacular, overloaded with stellar riffs and the burning drive this band conveys naturally. The Judas Priest-geared “Devil/Angel” is straightforward and excellent, heavy on the riffs and catchy as catchy can be. Perhaps the highlight of these faster tunes is “Victory is Mine.” While not as sophisticated as a handful of the record’s other numbers, there is a magnificent aura of passion and electricity transmitted through its full-bodied, direct riffs and Pursino’s extraordinary lead work. The chorus is simple yet poignant, and DeFeis sounds superb as usual. It’s simply a fantastic song; the first that I truly fell in love with, though the rest soon followed.
The finest gems are paradigmatic examples of Virgin Steele at large, songs of incredible drama. “Crown of Glory (Unscarred),” both musically and lyrically, shows the vast peaks and valleys within the band’s outstanding ability to sway impeccably between sublime passages of tremendous atmosphere and melodiously-enriched riffs without the slightest hint of error possible. “Prometheus the Fallen One” and “Emalaith” make a reasonable case to be called some of the finest metal songs ever written; both epics are utterly marvelous in capturing their terrific, sophisticated semblances. Dread and wrath lead the intense riffs and bleak structures of “Prometheus the Fallen One,” while “Emalaith,” an anthem of loss and vengeance, is perfectly structured through its seamless travel between haunting, serene sections escorted by DeFeis’ dismay-ridden voice and intense, stout lashings of heavy metal at its very finest.
Each of these songs manages to capture its own sense, its own domain. “Unholy Water,” a track more commercially enriched, drops not an ounce of the high quality heard among the opus. Galloping riffs and dominant snare rolls (Frank Gilchriest is a phenomenal drummer) on “Twilight of the Gods” are like vital spices in a complicated dish—vigorous and affecting, not overwhelming or bland. “Rising Unchained” is a spiritual sibling to “Crown of Glory (Unscarred)” in its unhurried equilibrium upon the thin line between calm and chaos, another excellent representation of Virgin Steele’s seamless symmetry, with perhaps the greatest vocal line of the whole record: “Don’t cry for mercy, for you know there will be none.” Love it.
This review is but a hazy photograph of the breathtaking tower that is “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell – Part 2.” To describe its limitless depth and the remarkable journey upon which the thread of Virgin Steele’s majesty is spun traverses far beyond rudimentary descriptions and words. Virgin Steele, a group with the beauty of a rose and the sharpness of a blade, can never be faulted for the magnificent work they created during a time when heavy metal was parched with thirst and dying. “Part 2” is not only the pinnacle of this excellent band, but one of the finest heavy metal albums ever immortalized; it has been a favorite of mine for years, and there is nothing that even comes close to matching its vigor and divinity. “Part 2” is more than an album, but the kind of record that makes music not just a hobby, but a way of life, a source of splendor when the grandeur of existence has become anything but. To possess such skill is neither found in Hell’s fire nor the beauty of Heaven, but in the shared bond of both, forever interlocked, forever bound.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
Let me just make this clear, this is one of my favourite albums, and without a doubt one of the most important CD’s I own. It was my first taste of the excellent Virgin Steele, and will likely always remain my most cherished release of theirs. I’m going to try my hardest not to go all fanboy on this one, though forgive me if I do come across that way at any point.
As far as sequels go, this is Terminator 2: Judgement Day, this is Aliens, hell this is The Empire Strikes Back, get the picture? As incredible as The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell: Part I is, I feel Virgin Steele ups the ante here. The arrangements across the board are on a much grander scale, and I think whilst Part I was for the most part straight to the point, here on Part II the band paint over a much wider canvas, delivering an epic, swirling, life affirming affair.
Everything I loved about The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell: Part I is featured here. The stunning lyrics, the incredible musicianship (featuring the introduction of future drummer Frank Gilchrest on a few tracks), and of course the excellent production values feature prominently. However, I will say that they drop a small degree of pugilism in favor of majesty. Don’t get me wrong, this is still perfectly headbangable, and you need look no further than the burning opener “Symphony Of Steele” for proof.
What The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell: Part II brings to the table – and what I feel differentiates it between it’s predecessor – is the forward thinking, progressive sensibility of tracks such as the jaw-dropping “Crown Of Glory”, and of course the album’s centerpieces “Prometheus The Fallen One” and “Emalaith”. These tracks in particular showcase Virgin Steele at their absolute finest. With masterful performance and arrangement, oozing characteristic motifs and dramatic dynamics, these songs leave you breathless. When I hear terms such as “metal opera” or “metal symphony” it’s the sounds described here which immediately spring to mind.
