VIRGIN STEELE – “THE BLACK LIGHT BACCHANALIA”
It feels very strange indeed when you come to realise that a band whose career you have been following from the very early days is about to release its twelfth studio release! Damn, it feels like it was only just yesterday (obviously in my mind alone) that I sweated my socks off, head banging to the tunes of both “ The Marriage Of Heaven and Hell” albums in a well-known Athenian rock club, and that, in my case, was half a life time ago! Many things have changed since then, but one thing that has certainly remained the same is David De Feis’s (vocals) ability to create highly memorable melodic compositions that are also quite technically demanding, whose musical pedigree is such that combines elements from various different branches of Metal. What some people call Symphonic Power Metal, Virgin Steel refer to as Barbaric Romantic music and they have every right to use such a term as it is quite fitting to the music on offer, something that fans of the band and newcomers alike will experience firsthand when exposed to the eleven compositions that put together “The Black Light Bacchanalia”.
Much as I found the band’s previous effort “Visions Of Eden” to have it nice moments, I have to admit that I never really managed to bond with this album as much as I did with all of the band’s previous efforts. Even to this day, I find that release to be slightly disjointed and lacking the spark and imagination that has become Virgin Steele’s trademark over the years. Luckily for all of us, “The Black Light Bacchanalia” signals the band’s return to form, as it contains predominantly lengthy compositions that are far more adventurous and daring, but which at the same time infectiously melodic and fairly easy to digest. All those mid tempo heavy riffs, pompous choruses and multi-layered catchy refrains that you would expect in a Virgin Steele are there and there is also an underlying theme which connects all the compositions together, so all high marks there. The only reason that deprives me from granting this album my top marks has to do with the overall production, which I believe is far than complementary to the music on offer. There were quite a few cases where I felt that Edward Pursino’s guitars were ‘hidden’ behind layers of keyboards, depriving the compositions from both power and directness and the drum sound quality is such that you would be totally justified to believe that the position of the drummer in the band is currently vacant.
The album kicks off in style with the dynamic mid tempo riffs of “By The Hammer Of Zeus (And The Wrecking Balls Of Thor)”- a composition whose epic credentials are similar to those of songs featured in the two “House Of Atreus” albums. In “Pagan Heart”, the band brings onto the surface its melodic side whereas “The Bread Of Wickedness” enables DeFeis to use the full length of his vocal range. The orchestral arrangements of “In A Dream Of Fire” add a lot of atmosphere onto the proceedings, leading the way to the first piano/vocal ballad of the album that’s entitled “Nepenthe (I Live Tomorrow)” – a song that features a truly catchy melody in its refrain. In “The Orpheus Taboo” you find a beautifully crafted rhythmical monster with beautiful multi layered vocal performances and in the eleven minute “To Crown Them With Halos Parts 1 + 2” a diverse and highly intelligent piece of music which manages to keep you focused throughout its long duration – a sign of superior musical craftsmanship.
The same-titled “The Black Light Bacchanalia” is a riff based mid tempo piece that supports some truly beautiful orchestral arrangements whereas the piano tunes of the second ballad of the album, namely “The Torture’s Of The Damned” , provides a much needed break. My favourite song of the album, and one of the best compositions that this band has created in recent years, is “Necropolis (He Answers Them With Death)”. Why? Simply because it is the only song which brings together all those elements that make Virgin Steele such an amazing band – the point where melody flirts unreservedly with heaviness and power. How does one close such an impressive album? With a dead catchy piano melody and layers of emotionally charged vocals – exactly what the nine minute opus “Eternal Regret” has to offer!
Things are very simple here; if you are a long term fan of Virgin Steele, getting hooked with this album will require no effort whatsoever! Why? Simply because “The Black Light Bacchanalia” is the most impressive album that the band has released these last ten years! Those of you who, for some obscure reason, are not aware of Virgin Steele and who are naturally attracted towards a sound and style that combines simply crafted heavy riffs with orchestral arrangements, what you will discover in this album is a new array of emotions and feelings that only a top quality band such as this one is capable of conveying! Once again, it is a sad thing indeed that a few details in the production of the album have deprived it of a top rating, but still what you will get as a result of investing in this beauty is beyond description.
Rating: ****1/2 (4.5/5.0)
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In this two hour special David Randall plays a selection of the GRTR! reviewer choices for ‘Best of 2019′ and announces the results of the popular poll. First broadcast Sunday 22 December 2019.
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14:00-16:00 AMBERLY CHALBERG Hi-Line (indie)
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