VIRGIN STEELE


"The Book of Burning" (Sanctuary/Noise Records / T&T; 2002)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

"The Book of Burning" is another collection of previously unreleased new songs and newly recorded classics from the veteran band. The biggest difference between "Book of Burning" and the previous collection, "Hymns to Victory" (see review below), is that "Book" focuses on new material. Of the CD's sixteen tracks, eight are brand new songs. 

Starting with the new songs, let's just say that Virgin Steele haven't lost any of their impact, power or talent over the years. The new songs on "Book of Burning" are as good as anything the band has recorded before and, in fact, shows the band stretching its reach a little and touching on genres they may not have previously explored. Just a little, though. The band knows where its strengths lie and never venture too far into strange territory.

"Conjuration of the Watcher" starts off the CD with a classic Virgin Steele sound. "Rain of Fire" is a heavier track than most, featuring guttural vocals that aren't quite death metal but are surprisingly throaty. "Hellfire Woman" is one of my favorite tracks, with its slower, Dio-like pace, its crunching, heavy guitars and its exotic keyboard background. "The Succubus" dips into Judas Priest territory while "Hot and Wild" seems to be the band's token "party song."

The newly re-recorded classic songs sound great as well, with the new production values and the band's improved skills shining through. Interestingly, compared to the new songs, the classics' age shows ... a little. But the songs kick ass better than ever and the CD's sequencing mixes and matches old and new perfectly.

Closing out the CD is a "new recorded acoustic version" of "A Cry in the Night" that isn't bad but is far from the best track on the CD. If you're one of those folks who likes "unplugged" stuff, you might be all over this. I'm not, and it didn't do much for me.

Bottom line is this: Virgins Steele is an awesome heavy metal band and fans of all metal genres should have most of their CDs in their collection. 

For more information, check out http://www.noiserecords.com/virginsteele.  


"Hymns To Victory" (Sanctuary/Noise Records; 2002)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Virgin Steele are probably the best heavy metal band you're not listening to. The band has always enjoyed a certain amount of respect and notoriety but have never really hit it big here in the States like they should have. Maybe, just maybe, this "Best Of" package will be the thing to develop more interest in the band.

Unlike other "Best Of" albums, wherein bands and record labels gather a bunch of a band's best-known tunes and simply stamp them onto a new compilation CD, "Hymns of Victory" gives rock fans their money's worth. Of the 13 tracks on the CD, seven are re-mastered, two are previously unreleased alternate mixes, two are previously unreleased songs, one is a new, previously unreleased acoustic version, and one is a "long lost early mix." That's enough new angles and new material to make this CD worth picking up for long-time fans or first time listeners.

The songs are all in the power rock vein - a la Manowar and maybe Gamma Ray. Unafraid to build their music with instruments other than the traditional guitar, bass and drums, Virgin Steele use keyboards, piano and more to give their music a bigger sound. Some songs begin with music that sounds as though it belongs in a Conan-type feature film but the songs always explode into heavy metal pretty quickly. The vocals are a unique blend of Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford.

As tired as I have become of "unplugged" versions, the acoustic track, "The Spirit of Steele," takes on a haunting, eerie tone using strings and acoustic guitar backed by the always strong vocals. Your friends may roll their eyes at you when this track comes on in the middle of all that bombastic metal but - if they listen - they'll realize that this is what "acoustic" should really sound like. Big, ballsy and very full.

As far as the new songs are concerned, "Saturday Night" seems a little out of place here. A simple party tune, a la KISS's "Rock'n'Roll All Nite," "Saturday Night" is a sweet, simple rock'n'roll anthem. The other new song, "The Mists of Avalon," has a rich, sophisticated feel to it, but perhaps is a little too repetitive.

The "long lost early mix" of "Noble Savage," is a pretty sturdy rocker, despite however long it has been "lost."

All in all, you can't really go wrong with "Hymns To Victory." With 13 tracks and a running time of over 78 minutes, it's a great introduction to the band, a great reminder if you're forgotten about them and a great addition to any Virgin Steele fans collection.

For more information, check out http://www.noiserecords.com/virginsteele.  


"The House of Atreus: Act I" (Noise Records; 1999)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

As the press release goes, "The House Of Atreus: Act I" is the first time a Greek tragedy has been combined with heavy metal. "The House Of Atreus" is, without a doubt, a really cool and epic true metal concept album.  Borne of the fertile mind of David DeFeis, Virgin Steele is an American band that is wildly popular in Europe, but success seems to escape them in the United States.

"The House Of Atreus" is like a silhouette that can be measured against the likes of the standard bearers of British-styled heavy metal (Iron Maiden and Judas Priest are prominent examples). However, I also hear a lot of similarities to newer European power metal (Nocturnal Rites and Gamma Ray come to mind). The vocals are much in the vein of early Judas Priest Rob Halford. There are many 'chanted' vocals similar to, but not exactly like, Blind Guardian's Hansi Kursch; also, many of the chorus parts sound like recent Iced Earth (not a bad thing, in my humble opinion). The lyrics, in their storytelling fashion, are phenomenal. 

