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A stepping-stone to mediocrity - 80%

Jophelerx, August 6th, 2013

From 1994 to 2000, Virgin Steele graced us with five of the greatest epic USPM albums ever to be conceived, all within a year or two of each other. So what were fans to think when the band (let's face it; by this point it was pretty much just DeFeis with some hired hands) took six years to release the next album? Either this was the best goddamn album of all time, or DeFeis was taking a new direction. Or maybe he was just running out of ideas. The album suggests both of the latter two assumptions would be, for the most part, correct. The fact that the album cover features an aging DeFeis trying to look epic next to a horse certainly isn't a good sign, since the last five album covers were all pretty damn good. The album does go in a different direction from the last few albums; but it's a direction that seemed pretty inevitable. DeFeis started getting more pompous on the Atreus I album, with interludes left and right and a huge background concept. Thankfully, at this point the pompousness was warranted, as it was pretty clear DeFeis was a badass, although Ed Pursino also had much to do with the album's excellence. Atreus II took that direction even further, stretching the album out over two discs and adding so many interludes they seemed to outweigh the actual songs at times, plus there weren't as many winners on the album ("By the Gods" and "When the Legends Die are pretty lame"). It seemed DeFeis's ego was beginning to take over the band, although there were enough solid songs that it was forgivable, especially if the band continued to put out great albums.

That brings us to 2006. The album opens with a keyboard-heavy song with muted guitars, and unfortunately that continues throughout the rest of the album. If you've heard anything about this album, it's most likely the shitty production, and it's a very valid complaint. Virgin Steele are primarily a metal band (discounting "Life Among the Ruins"), and not some shitty europower band either; these guys are legitimate USPM with a focus on riffs - while DeFeis is definitely the focus in some places, the riffs are equally, if not more, important. DeFeis obviously doesn't seem to think so here, and it shows. Not to say the riffs are terrible - I was mainly commenting on their muted presence, although they're definitely not as good as most of the riffs on the previous five albums. Keyboards and vocals take the front seat here, making it not so much a power metal album as a pompous neoclassical rock album (I'm semi-joking). Luckily, despite his extreme egocentrism, DeFeis still seems to somewhat know what he's doing here. The music doesn't suck for the most part, although most of the songs are overlong and could be shortened ("Angel of Death", "God Above God", and the title track come to mind especially).

The best thing about the album is probably the epic multi-tracked vocal lines. That was always something DeFeis was good at, and it shows here. "Immortal I Stand", "The Ineffable Name", and "Bonedust" all have excellent vocal lines that could be compared to those of "A Token of My Hatred" or "Veni, Vidi, Vici". However, the more compact, aggressive songs are where the album really shines. "Immortal I Stand", "Black Light On Black", and "Bonedust" are probably the best tracks, and they're also some of the shortest. "Black Light on Black" also has the coolest line on the album:

Fuck you Adam, Fuck you Eve
Fuck your god and his infernal needs!

Really though, aside from the production, the album just tends to be overly long and grandiose; the album is 75 minutes long, with only 11 songs, which means each song clocks in for an average of seven minutes. There are also too many ballads; while the entire album has a large keyboard presence, "Angel of Death", "God Above God", and "When Dusk Fell" are all pretty much pure ballads. Three ballads on a metal album is pretty much always too much; Marriage I is something of a fluke in that respect. Also, "God Above God" completely blows. It's the worst VS song I've ever heard, and I've listened to "Noble Savage" and "The Black Light Bacchanalia" in their entirety. David is fine, but everything else blows chunks. The main melody is vomit-inducing. The lyrics suck. There aren't really any redeeming factors for this song. DeFeis also sounds a bit weak when trying to perform high shrieks at some points in the album; especially on "The Ineffable Name", he sounds awful when he tries to go too high. However, his vocals are usually pretty good, if not as aggressive as they were on the previous albums.

Really, the problem here isn't that this is a terrible album so much that it's a testament to DeFeis's declining mental status and the track the band would take from here on. Just listen to The Black Light Bacchanalia. Even longer tracks, absurdly pompous song titles, whispered vocals, a lack of good riffs; this album represents the direction DeFeis was going, and while it itself is pretty solid even with all the problems it has, I just have to sigh and shake my head every time I listen to it. Virgin Steele will likely never achieve the level of their classic albums again, or even approach it. I've written off DeFeis as a self-absorbed idiot who can't write music, so unless someone else steps up to be the driving force behind the band, it's pretty much done for.