Released: 2006, Sanctuary
Over a quarter of a century, that’s how long Long Island, New York natives, Virgin Steele have been around. I not only find it incredible that any band can last that long, but for them to still have barely any visibility in their home country, let alone regular distribution (only a handful of albums are not import only for us North Americans), is a crime. The band’s long and winding history hit its most important moment in 1995 when the band truly found their niche with THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL PART II (the sequel to 1994’s Part I of the saga). The band refined the epic power metal the band had been toying with prior and thrust it into the forefront. The band created genre defining masterpieces such as THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL saga, INVICTUS, and THE HOUSE OF ATREUS saga.
It’s been 7 years now since the second part of the HOUSE OF ATREUS albums was released. While it’s been 4 years since the odds and ends piece, THE BOOK OF BURNING. So having a new album by Virgin Steele is a long awaited addition to my collection. The talk and anticipation built my expectations up so high, and then when the album was released and became a major bitch to get a hold of (no US distribution on release, and still none as of writing this) I broke down and had the album imported.
So where has Virgin Steele headed with their 2006 album, VISIONS OF EDEN? This album follows the traditions set with the HOUSE OF ATREUS albums, yet progresses somewhat. The band have taken the interludes and the keyboard/piano work and melded them into the songs. Where as the band would come out with a raging 4 minute heavy number then delve into soft piano sections as an interlude between tracks, the songs jump from heavy, to soft, to epic without changing tracks. Somehow it works immensely well, yet at the same time, some of those big heavy riffs that were prevalent in songs like “Through the Ring of Fire” or “The Fire God” are gone and have been replaced with a greater focus on the keyboard/orchestral arrangements (and yes, the symphonic arrangements are still played by keyboard and clearly sound like keyboards). Along with this greater keyboard presence, the production is heavily dominated by keyboards and vocals, quite probably because the guitar generally takes a more subdued approach and sometimes factors into the songs much like a bass guitar regularly does.
The album starts off rousing and upbeat, much like all Virgin Steele albums, for “Immortal I Stand (The Birth of Adam)”. The song is immediately catchy, powerful, and quite straightforward compared to the rest of the album (it’s also the third shortest track at 6:33). The album really becomes a journey by the time track 2, “Adorned With the Rising Cobra”, opens up. The song doesn’t feel as straightforward and other facets of the VS sound start to open up; lots of melody, subtle piano work, soothing vocals, and some very powerful, upbeat sections. The short section at 8:53 with the artificial horns is extremely catchy and sadly only lasts for mere seconds. “Black Light on Black” contains probably the biggest dynamic change on the album. While the song takes a short time to build, the guitars become more prominent and a larger aggressive side takes up the chorus. Thing is, shortly before the 3 minute mark, the song becomes only piano, drums, and vocals. The feeling and slow bouncing beat fits the opera like tendencies that VS have incorporated throughout their career. The songs continue to progress throughout the album creating an immense journey, with songs like “Angel of Death” and “The Hidden God” the band shows why they’re the uncrowned kings of epic power metal. While many decry the band’s softer moments “When Dusk Fell” is a top quality song, being able to help further the story, yet create a song that moves the listener. The song’s epic ending in its title track, “Visions of Eden”, is impressive to say the least. It’s creates a complete encapsulation of exactly why Virgin Steele matter to the current metal scene. Sure, epic bands exist, but they don’t do it with the style or finesse of a Virgin Steele, they can’t evoke the feelings that this band does and I’ve slowly come to accept that Virgin Steele are a band that truly stands apart from most, even if so many seem quick to write the band off as Manowar clones, which is clearly not the case, time and time again.
Like all of the albums from the recent Virgin Steele era, the album is a concept album. This one, I feel is a bit deeper, following the idea of Gods and Goddesses, and their roles, especially the male vs. female ideal, going back to Lilith. The way Defeis approaches the issue is impressive and the way the whole concept pans out is impressive, though I’d expect no less after what came of HOUSE OF ATREUS.
This album is everything a Virgin Steele fan could hope for, unfortunately even Virgin Steele fans haven’t been listening to the album. Mostly because of unfortunate distribution issues while others didn’t hear big bustling guitars and turned the album off. It’s unfortunate that so many have put off listening to what was the album of 2006.