What makes the aforementioned tracks doubly effective is that they are placed amongst a varied selection of songs, from excellent metal crunchers in “Twilight Of The Gods” and the fist-banging “Victory Is Mine” right up to the poignant ballads “Strawgirl” and “Transfiguration”, further proving DeFeis’ professionalism in that department. Across the board, there isn’t a single dull moment on The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell: Part II, with each number bringing something entirely its own to the table.
As a stand alone album, I really can’t recommend this one enough. Every single aspect feels as close to perfect as you’re ever going to get. Listening in context with its predecessor opens up both albums even more, with vocal lines and musical motifs reflecting and complimenting each other. Hell, stick The Marriage albums in context with the next three and you’ll find a lot of subtle nods to one another. This is an incredible point in Virgin Steele’s career, at which point they display an almost intimidating mastery over their genre. Any fan of the traditional and power metal styles would be at a loss without The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell: Part II in their collection. Essential!
Originally written for http://blackwindmetal.com
If you thought you were in for a treat with The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part I (which you certainly were, by the way), prepare to be absolutely sodomized by Part II. This is an album that more or less grabs you by the balls and never lets go. It's probably VS's most consistent release with only one skippable track and minimal interludes as well as the highest highs the band has ever achieved. It's unquestionably the best thing they've ever put out. While Marriage I was a kickass hybrid of classic heavy metal and epic power metal, Marriage II throws off much of the classic metal influence and cranks up the epic flair a few notches. Keyboards are a bit more prevalent here, but the production is largely the same, with a thick, meaty guitar sound that still complements David DeFeis, who once again takes center stage with his absurdly talented and passionate vocals. He goes for more shrieks here than on the previous album, and if anything he sounds even better than he did on Marriage I, his pure testosterone-laden aggression coming out in full force.
The album kicks off with "A Symphony of Steele", opening with some very cheddar-drenched, triumphant synths that let us know right away what this album is all about. Everything is full force in this exceedingly pompous, majestic romp; from DeFeis' glorious vocals to the simple yet crushing riffs, to the fierce, pounding drums that feel the need at times to attempt to force their way to center stage with pure force, and almost manage it a couple of times. The synths put the icing on the cake, adding the trumpet-like procession that accompanies everything else. "Crown of Glory" immediately drowns us in emotive, ethereal beauty which quickly explodes into one of the most intense, immersible, epic numbers here. It has a unique feeling that is simultaneously aggressive, bombastic, and surreal. The riffs and vocals here are absolutely flawless, completely drawing in the listener for every second of the song, distracting him from whatever he might be doing and forcing him to pay attention to the grandeur of the song. The keyboards here are dialed back a touch for the most part, but the part they do play as a tasteful completion is perfect, adding to the atmosphere of the song. This is certainly one you don't want to miss.
"From Chaos to Creation" is, thankfully, an interlude that's actually interesting, essentially a shorter version of the epic power metal we hear on the rest of the album, just without DeFeis. While it might not be something to listen to on its own, it definitely contributes musically to the album, providing a nice transition between "Crown of Glory" and "Twilight of the Gods." Speaking of "Twilight of the Gods," this is a more aggressive, galloping number with DeFeis sounding like some medieval soldier covered from head to toe in war paint, wielding a giant battleaxe. Not one to disappoint, the song is extremely gripping, holding up to the likes of "Crown of Glory" with ease, which is saying quite a bit. It dials down the surreal aspect and dials up the glorious, bombastic VS we all know and love, and this is one of the finest examples of it, bar none. It's so catchy it will be sure to have you singing along, trying hard but failing to live up to DeFeis' powerful roars.
"Rising Unchained" is a bit darker, more in the vein of "Crown of Glory", and no less epic. It is pompous, aggressive, and savage, DeFeis sounding more like someone telling a story of darkness and death; while still retaining the atmosphere of the rest of the album, the song is a bit more ponderous and progressive. The acoustic outro especially sends chills down my spine, with its haunting, arcane mystique. "Transfiguration" is the first ballad of the album, and it clearly demonstrates that the album isn't going to take a dip in quality simply by getting softer. It is dark and moody, DeFeis' warm croons grabbing the listener almost as much as his aggressive shrieks. It hearkens back more to Marriage I more than most of the album, at places reminding me slightly of "I Wake Up Screaming".
