VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

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mordred
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Re: VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

Post#16 » Sun Dec 24, 2017 11:20 am

1. Marriage of Heaven and Hell part 1 (9,5/10)
2. Marriage of Heaven and Hell part 2 (9/10)
3. Invictus (9/10)

These are a triumvirate of nearly perfect epic metal milestones in my book. I'm surprised to see Marriage 2 get so little love as I thought it was the most popular of the pair, though I've always preferred part 1 by an inch myself.

4. The House of Atreus act II (8/10 Too drawn out with too many interludes, but the most divine songs make up for that)
5. Noble Savage (8/10, their best and least flawed 80's record)
6. Age of Consent (7,5/10, Some amazing songs, some embarassing ones)
7. Guardians of the Flame (7/10, Some great songs, some more than questionable ones)
8. The House of Atreus act I (6/10, Same problems as act II, just with less standout songs to make up for it)

Never cared for the debut, Life Among the Ruins or the last three full lengths.

Favorite songs (in no particular order): Last Supper, I Will Come for You, Crown of Glory, Twilight of the Gods, The Burning of Rome, A Token of my Hatred, Sword of the Gods, Veni Vidi Vici, Noble Savage.
In some lost corner of the world there sits a leprechaun laughing merrily atop a mountain of mysteriously lost LP innersleeves

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Noisenik
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Re: VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

Post#17 » Mon Dec 25, 2017 6:13 pm

I've checked first two albums few yrs ago and regarding VS I can say I've been pretty much in the same place as Kit, with one possible exception. Debut must have been considered "all filler no killer'' even back in the day. "Guardians" I liked quite a bit, yet I don't remember a single riff now.

The exception is The Black Light Bacchanalia. I dare to say I like more than a half of an album, with 'The Orpheus Taboo' being an absolute highlight. Others that I find above average are 'To Crown Them With Halos', 'Pagan Heart', 'In A Dream Of Fire', title track, opener and 'Necropolis'. Looks like I've got caught on the (theatrical?) dynamics of the mentioned tracks. On 'The Orpheus Taboo' David almost whispers, but this combination of fragility and melodic line stapled to my brain the way very few songs did. Their latest full-length sounds more like fulfilling contractual obligations, quite an off-putting affair.

Oh, and after liking "Guardians" I went on to "Noble Savage", but I didn't quite like it, I can't remember what disturbed me, and that also prevented me from proceeding onward to 'Age Of Consent', which could be more rewarding. It seems I will have to do some homework. This thread certainly helps.

I wonder now is TBLB the continuation of previous y2k releases or is completely different?
I am ... the One you warned me of

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nightsblood
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Re: VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

Post#18 » Fri Dec 29, 2017 3:36 am

So while laid up here convalescing and writing Hunting and Tracking stories for your amusement, I made good on my threat to revisit 'Life Among the Ruins'. As far as I can tell, we're now living in an altered timeline created when someone in the original timeline's future went back to the late 20th century with the sole purpose of screwing up the VS discography so that the albums would be released in the wrong order.
Original timeline:
--The album we know as 'Life Among the Ruins' was released in 1985 under the title 'Age of Consent' and contained the song 'Seventeen'.
--'Noble Savage' was released 3 years later, in 1988, as the band started to drift away from 80s rock and towards their romantic-barbaric style.
--The album we know from 1988 was originally released in 1993 under the name 'Life Among the Ruins' and marked the band's continued move towards less commercial/more barbaric-romatic territory.

This is the only logical explanation for what we know today as 'Life Among the Ruins'.

If that didn't make sense, let's try another hypothesis: 'Life Among the Ruins' is one of the best 80s hard rock albums released in 1993. Barring time-travelling discography manipulators, I cannot explain why this material was reocrded and released in 1993. The album contains very little, if any, heavy metal music, but it does contain a lot of decent hard rock and some really nice power ballads that would have been right at home in the middle of the 1980s. Let's check the tracklist:

'Sex Religion Machine'- really, does any song with that title have a chance of being good?
'Love is Pain'- now that's a nice 80s anthem!
'Jet Black', 'I Dress in Black', and 'Crown of Thorns'- not great songs, but passable IF you think of them as mid 80s hard rock fare. Terrible if you think of them as heavy metal tracks. Inexplicable if you think of them as 1993 releases.
'Never Believe in Goodbye'- another good power ballad type tune
-'Too Hot to Handle'- everything you ever wanted in a bad 80s party rock song. SO cheesy it's almost fun.
-'Love's Gone', 'Wildfire Woman', 'Cry Forever'- hey, here's more and more of that cool ballady style they're nailing on this album!
-'Last Rose of Summer'- great cover choice given that DeFeis can handle Halford's vocal sty- wait, what do you mean it's not a 'Priest cover? I would've lost that bet! But hey, this is actually better- they really do a terrific job on these 'pretty' songs on this album.
--(the version on YouTube doesn't include 'Snakeskin Voodoo Man' but it is on the mp3 version of the album that I have... I'm just not gonna bother with it for now since it's not listed on the track list on Metal Archives, though that would hardly be the first error on that site).

