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Black Wine for Mourning - 0%

GuntherTheUndying, May 20th, 2019

This is one for the ages. If you ever wanted to witness the absolute collapse of a once-great band, look no further. Virgin Steele lost some steam after releasing "The Black Light Bacchanalia," which was a watered-down, neutered product of so-so heavy metal that failed to take flight. The decline continued on "Nocturnes of Hellfire & Damnation," wherein Virgin Steele ditched the elite Frank Gilchrist and churned out a messy, lackluster collection of overproduced nonsense. With no lessons learned, Virgin Steele further explored this low standard and creative laziness until they were beyond the point of no return, culminating in the total descent into madness that is "Seven Devils Moonshine."

Virgin Steele, always eccentric and ambitious, not surprisingly made "Seven Devils Moonshine" a twist on the conventional boxset routine: there are three discs of new material here. Seems like a true celebration, maybe a little much, but okay, I'll take a few new Virgin Steele albums, no biggie. Releasing what are essentially three records of new material all at once is a bold move; not many bands have the cojones to attempt anything close to this. That is all I can say in favor of “Seven Devils Moonshine," however, as almost every moment from start to finish is a monumental disaster.

The three discs contain FIFTY-EIGHT songs that run for almost FOUR HOURS. These aren't metal albums, which is fine. Musically, this is most in line with "Life Among the Ruins," what with the rock vibe and bluesy tone. Again, no big deal, but the execution hits the skids. The band has maybe three tricks at play: boring semi-ballads, jam-oriented duds, and tedious rockers that could pass for elevator music. I am not joking. No riff stands out, the arrangements are vapid and occasionally cringe-inducing, the songs lack any sense of urgency, and nothing emerges to make an impression that is at least neutral or inoffensive.

Every cut nods off like this, not a measure of drama to be found. "Black Wine for Mourning," the first disc, goes on and on and on in this aimless direction until it finally ends. "Red Wine for Warning" features an even larger schizophrenic smorgasbord of what I think are new songs, cover tracks, and different takes on Virgin Steele staples. The tone and organization of everything is enough to derail any sense of pace the disc may have established had its musical standards not been next to zero. The horrid production, now a tradition in the Virgin Steele camp, tranquilizes the guitars, sterilizes the drums, and makes a preposterous modification of Dave's voice. Special effects in a Neil Breen movie have about as much legitimacy. This is Virgin Steele, once an avatar of what metal is capable of achieving at its highest peak, reduced to what is a step above fourth-rate lounge music.

"Gothic Voodoo Anthems," the final part of the new material, has revamped Virgin Steele songs doused in phony orchestral effects and filler tracks of Dave doodling on the piano. Once again, the whole disc, overstuffed and torturous, goes in one ear and out the other, and somehow manages to be worse than the other two abominations. I think it all tries to justify how everything bleeds over and blends together by dubbing a few song clusters as 'suites' or 'medleys,' and they throw in a 'triptych' for good measure. Any effect this may have had is squandered by the sheer atrociousness found every which way, in every quarter, at every turn.

Dave's vocals have been an elephant in the room that just won't go away; it's more of the same here. You know, the out-of-tune croons, the cat-like screeching, the use of vocal effects that make his voice sound inauthentic and tacky—this is the icing on the cake, ladies and gentlemen. He sounds fine on the live acoustic cuts of "Transfiguration" and "Twilight of the Gods," which serve to enrich the lore behind Virgin Steele, and are actually not too shabby. Is all the crooning a result of the botched production? A style change? I wish I knew what the hell is going on.

On the topic of confusion, the odds and ends of this are maniacal. There are several moments in which Virgin Steele takes some kind of turn or presents something totally out of left field, and it is all just bizarre. Some of these moments include:

- A seven-minute rendition of "I Will Come For You," wherein the magic of the original is sacked by cheap symphonic effects that create no atmosphere whatsoever.

- "Psychic Slaughter," perhaps the silliest Virgin Steele song ever written, which becomes a perfect storm of every woe and problem converging on a single six-minute misfire.

- Pacing that is boring at its best and wonky at its worst.

- What I think is a cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Games," with pseudo-Satanic lyrics and f-bombs now included, for whatever reason.

- Copies of "Hymns to Victory" and "The Book of Burning," a best-of compilation and an album of re-recorded deep cuts, respectively, released almost twenty years before any of this boxset's other components came to life. Both are completely out of place, but hey, why not? At this point, I'm surprised the boxset doesn't include two free tickets to Shen Yun.

I had called "Life Among the Ruins" the worst Virgin Steele album, but after a single run of this endurance test, the title changed hands. Every second of "Seven Devils Moonshine" is pure calamity. It is the nexus of dreadful ideas, appalling performances, and Virgin Steele's gestalt driven beyond the brink of insanity. Maybe "Seven Devils Moonshine" is an experiment that just didn't pan out. Maybe it's all a big misunderstanding. I have given "Seven Devils Moonshine” two full listens regardless of what it is or what it intended to be. There will not be a third. I never want to hear this again.

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