"Prometheus the Fallen One" cranks the epic back up a few notches, from the atmospheric, middle eastern-influenced intro to the dusky, slick, almost urban feeling of the main song. It brings to mind "Blood and Gasoline" in that VS somehow manage to combine that slick, urban feeling while still remaining epic power metal. It still manages to astound me. Towards the end of the song we get the crushing riff we'll see open "Emalaith", followed by the main riff of the same song, and it in no way feels out of place; VS manages to work it in seamlessly, as usual. Yes, it's that time, boys and girls. We've come to "Emalaith", the crux of the album and quite possibly the best song VS have ever written. The song begins with some plaintive, desperate riffs and some of DeFeis' most emotive vocals ever, crooning and screaming for his lost love. Then enters the riff we heard in "Prometheus" in full force, with some absurdly high shrieks from DeFeis, and then the desperate verses lead up the glorious, bombastic chorus. Everything about this song just screams epic in the loudest, proudest voice possible, and none louder than David DeFeis. It's practically impossible not to sing along with lines such as "Eeeeeemalaaaith diiieeeess, aloooone in the niiiiiight!" From beginning to end, every second of this song is perfect, but to really convince you, you're going to have to listen to it yourself.
"Strawgirl" is also quite good, a different style of ballad for the band, not as dark, more poppy, but heartfelt and it works well in the context of the album. "Devil/Angel" isn't exactly an epic power metal song, and once again it hearkens back to Marriage I with its heavy classic metal influences, but damn is it catchy. DeFeis outclasses most of the original greats, and I have to say the riffs will stand up to most any 80's metal song you can name. You'll have a hard time to keep from air-guitaring along with the infectious riffs and solos on this one. "Unholy Water" is the third and final ballad of the album, and thankfully it's no "Strawgirl". It's a catchy, hopeful number that has a fantastic main riff and a great chorus, DeFeis' classic shrieking roar contrasted by a chorus of crooning DeFeises. Again, it dials back the epic a bit in favor of a more classic sound, but I don't mind it a bit, as Virgin Steele are masters of both sounds. Finally, we have "Victory Is Mine", and although it doesn't quite stand up to the likes of "Emalaith", it's nonetheless a worthy closer to an absolutely fucking mind-blowing album, with an aggressive catchy main riff that brings to mind "Twilight of the Gods". The drumming here is noteworthy too, catching the ear particularly in the pre-chorus. Once again we have war-paint slathered, battleaxe wielding DeFeis singing triumphantly, and it's just as powerful as "Twilight".
Following is the interlude "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", which is not as good as "From Chaos to Creation", but still solid and adds to the album well. If you're looking to hear a truly fantastic concept album that masters both music and concept consistently, look no further, for such is the case with Marriage II. It varies in emotion, showing off the full talents of the versatile David DeFeis, and yet never fails to appeal. Virgin Steele prove themselves here to be masters of heavy metal.
Drunken, tearful singing of a few fellows standing near a car being absolutely 100% socially awkward with each other can be detected often where I come from. It's usually just me and a few friends listening to Marriage of Heaven and Hell II, and unfortunately for the other people around, Emalaith just came to turn. In all due honesty, even if I were sober and at a fancy dinner, I'd still jump on the table and sing this song with tears in my eyes and pride in my voice.
Hell, it's goddamn metal we're talking about here, you can't be called gay or nostalgic, it's not opera that's playing is it now? No, it's Edward Pursino, the man who could use a guitar to kill off an invasion of retarded frogs just by playing one note. His sheer power would make Gene Hoglan rethink his career and go into fashion.
In due seriousness, Gene Hoglan is God and you can't touch him, other than that small fact everything else I said is true and no one can deny it, mostly due to the fact that I don't give a smelly damn.
Right. Virgin Steele's next album in the something-ology of their strike of Zeus' genius bolt into David DeFeis' left testicle is the continuation of the previous album as in Full Metal Jacket was the continuation of Batman. Regardless it still has a vague connection in it's subtle meaning of an union of opposites and here it does deliver fully.
