'Nocturnes Of Hellfire And Damnation'
Release Date: 22nd June 2015
New York power Metal band Virgin Steele release their 13th album, and first since 2010s much acclaimed 'Black Light Bacchanalia'.
From their more hard rock roots of the early 80s, the band have since embraced elements of thrash and symphonic Metal to play some pretty epic power Metal and this new album embraces the band's direction and ethos with aplomb.
Ethos? Yes. The band play what they call Barbaric Romantic music (their words, not mine) which mixes symphonic Metal with fantasy/mythological lyrics taking in real life events.
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Formed in 1981, the band recorded 'Children Of The Storm' for a compilation before releasing their eponymous debut the following year. After several line-up changes, the band then featured vocalist/keyboard player David DeFeis, guitarist Jack Starr, bassist Joe O'Reilly and drummer Joey Ayvazian.
1983 saw the release of 'Guardians Of The Flame', and the 'Wait For The Night' mini album, after which Starr left the band. Following a legal wrangle over the band's name they then recorded 'Noble Savage', moving in a more classical and epic direction. Then, before the release of 'Age Of Consent', albums by Exorcist and Piledriver appeared with band members and were effectively Virgin Steele under different guises, depending on which rumours you read.
Label problems and more line-up changes meant the late 80s was a nadir for the band.
The 90s was something of a comeback and the band were quite productive. With several albums moving in a concept and/or Metal opera direction, and 'The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell parts I & II' and 'The House Of Atreus parts I & II' are considered highlights of the genre as well as for the band.
2006s 'Visions Of Eden' explored Christian mythology, then in 2010 they signed to SPV for the aforementioned 'The Black Light Bacchanalia'. Look out for the 3LP edition – a lovely and rare item.
Alongside DeFeis now is guitarist Edward Pursino, drummer Frank Gilchriest and bassist/guitarist Josh Block and 'Nocturnes Of Hellfire And Damnation' comes in CD, 2CD and blue vinyl 2LP formats. Lyrically, while not a concept album, the themes are connected by relationships, between people, gods and each other; entanglement and self-destruction.
'Luzifer's Hammer' opens the set, quickfire guitars and machine-gun drums support the operatic vocals in a thrash/power Metal fashion before the melodic segments. Angry/shouty bursts in the vocals help mix the sound.
'Queen Of The Dead' is bit chunkier, and has a slight Nu edge to it. Likewise 'To Darkness Eternal', a slower and much shorter track, keeps a quite refined and polished angriness.
'Black Sun Black Mass' kicks off very promisingly with some good guitar work – the riffs stand as do the operatic backing vocal harmonies, but the angry lead vocals work better with the lyrical angle than they do the music.
In contrast, the seven minute 'Persephone' is a real highlight. A piano intro builds to some great melodies and harmonies of classic epic and symphonic Metal. This song I'm adding to my playlist and it's not yet half way through while 'Devilhead' is a much darker number, the screams and almost gothic tones a good sound. There's a hint of turn-of-the-millennium era Saxon in there too.
'Demolition Queen' is an odd number, for while the riffs and vocals are good, there's something about it I can't quite pinpoint that's somewhat disjointed and the direction change mid-song is very lost. 'The Plaque And The Fire', 'A Damned Apparition' and 'We Disappear' follow in moody and chunky fashion. The lyrics and mood changes, from melancholy to uplifting and back again, the story telling, there's a lot to enjoy and immerse yourself in.
Over the 14 tracks, there are emotional highs and lows, with moods and riffs to match. There's the odd hint of Sabbath or Saxon, and equally of 90s Metal.
These emotions have detracted from the classic Symphonic, but the roots are there, in all its operatic and gothic forms.
The melodic operatic power Metal and associated harmonies are more than alluded to, and are wonderful, but I just feel they should be embraced a little more.
It's a thought provoking album, and largely very enjoyable. The pace changes help break up the album, but there are couple of moments that don't work so well.