VirginSteeleIt’s been 5 years since ‘The Black Light Bacchanalia’ which I found disappointing, so with this new release I am hoping for some major improvement. Since ‘Life Among the Ruins’, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ albums and of course, the well revered ‘The House of Atreus’ duo of albums,  Virgin Steele proved they had a lot more musical vision than some. With David DeFeis’ vocals, I often compare the rasp to Eric Adams, a couple of the releases in the past followed the path of those metal warriors, but, this new album is a game changer for those fans wanting a touch more. It is not a concept album as such, but each track is linked to the connections between entities, not only humans, their relationships, musically there is a gratifying assortment of ideas. DeFeis actually states that he feels this could have been the natural successor to ‘Noble Savage’ had things worked out differently. Oh, and for you collectors out there, there will be three versions, a CD deluxe with additional disc, a standard cd (at nearly 79 minutes long too!) and vinyl/cd combo, each with different artwork. Oh the decisions!

‘Lucifer’s Hammer’ is a real metal assault, vibrant and brash with galloping guitar rhythms, one of the startling aspects of this song are the massive squeals into falsetto that DeFeis manages to create, admittedly in some parts it makes you jump, how the hell can you get that high! ‘Queen of the Dead’ has further remarkable vocal melodies and encompasses all that Virgin Steele have been about recently, metalizing and intertwining some classical and blues pieces into the mix. ‘Black Sun – Black Mass’ remains the galloping true metal majesty. This track is watered down in places with keyboards, but the energy still remains. However, the piano overshadows the first solo, this is distracting and disappointing, although the second solo fulfils your metal desires. ‘Persephone’ is another metal monster, and you may jump out of your skin when DeFreis screams “mother”, just wait and see.

There are some low points, ‘Devilhead’ does little to entice, but the album is quickly redeemed with ‘Demolition Queen’ which starts out like the first couple of albums in terms of style and goes into a blues driven solo which is something out of character but wholly justified for the emotion that this song is portraying. When this band mix the progressive and classical influences, on this album in particular, there is a touch of class. It is not overdone like some bands do, it’s subtle but not too subtle as to miss the point. ‘The Plague and the Fire’ misses a trick and starts to go introspective and a little too extravagant, a saving grace is ‘We Disappear’.

I find this release splits itself in two, the first part is much more galloping metal, the second part a little more ballad-esque and classically influenced. But overall, each time you listen to this you will get a deep meaningful level of enjoyment as the album progresses. I mentioned earlier is nearly 79 minutes, so give this some time, the result will be a rewarding one. I think this is their best album in a good few releases because it’s got a touch of everything that this band have been about through the decades, it may also be an album that splits opinion, but like I said, give it time.

(8/10 Paul Maddison)