My first exposure to Virgin Steele was last years godawful The House Of Atreus Act II. I still place that record high on my “Worst CD’s I have ever heard” list. Had I heard their older material first, not only would I have been just as scathing in my review, but I would have been a bit saddened because judging by their pair of new rarities collections, the band was way better back then.
Am I back peddling? Nah, I don’t think so. I still find David DeFeis vocals thin and weak in many places, but the music, coupled with the updated production, on this older material is leaps and bounds above what I heard before. Let’s take them one at a time, shall we? On Hymns To Victory, we find mostly re-mixed/re-mastered tracks with two new/unreleased songs and an unreleased acoustic version of “The Spirit Of Steele.” Several standouts here, including the re-mastered House Of Atreus track “Through The Ring Of Fire” – much better mix and good vocal stacking in this one. Funny, I don’t remember it being this good. DeFeis comes close to a King Diamond-ish vocal mix here with his layering of harmonies. I’ll say it again, although I think DeFeis is a bit on the thin side vocally, he knows how to stack his harmonies. They are all in perfect unison and dead on.
The aforementioned “The Spirit Of Steele” has some absolutely beautiful piano and violin work. DeFeis sounds good in this softer setting. The melody is emotional and heartfelt as well. “The Burning Of Rome” is a killer! I love the chorus hook and the overall melody of the song is good and catchy. One song I could do without is the previously unreleased “Saturday Night.” This sounds like a bad attempt at an old school party rocker ala Autograph or Summertime Girls-era Y&T. This song should have stayed in the vaults because it was obviously there for a reason. Now, the other “new old song” here, “The Mists Of Avalon,” is a gem. The acoustic textures and the flowing melodies make this the standout cut of the disc. Other notable tracks include “Crown Of Glory,” “Noble Savage” and “Emalaith.”
Which brings us to The Book Of Burning. This one consists of all unreleased and re-recorded material. Opening track “Conjuration Of The Watcher” comes out of the gates at full speed. This is an energetic, up tempo tune with driving guitars and good vocal melody. “Annihilation” is a nice, intro-like track with some great acoustic work and nice synth layers. The “horns” pre-set on the keyboard almost kills it, but it’s saved by short track length. Another highlight is the high speed “The Succubus.” Good, speedy power metal here with a strong mid-tempo bridge. This one had to have a clunker, and as soon as I heard the squealing tires at the beginning of “Hot And Wild,” I knew this one was it. This is Virgin Steele does KISS. Total party rock with DeFeis doing his best Paul Stanley impression. Like “Saturday Night,” this type of song just seems so out of place amongst tales of noble savages and flame guardians. You can almost picture the smoke bombs and Maybelline abuse when this one plays. There are a few other good ones here, like “Minuet In G Minor,” “I Am The One” and “Guardians Of The Flame,” all newly re-recorded.
Hearing these two albums makes me wonder what went wrong with House Of Atreus, because the band obviously has good material in them. At any rate, I don’t believe these two releases will win any new fans but I’m sure that was not the intention. For the long time Virgin Steele fans, Hymns To Victory and The Book Of Burning are fitting 20-year anniversary marker.[Visit the band's website]