Unlike it's predecessor Marriage Two is far more power metal and a giant grade more lively; It brings out that energy Marriage One didn't perhaps have, and indeed in this album there's more or a heroic theme including heroic deaths, innocent maidens, sword swinging and a fellow called Endiamon loving this Emalaith chick who keeps on getting into trouble with the gods and the poor fellow has to go through all the troubles to get to her again. It's quite similar to Mario and Princess Peach just with more murder and rape, and the atmosphere's far more grey than the given analogy.
So you wonder what's it about musically? It's much more evolved, far more energetic and the feeling of each song is much more diverse than any other Virgin Steele album. And that makes it a golden star and one of the best albums in history of heavy metal in my gentle opinion.
Can you truly deny Crown of Glory's epic opening, something that stretches far and wide up to House of Atreus and keeps on coming back completely unexpectedly and then suddenly 6 years later you're stunned by the sheer amount of awesome this band can squeeze out of David's... Left Testicle of Power?
The general down syndrome and Achilles' heel of most bands nowadays is the fact they try to be epic and long and whichever not and simply stumble all over themselves and create a smoking piece of fecal excrement. Notably Iced Earth, most prog bands and newest Iron Maiden albums (I'd mention more, but you get my point); What those bands should do is listen to songs like Prometheus the Fallen one, Emalaith or Crown of Glory and realize they've been doing everything WRONG.
And Virgin Steele did it right.
Virgin Steele should be the biggest Power Metal band ever, but sadly they did not make it to that level of recognition with this album or its predecessor, which just shows that talent, inspiration and creativity are not respected by the mainstream media or by the masses in general - not exactly a secret, though. This was the second part of their grandiose The Marriage of Heaven and Hell series, and I have always liked this US Power Metal-influenced sound slightly better than the even more epic and theatrical sound they would take up with Invictus and the following albums. It is just more my style, and it is damn good enough to wipe the floor with damn near any other Power Metal band that came out of the 1990s, bar none.
I said in my review for the first segment of the Marriage series that every Virgin Steele album in the 90s was good for a different reason. Well, this album is good because it is subtle and esoteric, a more layered and complex beast than its straightforward predecessor. Witness the galloping, blisteringly-fast speed metal riffery of "Symphony of Steele," seguing in from the pompous classical intro in that arrogant and yet completely mouth-watering way that only Virgin Steele can muster, or perhaps "Twilight of the Gods," with its staccato, pummeling drum lines, or "Crown of Glory," with its immense hooks and pristine, regal melodies topping off a riff as cool as any they've ever penned. "Strawgirl" is an amazing ballad, no matter what anyone says, with DeFeis putting on his most shameless balladic crooning voice for what becomes one of the most poignant ballads you will ever hear out of any Metal band. "Emalaith" is far and away the best cut on here, though, with its subtle classical influence and delicate melody lines making for a true Metal epic of the highest caliber, and DeFeis' lyrics reaching an all-time high, and "Prometheus the Fallen One" is not far off in scope, either.
A lot of these songs will not immediately grab the listener, because the hooks are more subtle and intricate, and the band is less out-and-out Metal and a little more epic and refined here. That makes for a really classy listen overall, albeit one that may take a few listens to get into. The band doesn't leap out and try to surprise you or make their music easy to get into; they wait for you to come to them, which is always a nice trait in a Metal album. Virgin Steele are very ambitious here, making an album that is both straightforward and layered at the same time, and you will notice new things with every listen. This band at their best is epic, soaring, dynamic, energetic, kingly, prideful and any number of other things, the pure embodiment of pure Metal. I don't like Marriage part 2 as much as the absolutely seminal first chapter, but it is still quite essential to any Metal fan who wants to know what they've been missing all these years. Highly, highly recommended.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Ah, the joys of heavy metal music. Despite sharing some of the same flaws as the rest of humanity, at times I cannot bring myself to find fault in the efforts and directions of those who actual make music for themselves and the joy it brings. The year was 1995 – hardly the peak year for traditional, Romantic and library frequenting heavy metal, but the pairing of Defeis and Pursino once again gave the sense that rather than setting their eyes on financial gains (in the mid 90s this would have fetched a rather nice Mega Drive) and flash in the pan glory (which they perhaps longed for with ‘Life Among the Ruins’, though releasing a Whitesnake styled hard rock album in the grunge years doesn’t make much commercial sense either!) you feel that they are simply making the music they wish to make, and good lord is it glorious. Virgin Steele, for these reasons and more, have absolutely every right to wake up in the morning, clasp their broadswords and boldly proclaim ‘victory is mine!’