So, now let's go back to my original hypothesis. It's 1983/4. Jack Starr was just kicked out of VS for musical differences. So he's recording more metallic stuff in his BURNING STARR project, while DeFeis wants to lean more commercial. He writes the batch of songs I just described above, puts them, plus 'Seventeen', onto an album, titles it 'Age of Consent'- an appropriately softcore kinda title given the contents and the time period- slaps a picture on the cover of some Cindy Crawford wannabe in garters and fishnets laying across a Camaro in a somewhat seductive pose, and viola!- you have a perfectly reasonable release that fits nicely into 1985. Hell, several of these songs could have seen airplay on MTV; forget 'Headbangers Ball', we're talking some primetime views with Adam Curry here.
Now, doesn't that time travel theory make more sense than trying to package those songs onto a metal album in 1993 called Life Among the Ruins'?

Some will say this is VS's weakest offering. I'm not prepared to go that far; the power ballads are actually pretty good for what they are, and a few of the hard rock tracks earn the same kinda-sorta passing grade, considering what they are. And that's the key here- you have to take this album for what it is. It is NOT the VS that, just one year later, would release part 1 of 'Marriage'. It is NOT the band most fans got to know via 'House of Atreus' and thus think of as pseudo-Manowar. And it is not the same guitar-slinging band that old-timers remember from 'Guardians of the Flame'. This, for whatever reason, is an 80s hard rock album that was released in 1993. And that's not the worst thing ever- it's just fucking weird.

Here's a hot take on LAtR: While this may be a stretch, it reminds me of 'Seventh Star'. Now, 'Seventh Star' is a terrible fucking BLACK SABBATH album, BUT it's a damn good 80s hard rock album! You can bitch all you want about how it should never have been released under the Black Sabbath banner- that's a fair assertion we can dive deep on. Was there a contractual obligation? Was Tony just too insecure to go it alone and release it under his own name? We'll discuss that another time. But I will fight the dirty rotten motherfucker who tries to claim that Glenn Hughes doesn't nail it on 'No Stanger to Love'. And 'In Memory' may barely be two minutes long but that reframe gives me chills- it still haunts me every time I hear it (and if you didn't get that joke, go listen to it NOW and prepare to drop your shit). 'Life Among the Ruins' COULD have been VS's 'Seventh Star'- an album that soundss nothing like the rest of their catalog, probably has no business being released under the same name as the rest of their catalog, but nevertheless contains a lot of great music for the time it was released. But Iommi got his out in '86 (right on time for such fare) and sidestepped the cheese, while DeFeis' came out seven years and a Grunge Explosion later and was rife with such lyrical gems as "C'mon get naked!" and "I feel love, babe, I like your look, Funky rhythm, Baby take it all the way". Michael Monroe, eat your heart out! And yet a year later DeFeis starts the next VS album with the immortal 'I Will Come for You'.
Yeah, tell me how THAT happens without time traveling discography manipulators!

CREDITS
A 'hail' to an old online buddy, King Fowley, who wouldn't STFU until I listened to 'Seventh Star'. Important lesson was learned: you never know until you actually hear the album for yourself.
Last edited by nightsblood on Fri Dec 29, 2017 4:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"I'm sorry Sam, we had real chemistry. But like a monkey on the sun, our love was too hot to live"
-Becky

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nightsblood
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Re: VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

Post#19 » Fri Dec 29, 2017 4:26 pm

Another day of bed rest, so another day of revisiting VS albums on YouTube.
I can't give every album in their catalog repeated listens like I have for 'Life Among the Ruins' and 'Age of Consent', so here are updated thoughts on a couple more albums after 1-2 listens of each:

