Virgin Steele – Nocturnes of Hellfire & Damnation (SPV)Sunday, 7th June 2015
Whirling back to 1984, when this journalist craved more metal to fill his ears, a cover story on England’s Kerrang! magazine discussed a rising New York band called Virgin Steele, preparing to release their third studio album Noble Savage. In those early years, the group straddled the hard rock/heavy metal lines – transforming their sound in the 1990’s to more of a power metal template accented with majestic keyboards that come from classical and bombastic themes.
If you wish to dig deeper into the Virgin Steele catalog, there are plenty of re-issues floating about with a zillion bonus cuts – before us now is the thirteenth (!) studio full-length, the fiery titled Nocturnes of Hellfires & Damnation. Certain standard elements are fairly consistent with Virgin Steele – the 14 tracks almost max out the CD limitations at 79 minutes, with the average normal cut taking up 6 plus minutes, plus vocalist David DeFeis has a chameleon-like voice, changing from bird call screams and tender, low register verses to gritty textures often in the same song such as the gallop prevalent “Persephone” or the slower, mythological “Queen of the Dead”. The opening anthem “Lucifer’s Hammer”, traverses epic textures in terms of the melodies and features an entertaining stair step guitar sequence from Edward Pursino and Joshua Black that is very classically influenced.
The quartet never remain stagnant in terms of their moods, tempo changes, or songwriting variety – adding a little bit of the early 80’s hard rock groove and Sunset Strip bluesy riff prominence for the 8 minute plus “Demolition Queen” (featuring a tranquil bridge section that throws the mood back to Zeppelin/ Deep Purple 70’s period), while soaring to upper register DeFeis-highs on the reflective “Delirium”. Prepare for a lot of swirling in and out effects vocally for these songs – an equal importance placed on the bass as the guitars and keyboards, and for a change a non-concept record but a running theme of the connection between all entities: Gods, spirits, elements, creatures, and Earth… with people at the center of it all. Heady stuff for sure, and favored by those into this bombastic brand of epic, power metal.
For my tastes, Noble Savage plus 1998’s Invictus are tough to top for Virgin Steele’s discography peaks. Nocturnes of Hellfires & Damnation is easily their best since the latter named – so raise your burning sword and bow to the magic and the myth present.