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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