Virgin Steele - Seven Devils Moonshine - (0/10)
Published on October 22, 2018
Taking the wrecking ball to a legend
There are bands that build up a legendary status and run with it, some call it quits while people are still sad about that happening and then there are some that try to continue on and completely ruin everything that they had once stood for. Enter David DeFeis and Virgin Steele. The New Yorkers ascended into the highest echelons of symphonic and theatrical power metal with albums such as Noble Savage or the outstanding duologies of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and The House of Atreus before starting to dip with The Black Light Bacchanalia and then going for an absolute crash landing with Nocturnes of Hellfire & Damnation, shedding much of the qualities that had once made them one of the hottest acts and especially in the vocal department showing at times cringeworthy performances. So when Seven Devils Moonshine was announced as a 5-CD box with three (!) full albums of new material, it felt more like a threat than a promise.
The two last CDs are re-issues of Hymns to Victory and The Book of Burning, in line with the recent re-releases of the band’s back catalogue, so the review will focus on the other three albums totaling to almost four hours of music and the last time a band tried something as ambitious as this, it backfired completely (see Therion’s three-hour snoozefest Beloved Antichrist). And DeFeis continues to actively not just chisel away on his legend status, but he has now resorted to the wrecking ball approach, because where Nocturnes already was bad, Seven Devils Moonshine reaches a new nadir for Virgin Steele.
Dave DeFeis has always been known for a very theatrical approach to singing, with a strong falsetto, some growls (not death metal like growls, more something feral, in line with his nick name “lion”), but always with great control and working with the song, but from opener “Seven Dead Within” on it already becomes clear that the alarming tendency of the previous album continues with DeFeis’ voice being all over the place, switching from a warbling “normal” tone to wailing highs and weak growls, but without the flow or power he used to master. The fact that the song underneath is boring does not help matters, neither does the production that puts the vocals fully centre and to the fore, while the guitars suffer greatly. Both Nocturnes and now this set actually make one wonder what happened with Ed Pursino as well, since his playing is greatly subdued, feels uninspired and makes one wonder what is role within Virgin Steele is these days.
Now this sounds very doom and gloom, but unfortunately it is not just a bad start to the album, but the one that sets the pace for the following hours and confirms that Nocturnes has not been a one off dud. There are a few “orchestral versions” to be found here and they sound cheap and badly done, like “Bonedust”, where there is no structure, no real build and at times he almost sounds like he is singing backwards, because he is completely unintelligible.
Everything sounds bloodless and blah, there is no dramatic moments, no soaring choruses, no outstanding melodies, it just blubbers past and even when the tempo goes up a bit, there is no power, no conviction. A good example for this lack of energy and spark is “Feral”, ten minutes long, with the same tempo through and through, lacklustre vocals (some of the high pitched yelps are just cringeworthy), a noodled guitar solo that doesn’t match the rest of the song, if this is feral, I don’t want to see their definition of a house cat. The duo of “Julienne” and “Princess Amy” is among the most vapid ballad-like material of recent times and the horrendous cover version of Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” is an abomination even on this trip through the haunted castle, even more so as it is stretched beyond belief to over 9 (!) minutes. Add to that that the following two songs almost seamlessly pick up where it left off, making it feel like an even longer torture.
And all this was just the first album! The second one…well, if the listener’s ears have not caved in yet, they will try to find a way to seal themselves, because the piano and vocal version of “The Evil in Her Eyes” (original off Noble Savage) has some horribly shrieky vocals that are interspersed with forced sounding growls, efficiently killing an originally great song. But what follows ranges somewhere between seedy bar music and mediocre as best rock, since there is not an ounce of metal to be found on this trainwreck, the song title of “Rip Off” will probably be quoted a lot, when people buy this set without hearing anything first.
The hits just keep coming, like with “Jesus Just Left Chicago” (with this weird “Chicowgow” pronunciation), which feels like DeFeis try to bring in the bar/blues feel, but falls flat with his odd phrasings and total lack of flow, continuing to drag into “Soul Kitchen” and the following tracks which all seamlessly blend into each other (and make one wonder why they were separated into different tracks to begin with) and despite their respective short duration drag on and on, even featuring a reprise of “When the Music’s Over” (which is only a mean tease, since there still is plenty to follow). And “The Triple Goddess”… After almost three minutes of pressed sounding narration it morphs into a pseudo-symphonic song with random-seeming choir before bringing in female vocalization and then finally going somewhat orchestral, but without rhyme, reason or cohesion. It is telling, if live acoustic versions of older songs (in this case “Twilight of the Gods” and “Transfiguration” off The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part II) are the highlights of this set, where even DeFeis still sounds like he used to.
Then on to disc three and a whole bunch of “orchestral versions” and this is where things go from really bad to even worse, starting off with the complete destruction of the originally dynamic and dramatic “I Will Come For You”, which has been stripped of everything (including quality) but piano, cheap orchestral sounding keyboards and DeFeis cringeworthy vocal performance, where he sings, yelps, growls and shrieks his way through the song, practically murdering what once had been a great song. Or “Kingdom of the Fearless” off The House of Atreus Act I, which is another abominable piece of musical homicide, killed by cheap symphonics, horrible vocals and everything dragging on from the beginning on.
And to be clear, ‘orchestral version’ does not mean to just go only vocals and piano. It would require some actual “orchestral” elements, which the majority of these versions here does not have. But that is just a minor gripe in comparison to the rest. Mother Love Bone’s “Bone China” is not sacred either, a rare cover of this song, but it falls in line with the rest of the album, unfortunately, since the vast majority of this disc sounds almost the same, one way or another, be it Led Zeppelin, the three Mother Love Bone covers etc., which at times are made even worse by DeFeis odd phrasings and pronunciations (like ‘dawkness’), which further defile some of the blues songs he decided to cover with just vocals and piano as well, making the third disc another absolute waste.
Now this review probably reads overtly negative, but every single word is absolutely deserved and is a manifest to how low this band has sunk. This constitutes first degree musical homicide. Nocturnes… had been a very bad omen, but nobody could expect Seven Devils Moonshine to be as total of a disaster. One album of this would have been bad enough, but whatever prompted DeFeis to release three of them in one shot goes way beyond any comprehension. If this set can serve one purpose, then as living proof that some bands should call it quits when people are still sad about it…
So even if you are an absolute die-hard fan of Virgin Steele – AVOID at all costs!