Noble Savage
C+, maybe B- ?
It LOOKS really cheesy, what with the Lex Luger wannabe brandishing a loincloth on a cover that features song titles such as 'An Image of a Faun at Dusk'. But the music is not 80s cheeseball metal at all. There are a couple of 80s-flavored missteps, such as 'Rock Me', but most of the songs are working at developing a gallopy, somewhat forceful delivery. They don't all work; e.g., 'Fight Tooth and Nail' is too fast for its own good. They also take two stabs at longer, more epic songs with 'Noble Savage' and 'Angel of Light' each clocking in at over 7 minutes. Neither is bad, but neither is a grand slam either.
So overall it is certainly not a bad album, and much better than the cover art and song titles would suggest. Heck, it contains fewer groan moments than either of the albums that followed it; perhaps I need to adjust my Time Traveling Discography Manipulators hypothesis and have 'Noble Savage' as the immediate precursor to 'Marriage pt 1'!. 'Noble Savage' does, however, fall into that annoying category where it's good enough to merit some attention, but not good enough that I want to play it repeatedly. Thus, it doesn't ever stay in my Play List for more than 1-2 spins, and thus it never really gets a chance to shine.

Marriage Pt 2
B or B- ?
I was always surprised I didn't like this album more, so it was high time to play it again.
It's a good album. Lots of good songs, very consistent, strong songwriting.
So what's not to like?
Well, the things that ultimately hung me up in the past, and did so yet again upon revisiting it, are the length and lack of standouts. The album is 66 and a half minutes long. Long albums need to have a way to hold the listener's attention throughout their length, as playing through them is no mean feat. 'Marriage pt 2' has lots of very good songs, but to my ears they all get the same mark of Above Average. No Bad tracks, no Below Average tracks, but no Outstanding tracks either. Evaluations would go like this:
track 1- pretty good!
2- pretty good!
3- uh, another pretty good one!
4- hmmm, this one's pretty good too
5- yup, also pretty good
6- yeah, also pretty good.... what do you mean I'm not even halfway through this album ?!?!
It's like someone who gets a B on every assignment; they're doing quite well- good job!- but they are not gonna stand out.

I think the album is also hurt a bit by being sandwiched between two better albums: 'Marriage pt 1' and 'Invictus'.
'Marriage pt 1' is longer (70 minutes), but includes several stone-cold killer songs: 'I Will Come for You', 'Blood and Gasoline', 'House of Dust', etc. And 'Invictus', while EVEN longer, has even MORE killer tunes on it. Yes, these albums contain a few duds each, but overall they are much easier to sit through because of the abundance of 5-star songs; every now and then you hit the SKIP button b/c you know that after the subpar 'Raven's Song' comes the awesome 'Forever Will I Roam'. 'Marriage 2' just doesn't seem to have those 'hits'. There's no point in hitting SKIP; you miss one pretty good song to get to a different, pretty good song, so now you're trying to sit through the full 66 minutes every time. If it had even a couple of top-notch numbers, I'd probably love it. If you just culled about 4 songs/20 minutes from the album as it exists, i'd probably find it a much more enjoyable listen. But as it stands, I think it's gonna fall back into that same niche as 'Noble Savage': good enough to deserve more attention, but not good enough to actually receive more attention given all the other stuff I can choose to play instead.
"I'm sorry Sam, we had real chemistry. But like a monkey on the sun, our love was too hot to live"
-Becky

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ION BRITTON
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Re: VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

Post#20 » Sat Dec 30, 2017 12:14 pm

nightsblood wrote:They also take two stabs at longer, more epic songs with 'Noble Savage' and 'Angel of Light' each clocking in at over 7 minutes. Neither is bad, but neither is a grand slam either.
I understand that the last minutes of "Noble Savage" might spoil the fun you had with the rest of the track, but "The Angel Of Light" is flawless epic metal of the highest order. From the way DeFeis kicks in with the vocals.. "Hurling down with thunder from on high. An ancient evil steals across the sky...", man, you know it's gone be fucking glorious. And it doesn't stop until the end "Crushing, burning, locked in wars embrace. The desolate one meets with his fiery fate" ...EPIC stuff...If it wasn't for the other masterpiece - "Thy Kingdom Come" - this would have been the best track of the album. I personally worship this album so much anyway, I played it to death in the 90's and grew up with it. I even like the ballad, mind you :)
Good against Evil, Evil sure to win

"It really didn't matter if they liked it or not, i was going to give it to them straight down their throats" -John Stewart

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nightsblood
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Re: VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

Post#21 » Sat Dec 30, 2017 4:42 pm

I'll replay that track ION, maybe it passed me by for some reason.

OK, another day of bed rest, so another day of VS on YouTube.

