'The House Of Atreus - Act I & Act II'
Release Date: 20th May 2016
This is an absolute monster of an album, weighing in at an enormous three hours and twelve minutes and containing fifty-one tracks ranging from short instrumental passages of a couple of minutes or less to full blown, full length epic songs.
It's dramatic, theatrical, bombastic, loud and very, very Heavy Metal and it will take some time and several listens before it all sinks in and you become familiar with the many great tunes and the overall concept but it's more than worth the effort as the whole package is something of a masterpiece.
On very first listen my overriding thought was "Manowar ('Gods Of War' era in particular) meets Queen II with a dash of Savatage thrown in" and the Manowar comparison is simply unavoidable. Virgin Steele were formed in Long Island, New York in 1981 and released their debut, self titled album in 1982, the same year that Manowar, formed in Auburn, New York in 1980, released their debut album 'Battle Hymns'.
And the comparison doesn't end with the music, as evidenced in these photos. Virgin Steele frontman and main songwriter David DeFeis and Manowar leader Joey DeMaio bear more than a slight resemblance to each other. That's Joey on the left and David on the right.
Virgin Steele were originally formed by Jack Starr but after only two albums, the 1982 debut and 'Guardians Of The Flame' from 1983, Starr left because of serious differences with DeFeis who has led Virgin Steele ever since. DeFeis has produced two of Jack Starr's albums since, 'Out Of The Darkness' and 'No Turning Back', both released in the 80s.
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'The House Of Atreus Act I' was first released in 1999 with 'The House Of Atreus Act II' released the following year and they are Virgin Steele's ninth and tenth studio albums. It has the subtitle 'A Barbaric-Romantic Opera' and is a Metal opera inspired by the Oresteia, a trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus which concerns the end of the curse on the House of Atreus.
The music was intended to be the soundtrack for theatrical shows and the Metal opera was actually performed under the name 'Klytaimnestra - The House Of Atreus' in European theatres from 1999 to 2001, with the production of the Memmingen Opera House company and Landestheater Production.
This massive 3 CD digipak re-release contains both Acts I and II plus bonus material and a huge booklet with new liner notes and unseen photos by David DeFeis.
DeFeis said about the re-releases: "We are honoured and proud to announce that on May 20th 2016 Steamhammer SPV will re-release our Barbaric-Romantic Epic Metal-Opera 'The House Of Atreus'. It will be issued in a special 3 CD digi-pak format.
"CD 1 will contain the entire Act 1 album and compact discs 2 and 3 will contain the entire Act 2 album, plus the 'Magick Fire Music' EP tracks. 'The House Of Atreus' was a major milestone release for us and we are excited to have the opportunity to present it to the public once again.
"In addition to its appearance as a full length album, this work was also presented live onstage as a fully realized Theatrical Production by the Landestheatre Schwaben, and the tour we completed for it was one of our longest and most ambitious tours ever. Those who might have missed either the album, the tour or the theatrical performance can now experience this work in all its blood-drenched glory and murderous majesty once again."
So, to the thing that matters more than anything else and that of course is the music. Clearly DeFeis was on a creative zenith when he composed 'The House Of Atreus'. He is a classically trained pianist with a bachelor's degree in composition and there are plenty of piano interludes throughout the whole opus which gives it that Savatage-esque feel.
As a vocalist DeFeis possesses around three octaves and a half - (Bb1-)E2-C#6(-B6) - and quotes Freddie Mercury, Bryan Ferry, T-Rex and Bowie as influences but it's difficult to pinpoint any of these influences on '...Atreus'. The aforementioned Queen comparison comes totally from the vocal harmonies and some of the lead guitar runs and piano but as for the lead vocals, if you had told me it was Eric Adams singing, I would have totally believed it.
Here's one of the standout tracks from the album, 'Great Sword Of Flame' from Act I, track number 15.
And now take a listen to this. It's from Manowar's 'Gods Of War' album (their tenth) which was released in 2007.
