An annotated discography of:
Virgin Steele was founded in 1981 and you would think that after twenty years a band of this caliber would be widely loved in their home country. And if there has ever been a Classic/Power Metal band worthy of great success, it is Virgin Steele. Their complex music is rich and highly diverse in ways that few if any other bands in their genre ever achieve. At times they are balls on metal, swords and attitude like Manowar; at other times they are dreamy and commercial, like a metal version of Journey; and at other times neo-classical. But what really impresses me about the band is, as David DeFeis said to me in a recent interview, that he loves doing this so much that he would do whatever it takes to keep on doing it. During those times when the band didn’t make enough money off the music to pay the bills, he scrubbed toilets and did other menial jobs so that Virgin Steele could continue on. Anyone that dedicated to what they are doing deserves success! While they have enjoyed considerable success in Europe, somehow their name is barely known in the U.S. Part of the reason for this is lack of promotion on the part of the label and also a very fickle home audience. But there now seems to be a renewed interest in promoting Virgin Steele’s epic brand of Classic Metal in the U.S. So here I offer the world an introduction to this band’s incredible work.
TIMELINE AND ANNOTATED DISCOGRAPHY
1982 – VIRGIN STEELE Iis released*
*This album is out of print and hasn’t yet been released on compact disc. However, David DeFeis is currently remastering it and it should be released along with VSII later this year.
1983 – VIRGIN STEELE II (Guardian of the Flame) is released*
1983 – A CRY IN THE NIGHT/WAIT FOR THE NIGHT E.P.’s released.
To my knowledge there are no plans to release these (unless they will be used as bonus tracks).
1986 – NOBLE SAVAGE is released.
I am sorry to say that I do not have this disc.
1989 – AGE OF CONSENT is released.
(16 songs. 71:12). This is actually a re-issue that Noise put out in 1997. It contains bonus tracks which are interspersed with the original tracks, so it is a little different, but I think the original recording is distinguishable. Age of Consent has a real power metal edge to it and it is quite noticeable from the opening track "The Burning of Rome (Cry for Pompeii)" all the way through to their awesome cover of Judas Priest’s "Desert Plains" and finishing with "We Are Eternal" at the end. It is a very mature piece of work that is loosely epic with couplets of songs running along similar themes. Examples include "Coils of the Serpent" leading into "Serpent’s Kiss". These songs deal with the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Other tracks include "Lion in Winter", "Perfect Mansions", and "On the Wings of the Night".
1994 – LIFE AMONG THE RUINS is released.
(14 songs. 54:14). And now for something different. Whereas Noble Savage and Age of Consent were albums with Virgin Steele’s typically epic flair, Life Among the Ruins was a bit of a diversion into more commercial Metal. Musically it doesn’t sound a whole lot different, but the songs are more focused on rock n’ roll themes like love, sex, broken relationships and the like. Life Among The Ruins sounds almost like a Whitesnake album—only better in my opinion! Stand out tracks are "Sex Religion Machine" and "Cry Forever" (which was carried over from Age of Consent by the will of the record label). David DeFeis told me that this particular CD is the one that fans either love or hate. It is the one disc that fans prior to its release didn’t like, but for those for whom this was their first taste, they really liked it. As for me, I think it is an awesome album and it is a nice change hearing this band play some more mainstream metal as a way to avoid getting monotonous or stuck in a rut. After all, once they got this album out of their system, they became even more epic with the two part Marriage of Heaven and Hell series and the two-part, three disc House of Atreus series. "Different is good" and this disc satisfies!
1995 – THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL PT. I is released.
(14 songs. 70:27). The real irony about the title of this and the next album is that it was inspired by David DeFeis’ reading of William Blake’s "Songs of Innocence and Experience". He told me in an interview that when he started writing for this album he was unaware of the fact that Blake had written about the "Marriage of Heaven and Hell". What inspired DeFeis—as is obvious in much of his songwriting—is the juxtaposing of opposites, also known as dichotomies. Many dichotomies are represented in the songs on this album (e.g., "Blood and Gasoline", one of their most distinctive songs ever). This album begins a musical study of spiritual themes that are continued on Part II and Invictus. It also changes the tone musically to a more dramatic style as the subject matter is largely more serious. At the end of "I Will Come for You" appears the musical theme which makes up track fourteen, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" and is repeated at various parts of the next two albums. Whether these albums should be considered as a trilogy or as a two part series with Invictus standing alone is rather debatable. I’m not sure that even DeFeis can say which is the case.
Another note here: Virgin Steele definitely have a distinct sound which is their own. But one cannot avoid the temptation to discern little nuances in their music. Whether it is only in my mind, or if it is real, there is an unavoidable temptation to hear similarities with Black Sabbath in some of these tunes. Again, VS sound like no other band, but Sabbath did have an album entitled Heaven and Hell. VS did tour with Sabbath in 1987.
NOTE: some other significant artists/bands have drawn inspiration from the writings of William Blake. Bruce Dickenson’s Chemical Wedding draws heavily from Blake both lyrically and much of the artwork comes from Blake. Ulver’s Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a two CD work which follows Blakes work closely and interprets it musically with help from members of Emperor, Darkthrone, Arcturus, and Mayhem. Finally, my favorite songwriter of all time, Terry Scott Taylor, has an album called Knowledge and Innocence based on the same poems which inspired DeFeis. If only Blake were alive today to see the fruit of his labors!
1996 – THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL PT. II is released.