S/T
C- or D+ ? Probably D+
It's not hard to hear why most people put this towards the bottom of the list when it comes to ranking VS albums. Overall the album is very unfocused and rather sloppy sounding; it's a band in a hurry, trying to find a direction and experimenting with lots of influences. It actually starts off great with the classical intro leading into the blazing 'Danger Zone', but the three follow-up songs seal its doom. Janky song constructions, annoying bluesy overtones, uncontrolled yipping from DeFeis... these three songs are a total train wreck. Side A does end on a strong note with 'Still in Love With You', which hints at what they would mature into on album #2. Side B is a little better overall, with opener 'Children of the Storm' being alright. The songs are just very loosely constructed. The liner notes to the CD reissue, written by DeFeis, says the band started recording after about 3 weeks of rehearsing, and you can tell that they just hadn't gelled as a unit yet. So at the end of it all, you have some cool cover art and a few songs that show promise, but overall it's not a particularly good album.

Guardians of the Flame
B+ ?
I always remember liking this album a lot, but so much time goes by between spins that I tend to forget WHY I like it. Then I play it again and I remember.
Everything that went wrong with the first album is corrected here. The production is stronger. DeFeis has control of his vocals. Jack's playing is more focused. The band sounds tighter. The songwriting is vastly improved. They waste no time getting down to business with the great opener 'Don't Say Goodbye (Tonight)' followed up b the strong 'Burn the Sun' and the catchy as hell 'Life of Crime'. Side A wraps up with the 7-minute 'The Redeemer', which slows things down and develops a more atmospheric tone that allows it to develop something of an epic quality. Side 2 picks up where Side 1 left off, with the short intro leading into another 7-minute epic, 'Guardians of the Flame'. Very similar to 'Redeemer', though it starts to drag a tad towards the end (maybe just the result of having two similar, longish songs back-to-back in the middle of the album). Then we hit some turbulence. 'Metal City' is a very straightforward 80s metal number; it feels very out of place after the two more 'serious' epic tracks. But then comes 'Hell or High Water', which is a very good tune that feels like the strong numbers back on Side 1. 'Go All the Way' is closer to 'Metal City' territory, but they close the album out in grand fashion with ''A Cry in the Night', which was obviously meant to get lighters hoisted in the air as the band faded off into the sunset.
I used to have some of the EPs that came out in conjunction with this album, and those tracks were similarly strong; the band really found their focus at this point. This material should at least be checked out by fans of early 80s US 'true' metal (Riot, Crysys, Savatage, early Manowar, Dio, etc).
Given the departure of Jack Starr and the change in musical direction that ensued, it's interesting to wonder what VS would have done next IF Jack and David could have coexisted for a few more albums.
I think this album gets overlooked since it really is their only offering of relatively straightforward 80s metal. Heck, I like the album and even I am guilty of forgetting about it; I think 'VS' and I immediately think of 'Invictus' and 'Marriage pt 1', and I forget that, when I'm in the mood for some early 80s metal but don't wanna replay Judas Priest or Riot, I really should give 'Guardians of the Flame' another spin.
"I'm sorry Sam, we had real chemistry. But like a monkey on the sun, our love was too hot to live"
-Becky

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nightsblood
Posts: 2381

Re: VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

Post#22 » Sat Dec 30, 2017 10:43 pm

Think I've about reached my VS quota for the day, but some folks are curious about their more recent albums, so let's spin one more....

Again, I'm just replaying these 1-2 times each, so these are not in-depth analyses from extended, recent listening.

Visions of Eden
C- ? D+?
So, VS got themselves back on everyone's radar in the late 90s with the House of Atreus albums. So what's the logical thing to do? Wait six years before releasing another studio album! Yes, 'Book of Burning' came out in between, and yes, it had some new material on it, but it also contained a lot of remakes of old material. I've never heard it, so no comments. For now, I'm not gonna count it as part of their studio album discography, though feel free to disagree.
I have tried to like VoE repeatedly over the years and have never been able to get into it. While not horrible, the album sounds very tired. The fire that fueled 'Invictus' and the inspiration that produced a 3-album long Atreus saga are replaced with a quieter, more somber vibe. David sings softly more often than he roars. Often, his piano paces the music moreso than the guitar. Every song except one goes on for over 6 minutes. Occasionally the band roars to life for a few minutes, but they soon fall back into place. Opener 'Immortal I Stand' is emblematic of the issue. It's a pretty good track, but it just feels restrained; the chorus should be shouted, but instead it's almost whispered. The guitars should wail, but instead they quietly keep up the pace.

