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This was Virgin Steele’s debut album, the self titled release which is so far away from their current sound. Virgin Steele sees the band in their most basic of forms, far from the mighty warrior they would become over their career. Here the band is like an adolescent squire, with nothing but the vest and briefs. It would take years for the band to amass their armour, put manly hairs on their collective chests, and manage to unleash the great sword of fire from its sheathe. Before pressing too deep, I must clear up that, in the interest of the rewind, I’m going to be reviewing the original ten tracks, though from the re-issue of the album (good luck finding an original). Now that that’s out of the way, let me unlock the door to the past and take a look at Virgin Steele.
The album opens up with the double track “Minuet in G Minor/ Danger Zone”, which was a quite common practice in the early eighties in particular, and basically it’s an intro and a song in one track. The intro part is something of a prelude to the bombast that would continually worm its way into the bands sound. After this long part, the band kicks into some traditional eighties heavy metal riffing, and David DeFeis begins cooing all over. His youthful voice is quite different to the more rip-roaring style he would develop and hone over the band’s nineties releases. He shrills and shrieks all over Virgin Steele, which is what the eighties were all about, and if I had to draw any comparison I could only really mention Crimson Glory’s late, great Midnight.
Vying for the spotlight we have Jack Starr, who would go on to play one more album with Virgin Steele. Jack Starr’s playing is good, and particularly virtuosic, almost neoclassical in places. He spews leads forth as often as he can, and the album feels largely like Jack and David are pushing each other out of the way to show the world what they can do. It works though, and gives the album its main charm, which is the youthful energy. The music contained is quite far from the heavy/ power metal Virgin Steele would later become renowned for. Here their sound is pure vintage eighties metal, and early eighties metal at that.
For all its charm, Virgin Steele is a very uneven album, and possibly the band’s most uneven release. Between standard heavy metal numbers, hair metal style cringers, and a ballad which would have even your mother rearing; Virgin Steele is that embarrassing first year at school, or first day at work where you confuse the bathrooms and end up in the ladies room (anyone?) The closest we get to glory here is “Children Of The Storm”, which shows the band taking their first, shaky steps into more epic territory, or in the band’s namesake track, which has some of the heavier riffs on the album. However, taking the album as it is, and discounting everything they would later do; the first three songs are actually pretty cool early eighties style metal. Jack Starr’s guitar work is definitely the highpoint of the album, and even when they’re squeezing out the shocking ballad “Still In Love With You”, he always nails a sweet lick to keep from cheese poisoning.
Despite its shortcomings, for a debut early-eighties album it definitely has some merit in some of the riffs and arrangement, particularly “Virgin Steele” and “Children Of The Storm”. Jack Starr’s guitar work also helps in spades keeping interest. I’d say this one would appeal to those curious of the early metal scene, as well as eighties metal fans in general; provided they can stomach their fair share of cheese. As for Virgin Steele fans, you should probably leave this one until late in your exploration of the band, if at all. Pitted against the rest of their discography, it isn’t a great representation of what the band is about. Plus David DeFeis’ vocals are almost too much here, and that’s saying something.
Originally written for http://blackwindmetal.com
Virgin Steele's first effort is no "Ample Destruction" or "Burning Star". It is neither a USPM classic nor a grand glorious affair like many a Virgin Steele album. In fact, it has aged rather horribly and sounds all the more bashfully archaic for it. Thankfully, it knows its place. It may have no standing in the wider spectrum of things, but boy, does it rock with all its might. It doesn't pretend anything and it perfectly depicts the sound of a band operating on purely primal thrills.
Most people know Virgin Steele for their fiery front man David DeFeis at the helm of things but on their first album, underground guitar hero Jack Starr was the center that held everything together. His riffs sound layered and admirably dynamic-never lazy! He uses up a lot of licks in every song that you imagine he won't have any left but he surprises with these constantly chiming blues-based solos delivered so effortlessly and with such finesse. The only downside is that after a while you realize there isn't much variation and they all sound a bit similar.
DeFeis, by comparison, is the ultimate picture of variation. If the monotony of Joey Ayvazian's drumming was designed to drive you away then David DeFeis was intended to make you stay awhile. He'll charm his way through the most ridiculous of statements yet come out with his sheen of sophistication all intact. Even when he plays the part of pleading romantic as on "Still In Love With You" he still maintains a leery note in his voice. The Robert Plant influences really run deep. On the best cuts of the album-the title track and "Children Of The Storm"-he really comes through like a champ. On the other "party-over-here" 80's crap slabs, he dose tend to nag.
This was their first album of course, and he had yet to master the higher end of his voice. As a consequence, meant to be powerful falsettos came out in a rapid shrillness and the lack of a more manly lower end that he exhibits on later works gave us silly baby-talking vocals instead. Remember Percy's studio cooked shrill delivery on "The Song Remains The Same"? That's pretty much how Dave sang on half this record. The teasing lyric on "Pictures On You" that goes; "stop that nagging noise" sums up my feelings just right. "Danger Zone" on the other hand sounds like it was stolen from Savatage's "Sirens" but rocks awesomely nonetheless.