Being My Very First Virgin Steele Album (tm) and possessing a rather clichéd power metal moniker, I sceptically downloaded this album expecting the sort of Helloween lite stuff that began to come to the fore in the mid 90s and as such the track listing had been altered. But this actually gave the album better pacing as ‘Crown of Glory’ occupied the opening slot and it makes much better sense in being there than the less interesting ‘Symphony of Steele’. ‘Crown of Glory’ is pretty much the archetypal Virgin Steele song – again, it’s those heavenly and hellish contrasts that in no way lead us into some sort of heavy metal purgatory (which I imagine is full of frustrating mid-80s Saxon albums). From the opening choral heraldry to the galloping yet melodically assured riffs, it shifts seamlessly on its musical journey. Lyrically, it’s perhaps Defeis’ finest set ever, the ‘bury me beside the endless sea’ section being harrowingly beautiful. Recently, I’ve moved away from the splendid manor of my family home into an airing cupboard situated between two kebab shops (Abra Kebabra and Afet’s Spice Emporium, in case you’re wondering) and the ‘why must you cry for the life you are leaving behind’ line is again very moving; perfectly suited for any moving house/new pet/old pet resurrection occasion. In all, a fantastic snapshot of what Virgin Steele is all about and a great, if accidental, opener.
So the perfect opener wasn’t actually the opener? Strange that, but the rest of the album is perfectly paced. From the galloping, familiar quasi-Maiden tones of ‘Twilight of the Gods’ with its chord changes that are very much obvious yet most welcome. It’s fairly representative of the more muscular sound the second instalment of the ‘Marriage…’ series has in comparison to its predecessor, but the Romantic touches are still very much pronounced. It’s the perfect mid-point between the barbarous and sinewy sound on the ‘Atreus…’ series and ‘Invictus’ and the softer, albeit still strong sound as heard on ‘Age of Consent’ and ‘The Marriage of Heaven & Hell: Part II’, though that description would render those albums the musical equivalent of toilet paper. Then from these brisk numbers we have more conceptual and thematic songs like ‘Emalaith’ – which is a name of Defeis’ own creation and rather Celtic sounding – a truly stunning piece of work, with its modal, moody guitars and roaring choruses. The song has a striking beauty to it and again shows that famed Virgin Steele depth, which ensures they can’t be lumped in with the Running Wilds of this world. Though keys are utilised effectively throughout the whole album, the accenting of the vocals by ghostly keyboard flourishes is masterful in this particular song. Further demonstrating the perfect pacing of this album is that after such a bleak song as ‘Emalaith’ we are taken (I mean that literally, this album is quite a journey… so don’t stop believing) to its softest and most romantic point of the album and I don’t mean pudendum muleris either. Hey, if Defeis can use the same themes throughout albums then I can use the same jokes! The keys here are majestic with a chiming beauty to them. I’ll even forgive them the use of the words ‘savage’ and ‘garden’ in the chorus.
There is one anomaly on the album, ‘Devil/Angel’. It’s a good old-fashioned slab of Priest worship and if your familiar with the VS version of ‘Desert Plains’ you’d know already that the boys do a killer take on the Priest. I would have a problem with this black sheep in the ‘Marriage…’ family except the riffs are fucking fantastic. Glen and KK wish they could come of with this kind of stuff these days… they also might want to ask David for a couple of lessons on how to do a conceptual keyboard based album and not end up with ‘Saucy Jack – The Musical’.
Truly saving the best until last, ‘Unholy Water’ and ‘Victory is Mine’ close the album in an absolutely triumphant manner. Once more it’s the sublime contrast in mood between the two that makes it work so well. ‘Unholy Water’ is an atmospheric number, emotionally heavy and brooding. The guitar work is very much of note; the use of 9th chords is commendable. I find that I have a strange prejudice against 9th chords; I tend to associate them with whiny alternative bands. But being predictably awesome as he is, Pursino crafts a weighty riff that is both emotionally and sonically heavy. The guitar sound here is weirdly over-saturated and one of the guitar tracks reeks of those cheap Boss distortion pedals… but this slight production flaw only adds to the atmosphere. I suppose the song is a power ballad really, albeit in a full-breasted and hair-wetted kind of way and predictably enough (oh no, arena rock clichés!) it’s got a stunning guitar solo. Melodic yet scintillating, Pursino really lets rip but as per usual he never descends into the plectrum melting gymnastics that his virtuosity would allow. It’s the climax in a very sexually charged song… let’s just say things get sticky. Then from the depths of despair comes that good old sense of the unconquerable spirit that Virgin Steele does so well. ‘Victory is Mine’ is a bounding and energetic number, it really has a great sense of movement and life to it. The riffs, in the hands of lesser mortals, could have been merely standard power metal fare but Virgin Steele recognises the mark of the unimaginative and trite… latter day Kai Hansen they are not. They will run through the hills where he hides and grab him by his ginger mane asking; “Why so little imagination Kai!?” It’s familiar but fresh and an absolute high point of the album. On a slightly comical note I actually thought one of the lines in the chorus said ‘noble tears and kidney pie' which, sadly, it doesn’t. Damn you American singers!