So while there's some decent music herein, it's just so bloody tiring trying to listen through the whole album to find it.
And perhaps this isn't surprising. The best tracks from the Atreus albums tended to be the slower, more anthemic/ballady/'pretty' ones that were separated by lots of little interludes. The difference is that the good tracks on Atreus are really good; you don't mind waiting through the interludes or skipping ahead. Meanwhile, VoE doesn't have those really great, standout moments, and these monolithic 6-minute songs are never broken up with intros or outros, they just keep plodding along. You keep listening, waiting for something great to shine forth, and you just never really get there. Again, the music isn't terrible, but every time I play this album, I get to the end and think, "geez, in the time it took to play that whole thing I could have played TWO albums that I would have actually enjoyed". And that's why I just don't give this one a chance anymore.
"I'm sorry Sam, we had real chemistry. But like a monkey on the sun, our love was too hot to live"
-Becky

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nightsblood
Posts: 2381

Re: VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

Post#23 » Mon Jan 01, 2018 12:30 am

...and as we wrap up the final hours of 2017 (what a shitty year!) let's conclude my thoughts on the last couple of VS albums:

Black Light Bac....
C ?
Upon revisiting it today, it sounds better than I recall. The album sheds most of the somber/'quiet' aura that plagued 'Visions of Eden' but it still fails to ever get fully in gear. In a way, this reminds me of 'Marriage pt 2', except rather than every song being consistently above average, every song is more or less average. I like the opener, and there is decent music throughout the rest of the album, but like with M2 there just aren't any highlights along the way. So once again you spend over an hour waiting for the album to deliver, and at the end you're left with nothing particularly memorable. I guess for lack of a better description, it feels like VS is starting to phone it in on these albums, like RUNNING WILD did after 'Masquerade'; this definitely sounds like VS, it's not terrible, but I've come to expect more from this band, so it's hard to keep listening when they seem to have lost the spark of inspiration.

Nocturnes....
C, maybe C+ ?
Sorta feels like BLB all over again, BUT there is at least one highlight here with the great 'Queen of the Damned'. DeFeis' vocals sound just a little off on this album; at times he seems a tad shrill, which is strange given his excellent vocal control over the years. Once again, the album isn't awful, but it's hard to sit through the entire thing when track after track after track rings up as "eh, that one's OK too".

It is possible that, with a lot more listens, I might get into these two albums a lot more. But it's a question of time invested vs potential reward: I don't hear quite enough magic here to make me wanna spin these albums repeatedly. But who knows, maybe they'll start to worm their way onto my playlist more regularly.
........
So let's see where that leaves my album rankings now that I've replayed everything these last few days:

THE BEST
Invictus
Marriage 1
Age of Consent (perhaps this is too high, but the good songs are just so awesome!)
Guardians of the Flame

THE GOOD
Atreus 1 & 2
Noble Savage (better than I sometimes give it credit for)
Life Among the Ruins (I like it for what it is)
Marriage 2 (potential here if only I could get some of the songs to really stand out above the rest)

THE OK BUT KINDA PLAIN
Nocturnes (has at least 1 stand-out)
Black Light Bac-(not bad, just sorta plain)

KINDA WEAK
Visions of Eden (eh, just misses the mark for me)
s/t (not very good but at least has a couple of cool tracks)

That's a wrap for now!
"I'm sorry Sam, we had real chemistry. But like a monkey on the sun, our love was too hot to live"
-Becky

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Noisenik
Posts: 2314

Re: VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

Post#24 » Mon Jan 01, 2018 12:03 pm

Alan, first cheers for info on Visions Of Eden, I checked it out, and indeed TBLB continues where VOE commenced. After one listen I can't say much, but it sounds likeable so far.

Regarding TBLB, I suggest to start a listening with 'The Orpheus Taboo' or randomly with one of the first seven tracks. I find TBLB very powerful precisely in this that it sounds so subdued in comparison with mid 90's releases.

And best wishes on recovery.

Hey, and Heavy (Happy) New Year 2018 to everyone around here!
I am ... the One you warned me of

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nightsblood
Posts: 2381

Re: VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

Post#25 » Tue Jan 02, 2018 5:16 am

Thanks! I'm hopeful that I'll circle back to some of these VS albums relatively soon and give 'em some more time. BLB, NS, GotF, Nocturnes, and M2 all seem deserving of some more spins.
So many albums to listen to, so little time!
"I'm sorry Sam, we had real chemistry. But like a monkey on the sun, our love was too hot to live"
-Becky

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bigfootkit
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Re: VIRGIN STEELE 'Invictus' (And Other Albums)

Post#26 » Wed Jan 03, 2018 11:59 pm

"Time-travelling discography manipulators", would explain so many odd musical moments from so many bands.
There's a whole series of comedy/fantasy books to be wrung out of that idea my friend, get to work!
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