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 opted to create nearly ninety minutes of what can best be described as Manowar meets chamber music meets Vegas lounge act. 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” wherein 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 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]