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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 the only stinker on the album, and while it's not entirely worthless, it's more or less a well-done pop-rock ballad, so take that for what it's worth. I'm not much of a fan of pop-rock, so I can't appreciate it much, but it's not bad at all for what it is. At any rate, it's only a momentary dip in quality, thankfully, and the album quickly returns to the heights of its grandeur.
"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.