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Completely and totally flawed... but still amazing - 90%

jdmunyon, May 1st, 2021

There are so many negative things I can say about this album, but at the same time I love it so much and it speaks to my soul in a way that few other albums do (either by this band or just in general).

This album is the second in the "modern Virgin Steele" era, an era defined by David DeFeis basically taking over the band as his own solo project. An era that is far more defined by atmosphere and song length and "epicness" and weirdness than it is by power METAL. This album sort of carries on from "Visions of Eden", the first album in the modern era, which in the words of DeFeis was a "soundtrack for a major motion picture that has yet to be made". "Visions of Eden" was vocally-led and filled with keyboards and orchestrations and "calmness", the guitars taking a serious backseat both in their involvement and sound level in the mix (it took a remix released years later to beef up the guitars a bit, and even then they were still kind of quiet). "The Black Light Bacchanalia" does contrast with this a little but, in bringing the guitars a bit more to the forefront and sounding a bit more like a collection of songs instead of a "concept album". Carried forward is the continued use of long songs, with far fewer fast, fist-pumping parts as compared with the slow parts.

David DeFeis continues his vocal "evolution" or "devolution" (depending on how you see it - probably the latter) on this album. Mostly gone is the powerful traditional metal singer of all of the 90s classics, and instead we have a man who is losing his ability to sing like he used to, and thus attempting to compensate. This compensation takes all sorts of forms, including whispering, ad-libbing (take a shot every time he shouts "look out!", see how long you can last), high-pitched yowls with not a lot of power behind them, and caterwauling. He still breaks out a good mid-ranged singing voice at times (mainly during the more ballady parts, where there isn't a powerful metal song to "keep up with"), but it is in the minority.

Guitar riffs are definitely present, but often exist more to beef up the background sounds rather than to drive the songs. A couple of exceptions are "By the Hammer of Zeus", "The Orpheus Taboo", and "Necropolis", which are more riff-based - you can definitely enjoy these as more "normal" metal songs, as long as you can stand the vocals; they all still have soft parts though. But in contrast you get songs like "To Crown Them with Halos" and "Eternal Regret" which are mostly piano ballads with slight metal dressings in the margins. There are still good guitar solos across the album, and some of the riffs are pretty "chunky" (probably due to the 7-string guitars).

Bass is nonexistent to these ears, drums are fine but not a standout in the slightest (credits claim that Frank Gilchriest is playing on here, but I don't know, they sure sound programmed a lot of the time), while keyboards, piano and orchestrations are pretty well represented. The production isn't "bad" but I really wouldn't call it "good" either: DeFeis and the band are mainly doing it on their own. It does sound much better than whatever the heck they did on the next couple of albums, you can give it that.

Based on everything said so far, you would think I was criticizing this album more than I was praising it. And there's no getting around it, this album is probably a difficult one for a typical metal fan or Virgin Steele fan to get into. But, for me, in spite of all of the flaws listed above, I just love the shit out of this album. David DeFeis is still a genius with most of what he is writing here. The album has a genuine atmosphere of "paganness" and "esotericism" and also "sadness" and "regret" that just make for a really wonderful, moody 76 minutes of music. I sort of get the impression that DeFeis is going through a sort of "mid-life crisis", knowing that he can't write music like the band used to play due to his declining vocal health, so is doing the best he can and attempting to pivot Virgin Steele from a powerful metal band to... something very different. And I really do love just about every moment on this album for exactly what it is. "In a Dream of Fire" is just touching. The title track feels like a portal back to some long-lost time and society of the past. And the closing track is an unbelievably haunting piano ballad, David absolutely baring his soul on this one.

There are a few lyrical passages that - I think - summarize the point that this album is trying to make, so I will list these below:

"Pagan Heart"

MY PAGAN HEART - lives for the hour
MY PAGAN HEART - burns to devour
When God will be ripped from the sky!

MY PAGAN HEART - lives for the answer
MY PAGAN HEART - screams like a panther
To be free!!!

"The Black Light Bacchanalia"

Unending fire and unending might
Melting the life from the dawn
Raising a hell where your heaven had been
A stain in the heart of the rose
For the age that is to come...

"Eternal Regret"

Bonedust and leaves blow in the wind
You laugh but never smile in my mind
On this dark fated day I can feel you far away
Oh give me back the night that I have wronged...

This album is 100% not recommended if you're just looking for some powerful metal that sounds like the Marriage albums, Invictus, or the House of Atreus albums. But, if you want something different, it might just scratch an itch that you didn't even know you had, and touch your soul in a way that can almost bring tears to your eyes. Give it a shot.