By "Guardians Of The Flame", Virgin Steele were beginning to show some epic skin and no influences from their debut carried on to any later albums making it all the more forgettable. A good thing, perhaps? Surely even purists regard it as only a relic if they feel so desperate as to treasure every Steele album. For me it is simply a sign that better days were coming.
“…oh people, your darkness hath come…”
Whittling through metal’s olden period with a plastic greatsword is occasionally classy and usually discarded Virgin Steele, an American four-piece that had lead me out into the rain with their glossed and squeaky reality that’s not the least bit dark, half of the time crusading and the other half cutesy, and truth be told, probably no other group has thrown me closer to the lions of indecision. Y’see, with day one this band fronted a wary adventure in sound, one that was both out of the closet and masculine - it only takes a few steps into the debut for the realization that the guide leading you through this is plagued by a sexually split personality. Naturally this awareness slows up your progress. It is, after all, weird, like a cross dresser, and a sliver of your being fears for the $9 you’ve just dished out (mid/late-80s wages, of course), but follow it you do because you’ve paid good money for the service. So there you are on your ten track journey. With the songs as your escort, you grasp the same handholds as it mountaineers femininely with as much sparse purpose as right-on vitality. You dodge blows as it roves the horizon line where might and make-up try to beat each other up. A fairly confident, hairy-chested stride turns quickly and unexpectedly into a puckered sashay and back again. All you can do is look around the landscape, confused, hoping things will congeal into something more daringly serrated, more metal solid. Sometimes it does. Sometimes you’re convinced it’s a Teeze demo that’s playing, and that’s just the first side.
It’s not a trip I long to relive, but here we go.
At first nothing really seems out of whack, at least not visually. The cover’s better than amateurishly cool, futuristic and sci-fi that’s probably a couple thousand years past some preconceived perception you may have had. Guys with swords – uh huh, got it. However, the new wave duds they’re wearing in the band picture coerce the pangs of hesitation out of hiding, but it’s ’82, and y’know, Men at Work were really big here in the States. Yeah well, conceptually we have whack, licking its lips in half the song titles, and that’s all it takes to rekindle the same pitched feelings originally frightened by the tracklist of Anvil’s Metal on Metal where you don’t know if the band’s gonna come out looking for fight or a kiss.
But hope (almost) always rings eternal. The record is, of course, co-powered by future semi-celebrated guitarist Jack Starr, who at the moment of this recording was still aglow from his shredding on Varney’s Shrapnel-issued US Metal II compilation earlier that year, so it can be assumed this thing’s six-string proficiency is up to snuff. The other engine is nobody David DeFeis, an overdone, shattering steam whistler not unlike Hawaii’s Gary St. Pierre who’s occasionally busy with sometimes churchy/sometimes White Spirit-y/sometimes Silver Mountain-y keyboard dynamics, but his main job signs most of the toe tags for the loser tracks here. He yelps, literally…at least a dozen times in halfway-decent starter “Danger Zone” alone, and that’s just not good no matter what time of day it is, and while DZ can’t be condemned as one of the shitters, there are still plenty of outhouses along this record’s road.
Built with the balsa wood of a trebly production, most stand with the sturdiness of the hairsprayed doo they sound like they wear. Hard rock consultant “American Girl” wins the best of the worst trophy but is still mocked by superior “Danger Zone” and placidly better “Dead End Kids”. “Drive on Thru” and “Pictures of You”…a pair DeFeis destroys almost single-handedly, yelping and warbling like the girl parts in the Grease soundtrack. Then there’s the anguished, fluffy-booted crawl of “Still in Love with You”, the ballad that’s instinctively soulful in its solos but soulless in its vocals, this time with Grease 2 lyrics. This is the side of the personality split that needs to be medicated and treated, hopefully with a grenade.
With those character traits gone, we’re left with the guide we were looking forward to hanging out with in the first place. Again, “Danger Zone” and “Dead End Kids” aren’t the end of the world, and Starr’s wordless spotlight “Pulverizer” is a nice bathroom break for all non-guitarists. “Living in Sin”, “Children of the Sun” and “Virgin Steele” are all on side two and in that order ascend in strength. The highlight builds an epic foreboding, born on the back of a brawny rhythm that’s warmed in the wind of ominous keys. It’s not only how this lp needed to close, but needed for defense from a simple dropkick into the closet. But that’s what Armored Saint’s for.
All in all, it’s Hawaii, Kraken, and little league Crimson Glory with a very undersized Manowar ambition that’s more poofy-haired than Dokken or Whitesnake, something along the running mascara lines of Hanoi Rocks, Helix, Crue, and even ultra-early Wrathchild. Add sugar and pool water, then mix it all up for an uncomfortably garish dish that should’ve been way more He-Man than Teela.
The label fiasco – the private press (or supposed Zig Zag, and despite owning this original press for yeeeeaaars, don’t count on me to find it anywhere on the album jacket anytime soon), then Music for Nations' first ever signal flare, then good ‘ol Mongol Horde and Maze in Canada with an alternate cover.
“…armor clashing splits the night while the angels soared, packs of demons roared…”