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Ancient Greek Drama Metal. - 96%

hells_unicorn, December 21st, 2006

I came to know about Virgin Steele pretty late in my tenure as a metal head, long after indoctrinating myself into the genres of Power, Progressive, Gothic, Symphonic, and Thrash Metal. It is ironic in the sense that Virgin Steele as a band pre-dates most of the significant figures in these genres, and to an extent exhibits several qualities of each. At this point in their career, they have been basically functioning in the studio as a rather impressive power trio, although now they are a functioning metal quartet that no doubt exhibits the same musical brilliance.

The best way to describe their sound is as American Pre-Thrash metal or Classic Metal with traces of Power. They exhibit the same high level of progressiveness that Iron Maiden did on their work before Number of the Beast, although there is a high level of keyboard work that hints at some influences from Rush, further displayed in Edward Pursino’s highly expressive style of soloing, balancing out amazing technical feats with a raw emotional element quite reminiscent of Alex Lifeson. One would be tempted to slate Virgin Steele as a Power/Prog. Outfit; but the high level of traditional metal influences makes this label only true in certain instances.

“The House of Atreus Part 2” is quite the magnum opus, contained in 2 CDs with over an hour and a half of total playing time. The lyrical side of this homage to the Ancient Greek tale is a brilliant poetic retelling, comparing both with the ingenuity of Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and any early romantic opera libretto. One can listen to this album and get a great collection of metal classics, and also be educated in a part of Ancient Greek culture that often takes the back seat to such Homer classics as “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad”.

Amongst the best songs on the first CD, we get an astounding collection of fast and riff happy classics such as “Wings of Vengeance”, “Fire of Ecstasy”, “Wine of Violence” and “Voice as Weapon”. All of these display the sheer intensity of Pursino’s playing and Defeis’ singing quite well. Other tracks such as “A Token of my Hatred” and “Summoning the Powers” are highly melodic, but structurally a lot more progressive, as both of them are loaded with keyboard work and clock in at over seven minutes. There are also some interesting brief interludes where parts of the story are told. “Hymn to the Gods of Night” is a catchy choral interlude with some nice keyboard work, while “Nemesis” is a rather intricate work that highlights some more eastern sounds, which are quite appropriate both to the title of the song and the setting of the entire story.

The second CD is a little bit harder to follow, mostly due to a rather large collection of shorter interludes, many of them occurring in succession. But you still have more great metal tracks such as the fast and heavy, yet progressive “Flames of thy Power”, featuring some crazy ass drumming and some brilliant piano work. “By the Gods” is a bit closer to the traditional roots of the band, as is the case with a large collection of the remaining full length songs on here. But staying true to the structure that large concept albums tend to have, Virgin Steele pulls no punches with its extravagant and complex epic closer “Resurrection Day”. It is a proper musical homage to the message articulated in this story, which is the senselessness of seeking revenge and the ruin that it always brings.

In conclusion, Virgin Steele has been going strong and shows little signs of quitting. This CD is probably among their more progressive releases, and probably would be a bit much for some more traditional fans of metal. It definitely plays well in the Power and Progressive categories, the former for the melodies and riffs, the latter for the involved lyrics and interesting structural devices in the songs. But more than any thing else, it owns in the sense that it displays a true mastery of the metal language, which can pretty much be molded into a veritable sculpture of universal greatness with the right kind of will.