VIRGIN STEELE celebrated 20 years in existence in 2011 and “The Black Light Bacchanalia” is the thirteenth full-length release from David DeFeis and his bandmates. For many years now, the band has been pumping out its special brand of Heavy/Power Metal with Symphonic elements. Even though the sound on this album would be recognisable for someone who had only heard the older albums, much has changed in their music since the late 80s.
One thing is however exactly the same – the unmistakeable vocals of David DeFeis. He has always been a vocalist capable of high-pitched screams and Rock singing as well as soft ballad vocals. His vocals have also always been given much room on the VIRGIN STEELE records. This shows in an almost comical way during the intro of the opener, during which DeFeis constantly shouts, screams and sings short lines. The vocals tie this album together and with the many styles he masters, DeFeis carries many of the weaker songs on this album.
Just like “Visions Of Eden”, this album is rather complex with many layers and many slower, softer parts based around piano and keyboards. Even though there are times when Frank Gilchriest hammers away on the drums and there is a little roar in the guitar sound, a pensive approach permeates the album. Many times, the music feels sophisticated and thought-through, but sadly I feel that VIRGIN STEELE lose more than they gain from this approach. Through the years, they have lost more and more of their Metal attitude and pulse. Despite the fact that there is still speedy drumming, Rock screams and great guitar-work, the structure in some way always feels a little hampered, as if something is held back. That makes some of the songs drag and gives the feeling that the album is too long for its material. Frankly speaking, the later part of the album is a bit boring.
The Metal feels absent. This shows in a lack of drive forward. There are many good shorter parts on this album, especially among the first songs, but the material does not tremble with energy anymore, as it did on “The House of Atreus Part I and II” or on even earlier albums. I think the problem lies in the song-writing. David DeFeis stated in an interview that he has taken all the responsibility for that now, while he and Edward Pursino used to split the duty. That resulted in that great mix of sophisticated epic storytelling and furious Metal assault that was the band’s trademark. DeFeis also said in thatinterview that he writes songs by the piano and then gives them their Metal shapes. That also explains a lot. Many songs on this album sound “metalized”, as if they were something else from the beginning and that may be why they lack that feeling, that energy, that forward drive.
After criticising the band harshly, I must confess that there is still much that is good with this album. The vocals, as mentioned, are very innovative and many of the melodies and shorter structures are very well-written. The verses of “Pagan Heart”, the whole “The Bread Of Wickedness” (which is the highlight of the album) and several sections of other songs (for example the tempo changes in “Necropolis”) are very good and the sound and production are still top notch. This is by no means a weak album. It is just that I know that VIRGIN STEELE are capable of making such wonderful music when the steel glints beneath the velvet – and it is too well-hidden here.
(Online May 29, 2012)