‘The Marriage of Heaven & Hell: Part II’ shows the arrival of Frank Gilchirest on drums and he does a fine job. I don’t think he’s ever quite had a production job that does his drumming justice but he’s always given a great performance. For instance, the chorus of ‘Crown of Glory’ has Frank kicking up a storm with some ferocious flailing of limbs… great stuff indeed.
It’s rather hard to find actual fault with this album, I’ve been listening to it continuously for months and I can’t say I’ve ever tired of its noble charm. Perhaps the best place to start with Virgin Steele, well; it’s certainly not the bleating goat dullard hard rock of the Jack Starr era! One of the best (and sadly unsung) heavy metal albums you’re likely to find. Go forth and purchase!
Yeah, that's how I'd describe this album when compared to its predecessor. Much like Maiden's third album compared to their sophomore, the production here is better by large margins, making the sound seem much more developed; it's generally more accessible, and when the songs rule, they really fucking kick insane amounts of ass, "Emalaith" being pretty much Virgin Steele's "Hallowed Be Thy Name". But looking at the album as a whole, there's the reason why, much like Killers was superior to NOTB, Marriage Part One is superior to Part Two - while the former offered continuous brilliance with almost exclusively awesome, memorable tracks throughout, on its successor, there's quite a few songs that are by no means bad, but don't really rule either - they're just kind of there. Fun tracks, nice to listen to, never annoying or boring, just - well, not spectacular at all.
That said, this is still not only a good, but in fact a totally essential album. The weaker bits don't truly harm it, and my god when this album rules, it gets even better than the peaks of the overall more even Part One. And as for variation, this is also one of Virgin Steele's peaks, almost on a par with the Atreus albums - whether straightforward Speed/Power tracks like "A Symphony of Steele" or "Devil/Angel" kick you right in the face, a beautiful soft ballad such as "Strawgirl" makes its appearance, more Epic Numbers like "Crown of Glory" consume your attention, or the totally out-of-this-world epics "Prometheus the Fallen One" and of course the insanely amazing "Emalaith" come in and show you just why life is worth living. There's overall probably a bit more keyboards as opposed to the previous release, and more varied keyboards too, with different kinds of orchestration coming up more often rather than mostly pianos. No need to fear an overdose though - there's never more than two different keys at a time. That's how to do it - never too much, but always in perfect fashion, augmenting the music just at the right points.
The lyrics - damn well-done. Where Part One revolved more around Judeo-Christian religious themes, Part Two moves more to the Pagan side, whilst hinting more strongly towards what's to come on Invictus. The two songs relating to the Norse Ragnarök seem to stand rather on their own, while for example, the story of Prometheus fits perfectly into the Trilogy's theme concerning the oppression of Man by tyrannical, selfish Gods, finally brought out in full on Invictus.
So, for the weaker bits - they're actually kinda stuffed into two blocks: tracks three to six, and more or less the last three, though "Victory Is Mine" kind of borders on being more great and memorable. There's plenty of variation in these "just kind of there" tracks too - ballads like "Transfiguration" and "Unholy Water", while a lot better than early VS ballads, just aren't near the level of "Forever Will I Roam", "Child of Desolations" or "When The Legends Die" - or Strawgirl, for that matter. The interlude, "From Chaos to Creation" is drawn out for slightly too long; "Twilight of the Gods" is a solid mid-paced rocker that moves along quite efficiently and as usual has a totally good chorus, but thanks to somewhat unclear singing in one spot, becomes rather involuntarily amusing:
"my axe gleams in the sun,
blinding my enemies when the battle's begun"
Figure out what it sounds like when "axe" is sung not too clearly ;)
What? Okay, fine, no more obscenities, back to the music. "Rising Unchained" is another solid, more epic and heavier number.
