Virgin Steele // The Black Light Baccahanalia
Rating: 2.0/5.0 —Davey D and the Virgins, lounge/wedding band for hire
Label: SPV/Steamhammer
Websites:
virgin-steele.com | myspace.com/virginsteele
Release Dates: EU: 22.10.2010 | US: 11.09.2010

OK, what the hell is going on here? Why are metal’s elder statesmen forgetting to include metal on their metal albums? First Halford and now this? Virgin Steele has been around since forever (1982), and singer, keyboardist, pianist, composer David DeFeis is a near legendary figure in the metal scene who happens to hail from my neck of the woods in New York. Growing up, I always considered Virgin Steele a poor man’s Manowar (and I think these guys felt the same way). Although I was never a die-hard fan, they had some good early albums and DeFeis is a talented musician and truly gifted and versatile vocalist. However, on album twelve, the pompously titled The Black Light Bacchanalia, DeFeis and company have opted to create nearly ninety minutes of what can best be described as Manowar meets chamber music meets Vegas lounge music. Conceptually, easy listening/lounge  Manowar is the equal of other such self defeating ideas as room temperature fire and Shakespeare performed by mimes. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Starting off with “By the Hammer of Zeus (and the Wrecking Ball of Thor),” DeFeis chronicles the tale of these mighty titans with a soft, “kinda metal” number during which he chooses to sing almost entirely with his “inside voice” as if he’s auditioning for a gig singing at a coffee bar.  No offense Dave but if you put both Zeus AND Thor in the song title, can we get just a little aggression for fuck’s sake?  Thereafter, song after overlong song floats by with more piano, keyboard and gentle singing than any self respecting metal head should ever endure.  Except for “Pagan Heart,” “The Bread of Wickedness” and “Necropolis” which at least suggest some backbone, most of The Black Light will leave you waiting as the band seems perpetually close to the precipice of rocking out, but never does.  Yes, that’s the musical equivalent of blue balls and it pisses me off now just like it did in high school.  Making it all the more annoying is knowing DeFeis is capable of writing/performing some classic and intense heavy metal. Equally irritating is remembering the old publicity photos of DeFeis holding a big sword, yet hearing nary a trace of viking/barbarian aggression over the length of this monstrous snooze-fest. Not to beat a dead war horse but I have stuff in the back of my fridge capable of more intensity and violence than this.

Aside from the shortage of metal, the music is very professionally done, well executed and at times quite beautiful. The piano work is gentle and calming, DeFeis’s vocals run the gamut from soft crooning to higher pitched soft crooning  and lots of dramatically whispered intonations.  The guitar work is solid and largely inoffensive with some high quality soloing.  In fact, Virgin Steele may have crafted one of the best dinner party albums ever made, rivaling both John Tesh and Yanni. If played at a nursing home, barely 3 out 13 tracks would annoy the elderly.  Adding insult to boredom, The Black Light includes a thirty minute “spoken biography” where DeFeis explains what it means to live the life of true heavy metal, expounds on what heavy metal music is (I now know what it isn’t) and finally, the history of Virgin Steele.  All of this is delivered in a bombastic narrative style that would make Joey DeMaio blush, complete with monks chanting and dramatic piano (yes, more piano).

Out of respect for their deep metal roots and hometown hero status, I really tried to like this and then I tried again.  But if the intention was a metallic opera, they forgot to add enough of the metal part. At the risk of giving the impression I don’t agree with the direction these veteran metallers have chosen, I digress.  Somewhere in the night, Manowar weeps black tears of sadness and rage [while they're not stealing Rhapsody of Fire's schtick. - AMG]

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  • http://thenumberoftheblog.com Tr00 Nate

    Were we even listening to the same album? It seems to me like you were reviewing Visions of Ede instead of their newest one.

  • Steel Druhm

    Sadly, this is even more mellow than Visions of Eden. Even the more “metal” songs are pretty laid back and soft and there is just far too much piano/keyboard/soft crooning going on. I just couldn’t get into this as a metal album.

  • VladInvictus

    I really liked the album, as well as their previous effort “Visions of Eden”, after listening to it for about a dozen times. VS have never been an easy-listening band. The lyrics, the arrangements, the melodies… everything here sounds beautiful to my ears. I agree with Steel Druhm that the album lacks that raw metal power (like they had on Invictus and both Atreuses), but I think that David (DeFeis) didn’t have that intention in a first place. What worries me is the production and the mix. It’s outta place! The drums sound fake (again), and the guitars (yes, they are a bit louder than on the last album) are so sterile and uninventive to the point where one could think “Where the hell is Edward Pursino?” I mean, he’s such a terrific player, but these guitars sound like a backing instrument. Nevertheless, the songs are really good, especially To Crown Them With Halos, Necropolis & Bread of Wickedness.

  • Steel Druhm

    Vlad,

    I agree with your drum complaints, the guitar was decent enough and didn’t put me off per se, I just wanted it to be more a focal point and have less emphasis on the piano/keyboards. Another big issue to me was how much time DeFeis spent singing in his “pretty” voice. After all, this is a metal album, so why all the polite crooning?? By and large, I just don’t like where this band is going anymore.

  • http://www.rockreport.be Nightman

    Sadly I have to agree that although better and more metal than VOD this is still a very dissapointing release.
    I can’t imagine playng it more than a couple more times. David likes to give value thus 90 minutes of music the problem is that as least half of it is not the VS music that made the band, what the fans want to hear or songs that VS would dare to play on stage.
    I don’t beleive Frank is playing the drums, can’t hear any bass, can’t really believe Edd is playing much of the guitar either.
    David needs to understand that quality should always come before quantity and that there is no point in being different or complex just so you can’t be bagged as similar to any other band.
    I have always believed a metal album should not contain more than 1 ballad and preferably be the last track. Also if songs are not considered suitable to play live why are they on the album in the first place.
    Invictus, The Marriage cds, Noble Savage, Atreus I and lots of Atreus II are superb VS releases.
    So why the change in style for the last 2 which to me are really David Defeis solo albums.
    The production and sound mix are also ordianry at best.
    If VOD and TBLB were the 1st 2 Virgin Steele albums there would not be a third and nobody would turn up if they played live.

  • http://thatdevilmusic.blogspot.com Rob Liz

    I approve of this review.

  • jordanesque

    this is a great epic melodic power metal album featuring DAVID DEFEIS’s talents…
    If you like VIRGIN STEELE this is a great album.
    9/10

  • MDFaraone

    Sadly, I have to agree with this review for the most part, and VS is my all-time favorite band, but this makes two weak albums back to back and the only two released in a decade. VS needs to get back to the Invictus/Atreus sound stat !before they lose any more fans. I posted a long review on Amazon , check it out.
    After listening to this album almost 20 times to give it a fair shake, Necropolis is the only song that I could honestly say I like in it’s (almost)entirety, the rest are somewhere between good/OK (Hamer of Zeus,to Crown them with Halos) to downright lousy (the Tortures of the Damned).

  • Deadlyforce

    I totally agree with that review. A rather well written album that dramatically lacks the aggressiveness of the (not so) old days.

  • Roddoliver

    This album has a serious problem: horrible production. We are in 2010 and Virgin Steele releases this work with awful sound quality. The drums are poorly recorded and give no power to the songs. Sound engineers, where are you?