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Armor of Flaming Gold - 95%

GuntherTheUndying, October 14th, 2014

Is the last bite as good as the first? Well, “Invictus” has the decency to rightfully accept its place as the weakest chapter in Virgin Steele’s three-part “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” saga. That said, the unforgettable symmetry between the howling croons of David DeFeis and Edward Pursino’s guitar shrewdness, even in the record’s weakest moments, puts the primes of most to shame. By far the heaviest Virgin Steele record, “Invictus” drops some of the elegance seen on the first two chapters of the trilogy for a charging element of intensity. Despite the minor changes, its trajectory remains acquainted to the musical arcs of its spiritual siblings; the major motifs of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” mostly stay unaffected. “Invictus” crafts its own destiny of unconquered purity and robust passion until DeFeis ends the voyage by screaming, “We came! We saw! We conquered you all!” Truer words have never been spoken.

While the many themes of sophistication and class play a role here, this is an album driven by Virgin Steele’s stoutness. The songs are more like “Victory is Mine” or “I Wake up Screaming” structurally than the varied approach used on “Parts 1 & 2,” coming off as rougher, meatier staples; it isn’t so much of a change of style as it is a broader focus on a few sequences Virgin Steele had dabbled in hitherto. There are no ballads, no eloquent cuts à la “Self Crucifixion,” no big or brazen attempts to shift the record’s point of attack elsewhere. Pursino’s riffs are often forthright and strong up against the solid rhythm section and DeFeis’ vocals, which sound fine under the harsher elements. Anatomically much simpler and not so determined by the shifting of tactics.

Stripping things down does not lead to the high level of quality dissolving reciprocally, however. The avenues are narrower, sure, and there is less magic brewing here, but these songs still manage to be fantastic (not to imply that’s a big surprise or something). Things boil down to the consistency of DeFeis’ songwriting and Pursino’s guitar work, which together do the usual Virgin Steele routine of songs featuring incredible bridges, striking choruses, and dynamic arrangements far beyond the norm. “Invictus” actually ends up having the luxury of being an incredibly varied record despite its base driving on a straightforward path, but again this is due to Virgin Steele’s tremendous compositional habits and the unparalleled cognizance among Pursino and DeFeis. The sixteen cuts, from introduction to epic, make the heavens quake.

The primary strength of the album is its flow. There is an astounding amount of diversity linked among numbers that have the same roots and elements ingrained in their structures; “Invictus” feels very conceptual between its several realms. Virgin Steele kicks things off nicely with the title track and “Mind, Body, Spirit,” which, respectively, are great representatives of the forceful blitzkriegs and the lengthened epics “Invictus” has to offer within. Things really ignite on “Sword of the Gods,” an excellent seven-minute voyage of high-flying sectors and unforgettable power. Electric rockers like “Dust from the Burning” and “Dominion Day” are robust and sharp; heavy on the riffs and huge on Virgin Steele’s unmatched intensity. My loins quiver with excitement.

“Veni, Vidi, Vici” closes the circle on Virgin Steele’s prime, and there is no better way to sum up their stint of glory than this song alone. The ten-minute epic runs through a multitude of titanic riffs and sections that are like raiding temples of gold, brought to an incredible apex by its amazing chorus and Pursino’s scorching solo. To think “Invictus” is the weakest point of the trilogy doesn’t change that the album is a remarkable achievement on its own; just another masterpiece in Virgin Steele’s trophy case of stellar opuses. Virgin Steele would go on to make some other outstanding efforts after “Invictus,” but the semblance here of a barbaric, romantic epic remains an outstanding statement by one of the best bands ever. Thank you David DeFeis and Ed Pursino, for crowning us all kings.

This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com