"Victory Is Mine" is a nice speedy Power Metal song that borders on brilliance with its really cool chorus, while still not on the level of the really great stuff here. "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Revisited" - meh, it's nothing special, and somehow lacks the special something that the closer of the previous album had.
Okay, so much for the worse part of this review. Now let's get to just why this album still gets a 93 rating from me though all that stuff till now was not all that impressive.
You've counted? Good. There's six tracks left, amounting to almost 40 minutes. Those tracks - holy mother of God, Zeus, Odin and Satan combined, does this stuff ever RULE! The opener, "A Symphony of Steele" - fucking ace anthem. "Strawgirl" - a really beautiful ballad, almost on a par with the band's loads and loads of other genius ballads. "Devil/Angel" - as Boris pointed out, excellent Priest worship right here, grade-A Speed Metal.
All right, so much for the totally awesome. Now on to the completely-out-of-this-world-this-world. Crown of Glory - man that intro alone is so damn awesome (VS would use it again later, with good reason!), then those verses, that damn chorus, and behold the riff right after it, not to mention two passages entirely different from the verse or chorus appearing right out of nowhere in the middle - yes, THIS is why you're listening to a Virgin Steele album. A masterpiece of mid-paced Epic Power Metal right then already - and then just to finish it off, EXACTLY at the right moment, they resume to the intro line at the end. Songwriting perfection right here, it can't get better...
...that's what you're thinking, before the two centerpieces of the album come in. "Prometheus The Fallen One" starts with its slow, long intro, then beginning with simple verse-chorus construction but leading into loads of different passages and melodies, constant mood changes arranged just so each feeling has just the time to sink in. The stage is set, the standard's damn high - and in comes "Emalaith", to top it all off. A masterpiece of close to ten minutes, and every second of it a total highlight, this track right here stands good chances in the tough contest for the single greatest Virgin Steele song ever made, and is easily in the top five along with such fine company as "The Burning of Rome", "Veni, Vidi, Vici", "Kingdom of the Fearless" and "Resurrection Day". So out of this world it's hard to believe. That godly dark, atmospheric intro, all the different passages throughout, the dozen or so references to other songs, the brilliant conversion of previously-used melodies into something that sounds new yet familiar at the same time - "Child of the Desolation cry to me - under stars that have died, under skies of pain we are born. ooh yeah, we are one, forever we'll be Oh my love, we'll defy death and meet on Holy Ground". There's simply so damn much happening in this song I might go on for hours describing it, but it still won't come close - listen to it, and let the music talk.
Another note - the drums on this album are absolutely top-notch, a definite improvement over the solid but largely unspectacular work on the predecessor. Varied, with a very keen sense for rhythim and just the right amount of technicality, they're beyond merely supporting the music and a major factor of their own.
So what's this overall? Well, it ain't quite Marriage Part One in the width, nor either of the House of Atreus albums, but dammit, there's still some of the best Epic Metal ever made on here, even if it doesn't go on throughout all of the album. It's probably their most accessible release, with some more instantly likeable numbers in addition to the complex epics that are kind of hard to get into, and easily the best production one could hope for. Defeis is in top form vocally, employing an excellent range and sense for emotion and dramaticism, and while there are a few times where he seems to be trying a bit too hard to sound harsher, rather Eric-Adams-ish, he still delivers his own, unique and outstanding performance for the most part.
Bottom line: Anoher essential album by Virgin Steele, definite must-have for anyone into Traditional Heavy or Power Metal.
P.S.: The band's also paying a little bit of tribute to Iron Maiden on this album. I'll leave it to you to figure out just where ;)
Some of you migthy consider this rating too high, and you might be right, but since everything is pretty subjective and I tend to get carried away, so be it. To be completely honest, it was pretty difficult to chose the title of the review, since you really can't find words when you're presented with something like this. Of course this is not the first time I listened to this album, but even after 2 years it strikes hard enough in my heart.
Why people prefer all those flower power metal bands, those symphonic bullshit "bands" called Rhapsody, Dark Moor or whatever, prefer silly heavy metal like Savatage, Iron Maiden or Saxon? Not that these are bad bands, but compared to the last 5 Virgin Steele albums they're like Reign in Blood compared to Darkness Descends. An eternal mistery, I suppose.