Now I am not for one minute trying to suggest that there is any plagiarism going on here; this example is merely to demonstrate how similar DeFeis' voice is to that of Eric Adams and there are scores more similar examples that I could quote, likewise for the Savatage comparison, 'Iphigenia In Hades', also from Act I and 'One Child' from Savatage's 'Dead Winter Dead' album being just one.
But this takes nothing away from what is essentially a seriously impressive composition that will have you enthralled from start to finish.
And as with all decent concept albums, the songs stand up individually as well as they do as part of the whole package. Here are two of the best songs from the album, 'Wings Of Vengeance' and 'The Voice As Weapon'. Both songs will give you a great idea of what to expect from 'The House Of Atreus'.
Other standout tracks on the album are the furious opener 'Kingdom Of The Fearless', the mystical 'Flames Of Thy Power (From Blood They Rise)', 'Resurrection Day (The Finale) which contains a rousing chorus and is the longest track on the album at just over ten minutes, the very Metal 'Flames Of The Black Star (The Arrows of Herakles)' which contains one of the best guitar solos on the whole album, the dramatic 'Agony And Shame' and 'A Token Of My Hatred' which is grandiose, theatrical Metal at it's very finest.
David DeFeis states: "There are three terms I like to use when discussing the Virgin Steele sound; 'Romantic Expressionism', 'Symphonic Blues Based Metal', and, my favourite, or more appropriately, the one that most aptly conjures up the sound of this music in my mind, 'Barbaric Romanticism'. With our music we wish to invoke the spiritual nature locked within all men and women."
And they've most certainly invoked quite a lot here with this superb package. It's a journey and hearing the whole thing from start to finish is an experience and a triumph and I hope that re-releasing the complete work gives it a new lease of life and more prominence.
Ironically, Jack Starr's band, Burning Starr, performed at the Magic Circle Festival 2008 and released the album 'Defiance' on Manowar's label Magic Circle Music in 2009. In 2011 they released 'Land Of The Dead' through Limb Music. The albums include ex-Manowar guitarists Ross The Boss and David Shankle.
You can catch Virgin Steele live at Graspop Metal Meeting in Dessel, Belgium on June 17th.
Kingdom Of The Fearless (The Destruction of Troy)
Blaze Of Victory (The Watchman's Song)
Through The Ring Of Fire
Prelude In A Minor (The Voyage Home)
Death Darkly Closed Their Eyes (The Messenger's Song)
In Triumph Or Tragedy
Return Of The King
Flames Of The Black Star (The Arrows of Herakles)
And Hecate Smiled
A Song Of Prophecy
Child Of Desolation
G Minor Invention (Descent Into Death's Twilight Kingdom)
Day Of Wrath
Great Sword Of Flame
The Gift Of Tantalos
Iphigenia In Hades
The Fire God
Garden Of Lamentation
Agony And Shame
Gate Of Kings
Wings Of Vengeance
Hymn To The Gods Of Night
Fire Of Ecstasy
The Oracle Of Apollo
The Voice As Weapon
The Wine Of Violence
Token Of My Hatred
Summoning The Powers
Flames Of Thy Power (From Blood They Rise)
Arms Of Mercury
By The Gods
The Judgement Of The Son
Hammer The Winds
Guilt Or Innocence
The Fields Of Asphodel
When The Legends Die
Anemone (Withered Hopes... Forsaken)
The Waters Of Acheron
Fantasy And Fugue In D Minor (The Death of Orestes)
Resurrection Day (The Finale)
Gate Of Kings (Acoustic Version)
Agamennon's Last Hour
Great Sword Of Flame (Alternate Version)
Proethus The Fallen One (Re-mix)
Flames Of Thy Power (From Blood They Rise) (Alternate Mix)
Wings Of Vengeance (Alternate Mix)
Virgin Steele are:
David DeFeis - all vocals, keyboards, orchestration, effects, producer
Edward Pursino - acoustic and electric guitars, bass
Frank Gilchriest - drums