Album Review - Virgin Steele - The Black Light Bacchanalia
"Is there still a red rose in your heaven
Is it still remembered in your world
Did the heavens open wide
On the day that you died..."
One Word Review: Barbaric
The Black Light Bacchanalia is an album that keeps growing! Just when you think you have nailed the album down suddenly a new path opens and following it, new musical detail adds to the overall impression.
Virgin Steele have returned with renewed force after 2006's Visions of Eden, an album that struggled with a thin drum sound and a guitar that was too hidden by the production, but won on repeated listens. The Black Light Bacchanalia is more immediate, the guitar is back in the frontline of the sound where it belongs and the songs themselves are terrific with several amazing standouts. The album grabbed me right from the first listen and has kept me in a stranglehold ever since. I remember listening to the album for the first time back in November 2010 with a big smile on my face and the occasional chill running down my spine. It was immediately apparent that Virgin Steele have not lost their magic touch.
The Black Light Bacchanalia is a long album and one that takes time to appreciate fully. Before you begin listening to the album prepare to be smashed down and rebuilt from the ground up.
By The Hammer of Zeus (And The Wrecking Ball of Thor)… Chew on that title for a bit… (And your teeth will fall out). By the time the song ends the title has successfully become uncheesed and you will sit back with the feeling of being run over by a freight train. Wow! How the dickens did the band manage to come up with this brilliant opener? The crunch of the guitar is excellent, the drumming is detailed and the song has a great flow. A song to match their best but still very different from what they have done before. Especially concerning David DeFeis' vocal work. His voice has gained a quality that is at times tender, for lack of a better word. He tries a lot of different things on this album and for me, everything works. It may prove too progressive for some. There are so many brilliantly wonderful moments during these 8 minutes. The first time I heard the way the song smoothly glides from verse, bridge, chorus with the line "A living flame will be your star to follow" I was sold. Absolute perfection. Another magnificent passage comes with the most excellent line "Savage I start to tear out your eyes / The Gods swarm like flies in the starlight"… underlined by a short keyboard part to make the passage really soar. Later in the song the line changes to "…on my sacri-fice" and the delivery of that line that adds to the intensity in a small but electrifying way. It's an abso-fu**ing-lutely amazing song and one that will be carved into the massive tree of Virgin Steele classics.
Pagan Heart is less in-your-face but no less intricate. There is a good drive to the song and it's vintage Virgin Steele all the way through.
The Bread of Wickedness takes a direct route and is the most immediately catchy song on the album. The chorus will have you headbanging in no time. Even through the direct approach the song still manages to squeeze in a typical Virgin Steele interlude near the end.
In a Dream of Fire opens in an atmospheric baroque way and ends in metallic fury. The drums provide a sturdy drive which has often felt too simple but at the same time it puts all the focus on the melody and David's voice.
Nepethine (I Live Tomorrow) slows things down in a power ballad with strong melody. I recommend using this song to take a deep breath for the best part of the album is about to unfold.
A towering crescendo opens The Orpheus Tatoo. A wail of drums, aggressive guitar and piano leads to a superbly smooth transition into the intense first verse. I love this transition and the way the verse is sung, with such great intensity. The way David's voice and the drums work together in the bridge section creates further tension and this also showcases that indefinable quality the album has, which I can only define as a certain tenderness. A quality that goes perfectly hand in hand with the two opposites, aggression and power, which are deeply embedded in the music as well. Aahh and before I forget, the 2½ minute ending to this song is perfect. An explosion befitting the great tension the song has built through its first six minutes.
To Crown Them With Halos (Parts 1 & 2) opens with a solemn atmosphere, foreboding in tone, dark in color. The 11 minute song has enough variation to warrant its running time. Highlights include a lovely falsetto passage, the climatic peak around the 8 minute mark and the way the song keeps changing and evolving, keeping tension high throughout. And if you're suddenly thinking of Defiance from Invictus while listening to this song you're not that far off.
A dense, claustrophobic guitar riff leads The Black Light Bacchanalia (The Age That is to Come) into existence. When the song sheds its main riff it suddenly blossoms in a melodic spiral and develops from there with variations on the main riff and uplifting singing. The main riff returns the song to its dark, combusting atmosphere later on and now the keyboard work elevates the song further.
The Torture's of the Damned is a peaceful interlude and a good showcase for Mr. DeFeis' expressive voice before the haunting finale.
Wicked is a fitting word to describe the monument that is Necropolis (He Answers Them With Death). This song has been constructed with care and manages to marry innocence, cruelty, aggression and that special tenderness which I keep referring to. The bridge section leading to the explosive chorus is in the close vicinity of being divine. The melody of this short passage is breathtaking and I simply can't get enough of it. I believe only David DeFeis could deliver the kind of emotion it takes to make this work. The way this song moves through passages of varying opposite emotions and manages to capture them all is amazing. A personal favorite.
Eternal Regret punctuates the album and brings back memories of the best parts of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell trilogy. I love the emotional opening part. It captures everything in a grand atmosphere. Then drums and guitar enter the sound, heightening the emotions further. As tension builds, layer upon layer, I can't help but clench my fist and feel deep within that this is what music is all about, making an emotional connection with the listener and bringing with it an incredible feeling of power. A fantastic song and, even if it never truly explodes into a power metal frenzy, it relieves tension on its own level. Yes, Virgin Steele still have the magic touch.
I'm not going to go into details with the lyrics as they are up to yourself to either get or not. I found them highly interesting and relevant.
So there you have it. My favorite album of 2010 dissected and torn apart by a flood of words. I could just have said, "I love this album" but where's the fun in that? Virgin Steele have crafted something here that is as brilliant as trying to say its title fast ten times in a row is ineffable.
No more from me, let music speak!
Posted Thursday, June 21, 2012
Updated: Saturday, October 13, 2012 - Added music video for By The Hammer of Zeus (And The Wrecking Ball of Thor).
By The Hammer of Zeus ( And The Wrecking Ball of Thor)
01. By The Hammer of Zeus ( And The Wrecking Ball of Thor) [8:05] (Video) 02. Pagan Heart [6:19] 03. The Bread Of Wickedness [3:11] 04. In A Dream Of Fire [5:57] 05. Nepenthe (I Live Tomorrow) [5:20] 06. The Orpheus Taboo [7:43] 07. To Crown Them With Halos (Parts 1 & 2) [11:16] 08. The Black Light Bacchanalia (The Age That Is To Come) [7:19] 09. The Torture's Of The Damned [3:00] 10. Necropolis (He Answers Them With Death) [9:08] 11. Eternal Regret [8:58]