Classically trained pianist and self-taught singer David DeFeis formed New York heavy metal band Virgin Steele, along with guitarist Jack Starr, drummer Joey Ayvazian and bassist Joe O’Reilly in 1981. Debut album “Virgin Steele” was released the following year.
Starr left the band in 1983 and was replaced by guitarist Edward Pursino, who remains with the band to this day.
DeFeis is the sole remaining founding member, and aside from being lead vocalist, synth bassist and keyboardist is also responsible for the majority of the band’s compositions and for producing their albums. He describes the band’s sound as barbaric romanticism, stating “From a whisper to a scream, barbaric, romantic, bombastic, yet subtle, grandiose, yet earthy. A call, a shout, an invocation to Freedom and the continual awakening to the awareness that every moment of life is lived to its fullest potential. It is a force, a sacred quest which drives Virgin Steele on.”
Following numerous line-up changes, notably in terms of bassist, the band’s line-up had consisted of DeFeis and Pursino, together with drummer Frank Gilchriest and second guitarist / bassist Josh Block since 2001.
Since I originally posted this review I was contacted by Frank Gilchriest who informed me that he did not take any part in the recording of this album – something that wasn’t widely known. Further investigation brought up a quote from an interview that he has done with Rockpages.gr, in which he states “I haven’t recorded anything with them in over five years. I offered to record all or at least part of the CD in my studio for free… but he (DeFeis) was not interested. I was really disappointed in his decision. When I pressed him further on this issue, he told me he could do just as good and less costly a job by playing the drums himself with his piano using drumming software and his computer.” What a bizarre decision and seemingly shabby way to treat a talented band member! How odd too that there seems to have been nothing said on this matter from DeFeis or the rest of the band.
Arguably the kind of heavy metal that the band deliver is one of the more dismissed in the UK and the States, although I believe that power metal and “true heavy metal” remains very popular in Europe.
Stylistically similar to other bands given to epic and pompous sounding metal such as Manowar (at least until they seemed to have run out of ideas – two of the last three Manowar albums released in the past eight years have been re-recordings of previously released albums!), there is something very honest about Virgin Steele’s musical approach.
Five years on from their last studio release, “The Black Light Bacchanalia” comes album number thirteen, originally set to be called “Hymns To Damnation” it is entitled “Nocturnes Of Hellfire & Damnation”.
Things kick of promisingly with the galloping “Lucifer’s Hammer” – all thunderous drums and furious guitar riffs with DeFeis’ soaring vocals over the top. And over the top they are. DeFeis’ voice reaches heights that many men half his age would struggle with, but often sounds like it’s bordering on the ridiculous.
There is a reason for his unique delivery though, as he states “I use my voice differently… I think of myself as another instrument, like perhaps a guitar, or a violin or even as percussion… (which is why the songs often begin with those roars…I am a drum or cymbal smash with those)… more so than a singer, which is why I do all the crazy things that I do on there. The voice is used partly for; ok these are the words that I must express, and partly as… this is another colour… this is an orchestration… this is vengeance…. to sum up my approach I believe it is the voice as a weapon…”
The pace slows for “Queen Of The Dead” and the interlude “To Dark Eternal” before picking up again for “Black Sun – Black Mass”. In fairness, I would have to say that there is more mid-paced and slower material here than up-tempo, but overall the record feels like it has more life and vitality than the previous couple of albums the band has released.
Leaving aside any reservations over the approach that DeFeis takes to his vocals, this is a well crafted record. The guitar work from Pursino particularly is impressive. Production wise the album is an improvement over the past couple of releases too.
The tracks that have most struck a chord with me are the aforementioned “Lucifer’s Hammer”, “Persephone”, “Glamour”, “The Plague And The Fire” and “Black Sun – Black Mass”.
At 79 minutes for the regular edition (there is a double disc version with fifteen bonus tracks!) there is a lot to take in and I doubt that this album would entice many listeners who haven’t previously enjoyed the band’s work. For those that have, however, this is a solid – if not essential – addition to their collection…
1. Lucifer’s Hammer / 2. Queen Of The Dead / 3. To Darkness Eternal / 4. Black Sun – Black Mass / 5. Persephone / 6. Devilhead / 7. Demolition Queen / 8. The Plague And The Fire / 9. We Disappear / 10. A Damned Apparition / 11. Glamour / 12. Delirium / 13. Hymns To Damnation / 14. Fallen Angels