(13 songs. 66:27). To me, the beginning of this CD is really the middle part of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell series. It continues the exploration of the themes of light and dark, good vs. evil, man vs. gods (e.g., "Prometheus the Fallen One") begun on the first CD. But if you happen to be analytical like I am, you’ll hear that this particular CD sounds like a mixture of House of Atreus Pt. I and Life Among the Ruins. It is largely epic but has more of a commercial sound. Songs like "Symphony of Steele", "Twilight of the Gods", etc. are very much like the traditional Virgin Steele epic style of metal. But other songs like "Strawgirl" hearken back to the commercial style of Life Among the Ruins. But also, there is a marked increase in DeFeis’ use of instrumentals on this CD: the intro to "A Symphony of Steele", "From Chaos to Creation" and "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Revisited". Unity through diversity is a great descriptive for this album. It works well.
1998 – INVICTUS is released.
(16 songs. 75:43). As will be noticed from the track listing, Virgin Steele albums seem to get longer with each new release. DeFeis writes in the liner notes that this album can be either be thought of as a continuation of the themes from Marriage of Heaven and Hell Pt. I & II, or a stand alone album. The short but beautiful "Marriage of Heaven and Hell Theme" does in fact appear near the end. So at least musically Invictus does carry the theme forward and make it a trilogy. But whereas the first two albums flirt with all sorts of dichotomies, this album is about the "triumph of the human spirit" (DeFeis’ own words). The themes here, in fact, have a Promethean tone to them—at least, Promethean in the sense that poets for the last three centuries have interpreted that myth, i.e., as mankind triumphing against God or the gods. Like Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, the hero of Invictus raises his fist in defiance against the gods. Pictured on the cover is Persius, I think, holding up the head of Medusa, thus representing the triumph of humanity over the gods (yes I know, Medusa was a titan). I mentioned to DeFeis that I thought it was interesting he chose a particularly Greco-Roman pantheon for the development of this theme. His response was that to him it didn’t make much difference because he sees all religions as basically the same. My point was that his theme works quite well when applied to pagan religions, but I don’t agree that all religions are the same, nor do I believe in the popular version of Christianity that would also be the object of the Promethean polemic. Instead, I would have to argue that the true God is not capricious as he is so often misrepresented by mythology on the one hand, and those who profess to be his "true spokespersons" on the other. But I digress. Back to the music.
While Invictus is loosely a continuation of the mindset on the Marriage of Heaven and Hell CD’s, it really represents the expansion of DeFeis’ combination of history and philosophy and theology to music. In a sense it is a precursor to the House of Atreus series. Standing alone, Invictus is to date DeFeis’ most complete and profound statement of philosophy, but it seems clear to me that this album, in a sense, gave he and the rest of the band the confidence to do something like the House of Atreus Acts I & II, also known as the Klytaimnestra opera. To close, Invictus is more than just a "triumph of the human spirit, it is also a triumph for Virgin Steele. After about eighteen years of existence the band showed no signs of letting up or running out of good ideas. But like all truly great bands, they sound fresh and exciting.
1999 – THE HOUSE OF ATREUS ACT I is released.
(22 Tracks. 73:50) House of Atreus Act I is the first act of the Klytaimnestra opera based on The Iliad by Homer. It is an epic more than any other metal album out there, including Virgin Steele’s previous works. It is both a history lesson and a very complex work of music which must be taken as a whole, as every song is a part of the story. The album comes to a roaring start with "Kingdom of the Fearless", one of their most exciting songs ever, and blazes through eight solid tracks of classic war metal. With track 9, "Narcissus," and throughout the middle section of this CD, the music becomes more piano/keyboard focused. Here Defeis shows his mastery of both keys and modern piano composition. I suppose the average power metal connoisseur would find this a little out of place, but I think the music fits the story line quite well. Some of these tracks are piano compositions, as mentioned above, and some are ballads. Though Defeis’ voice is very commanding on the heavy songs, he finesses the softer songs. After we pass through the middle part of this CD, the music picks up again and rocks from track 15, "Great Sword of Flame" through track 21, "Gate of Kings." Tracks 16 and 17, "The Gift of Tantalos" and "Iphigenia in Hades" sound somewhat like King Diamond songs that could have appeared on his "The Graveyard" album. Then the CD finishes out with another instrumental called "Via Sacred." Along with Age of Consent and Invictus, this one is a favorite of mine.
2000 – MAGIK FIRE MUSIK is released.
Unfortunately, I don’t have this one either. I don’t think it was released in the U.S.
2000 – THE HOUSE OF ATREUS ACT II is released (in Europe, 2001 in America).
(disc one: 10 tracks. 45:27) (disc two: 13 tracks. 43:57). It takes nearly two hours to listen to this entire album. VS could just as easily released the first of these CD’s as part two and the second CD later as part three, but I am glad to get it all here. Unlike some band that may worry about "the well running dry", Virgin Steele feels no need here to "play it safe". Instead, they honor their fans with the double CD release and draw an end to the Klytaimnestra opera, which means that the next release will be a totally new concept, epic, or whatever. DeFeis hinted to me in our most recent interview that he has several possibilities in mind. One possibility involves Sumerian Mythology. Personally, that is what I’m hoping for. Anyway, back to Act II . . . What makes this album great, as with any Virgin Steele album, is that it consumes three entire CD’s and nearly three hours of time without becoming stale or redundant. Further, the unity of the whole is greater than its parts. But if you are looking for stand out tracks on Act II, I recommend "The Fire of Ecstasy" and "The Voice as Weapon". But like any great opera, The House of Atreus Act II must be heard through and through.
THIS COMPLETES THE VIRGIN STEELE DISCOGRAPHY
Interview with David DeFeis via e-mail