Daring ambition is the driving factor behind the grandiose "The House Of Atreus: Act I" which combines elements of classical music and progressive metal into a majestic mix. Elegance and stark barbaric overtones provide the contrasts by which "The House Of Atreus Act I" draws its creative well spring to tell the story of Agamemnon. 

An endless stream musical ideas tells the story of this ancient Greek tragedy as DeFeis and his flexible voice (three octave range!) plays all the characters in the story. Edward Pursino provides all the amazing guitar work. DeFeis' keyboard work is impressive throughout, as well (make no mistake, there are a lot of keyboards on "The House Of Atreus: Act I"). The instrumental songs are basically interludes that change the mood of the story while the songs with lyrics tell the story in a power metal vein. Resurrection of classic metal riffs re-shaped into prog-metal emphasize the whole and de-emphasize the moment. There are twenty-two tracks and nearly 74 minutes to tell the tale and nary a moment or note is wasted. 

What truly separates "The House Of Atreus Act I" from other discs is the devotion to the story - there is such conviction and honesty in the storytelling as to make the entire disc that much stronger. The music and lyrics join together to form strong columns of strength not unlike the marble pillars that held up ancient Greek buildings. 

I can't wait to hear "The House Of Atreus: Act II." 

"The House Of Atreus Act I" was produced by David DeFeis. 

Virgin Steele is David DeFeis on keyboards, orchestration, keyboard guitars and bass, and vocals; Edward Pursino on electric guitar and bass; Frank Gilchrest on drums. 

For more information, check out http://www.noiserecords.com/virginsteele.


"Guardians of the Flame" (Sanctuary/Noise Records; 1984)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Originally released way back in 1984, "Guardians Of The Flame" is amazing mostly for its incredible production values. Granted, this re-release has been digitally remastered and otherwise technically enhanced, but there's only so much you can do with original recordings. These sound absolutely pure and beautiful, as though they were recorded last year, not two decades ago.

The songs on "Guardians" are more of the pure, true, power metal that Virgin Steele does so well. They're epic tunes, with hearty guitar riffs, thundering drums and soaring, heart-felt vocals and lyrics. One thing that stands out, however - for better or worse - is the tremolo effect of vocalist David DeFeis's high-pitched voice. Either I didn't notice it or it wasn't as pronounced on the other CDs released on this page but it stands out on "Guardians" like a sore thumb. Personally, it bothers me; however, fans of this vocal style will probably like it just fine.

Also included in this re-release are the "Wait for the Night" EP tracks, which fit here as though they were recorded for "Guardians," as well as an extended version of "A Cry in the Night." The CD ends with a badly placed band interview with background music (really, this should have been the last track very end of the CD) and an incredibly raw, previously unreleased tune, "Blues Deluxe Oreganata (I Might Drown)" which sounds as though it were recorded on one of those tiny cassette players at a bar somewhere. But you know what? It's got a certain magic because of that.

"Guardians" is about when Virgin Steele really started gathering steam. As such, it's a disc that should be in every fan's collection. Those unfamiliar with the band might want to start with "Hymns to Victory" instead but I bet that'll probably lead you back to "Guardians of the Flame" anyway.

For more information, check out http://www.noiserecords.com/virginsteele.


"Virgin Steele" (Sanctuary/Noise T&T; 1982)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

All great things come from humble beginnings. Okay, I have no idea whether that's true or not, but it's certainly the case with Virgin Steele. While their self-titled debut isn't a bad record by any means, it's easily their most dated. The songs on this CD sound more like the early rumblings of Motley Crue than the power metal that Virgin Steele eventually mastered. With vocals that sound like a cross between Judas Priest's Rob Halford and Cirith Ungol's Tim Baker, and featuring songs that are sometimes as corny as they are outdated, "Virgin Steele" is fun to listen to, but nowhere near the quality of the band's later offerings.

This re-mastered and re-released version does contain some interesting bonuses, however. including the previously unreleased "Lothlorien," a piano instrumental which - unlike most of the rest of the CD - does give a clue as to the band's future epic sound. Also included are previously unreleased 4-track demos of "The Lesson," "Life of Crime" and "Burn the Sun" as well as re-mastered mixes of "American Girl," "Dead End Kids," "Drive On Thru" and "Living in Sin." 

Again, "Virgin Steele" isn't a bad album by any means. But it does show its age. Fans of the band might want to add it to their collection for posterity's sake while others might be better served by choosing one of the band's later albums instead.

For more information, check out http://www.virgin-steele.com


Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.


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Copyright 2004 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08 Jan 2016 11:33:09 -0500.