Back to the band though, got carried away. DeFeis is God. We all know that, his singing is amazing, melodic, emotional, atmospheric... well... you get my point. The usage of keyboards by mr. DeFeis also becomes more intense on this album, but I'm not talking about shitty power metal keyboards in the stupid "look I can play really cool" way, but actually making sense, going along with the guitars, in short making the music whole. (WASP and Manticora come to mind on good keyboard usage)
Symphony of Steele is the eternal live classic, the hymn of this band together with a few other songs (Veni, vidi, vici, Victory is Mine, Kingdom Of The Fearless, We Rule The Night). And as usual it's amazing speed metal with a Virgin Steele touch to it.
Crown of Glory is another highlight, a heavy metal song with a breathtaking chorus and some really interesting speed metal riffs. Also the "All that's alive consider holy, holy, holy " part is amazing, absolutely unbeatable in terms of emtions, riffs and atmosphere.
From Chaos to Creation is a pretty good intro to Twilight Of The Gods, another power/speed number, with great vocal, guitar, drum combinations. Yet another highlight.
Rising Unchained and Transfiguration are the last "shorter" songs on the album, one being a straightforward rocker, the other a great ballad/intro to the epic "Prometheus the Fallen One". Now this is something that takes your breath away. Almost 8 minutes of great heavy metal, with great keyboard and guitar pieces featuring the story of the infamous Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind. Was punished for it, but never gave up hope - "Cursed and tried, I am the man in god". A great Greek myth, and one of my favorites.
Emalaith is another epic number of amazing proportions. Won't say much about it, other than the song builds up slowly and gets more epic towards the end. Featuring a keyboard/guitar "battle" and a nice number of solos. Virgin Steele cannot do wrong it seems.
Strawgirl is the ballad. And Virgin Steele ballads rule. I would dare to compare it to Unholy Water, another ballad, a bit more heavier, but both are awesome and completely different, yet still manage to be great.
Um... and yeah, Devil/Angel is a bit Judas Priestish, and guess what, it works. Speed metal done the good ol' Judas way.
AND HERE IT COMES!!! The BEST Virgin Steele song EVER!!! Victory is Mine!
Whoa... this song is simply perfect, blazing from the start to the greatest chorus ever accompained with triumphal drumming and guitarwork, it brings epic power metal to another plane of existance. And when you think it couldn't get better the
"I will run to the hills where you hide, Seeking vengeance for all of my kind" part breaks through causing a strange sensation in your heart, either being a heart attack or pure joy it matters not for this song is perfect.
Definetly my favorite heavy metal album. And together with Invictus simply one of the best albums ever released. Noone is better than Virgin Steele, and they proved it 5 times by now. They're true kings of heavy metal, and the most amazing band I ever heard. Period.
If you thought they couldn't get any more insane after the last album, here's this one! Still quite song-oriented (as opposed to the Atreus series), this one features stronger works than Marriage I, and is almost as good as Invictus while being a bit more varied.
We begin with probably the song that all Virgin Steele fans know (well, other than We Rule the Night!) and that is A Symphony of Steele. Great power/speed metal. Then, the more epic "Crown of Glory", which ends on the interesting note...... "bury me beside the endless sea, raise my ashes to the wind..." - that one may sound familiar to those that know some of their later works, especially those titled House of Atreus Act I. Someone should do a study on all the places where the last five Virgin Steele albums are tied together, it is really quite marvellous when taken in all at once.
"Twilight of the Gods" has little to do with Helloween, and is a great epic number, as is "Rising Unchained". (Call it a sacred vow?) Then, the album steps it up another notch, as we get to "Prometheus, the Fallen One" and also the ten-minute classic "Emalaith". This is the reason to get Virgin Steele albums, folks. If you don't like epic fucking power metal with guitar works that go on forever, majestic keyboard parts, and absolutely memorable songs, then you know what, go listen to Slipknot. For the rest of you, there is this. We have the ballad "Strawgirl", followed by the complete Priest-worship - insanely well done, this would not be out of place on Ram it Down and maybe not even Painkiller! - in "Devil Angel", and then another highlight in "Victory is Mine", before we get to "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Revisited". As I said, someone should do a study....
Or, just buy it, listen to it, enjoy... read the lyrics, read the liner notes, there is really so much going on here that it'll probably take five or six listens to truly appreciate. But, when you do.....