Welcome to a new feature: The HMO Song of the Week! Each Sunday I’ll be posting up the song that’s been lighting up my life the most in the past week: could be a new song or an old classic.
So let’s get this series off to the best possible start with one of the best possible songs: Virgin Steele’s Lion in Winter from their terrific album Age of Consent. It’s a fine example of their patented and thrilling barbaric romanticism. The Manowarring and galloping guitars provide the barbarism while the instrumental flourishes, melodic pomp and David DeFies’ impassioned vocals provide the romanticism. Here’s a man that can sing a line like “And I’ll rage against this wind” and sound like he really means it. Wonderful.
I loved Blaze Bayley in Wolfsbane but because I didn’t enjoy his stint in Maiden I never really thought of him as a “metal” guy. To me, he was at this best when he was painting the town red and lighting up the night with a little kiss. That was the Blaze I liked. So when his first post-Maiden outing Silicon Messiah proved to be a dark, very-metal affair I just passed on it. Not his forte.
I was wrong. Sixteen years later, spurred on by reading positive reviews and the return of Wolfsbane, I have added Silicon Messiah to my collection. It’s remarkably good. A proper underdog album if ever there was one. It’s downbeat, dystopian drop-D riffing is definitely of its time (think Brutal Planet, Magica etc…) and the opening tracks raise a worry that it’s all going to be a bit samey. But the album soon lightens up. Born as a Stranger, the galloping The Brave and Man on the Edge-esque The Launch are all extremely enjoyable, anthemic power metal tracks. The album just gets better and better as it rolls on and culminates wonderfully in Stare at the Sun: a gripping, goosebump-inducing epic. And, although tracks like The Hunger are chuggier and samier, their slower pace gives Blaze room to emote. He’s massively likeable throughout, delivering a vocal performance full of character and commitment.
So double dumb-ass on me for writing the man off. Turns out he is very-metal after all. He even manages to show Iron Maiden a thing or two with this anthemic and addictive album. It’s thoughtful and well-executed, topped off with a great vocal performance of considerable charm and charisma. That’s the Blaze I like.
Much as I enjoyed it, I was frustrated by how polite Grand Magus’ last album Triumph and Power was. Their brand of strutting, Manowar-ish, mid-tempo trad metal was charming, hooky and personable but it was too nice. I wanted them to get more bloodthirsty. I’m pleased to report that their latest album Sword Songs is a definite improvement. The drumming is forceful, the riffs are more earth-shaking and the guitar solos are bolder. But the sense of urbanity remains: mainly due to the persistent mid-tempos and JB’s vocal delivery. He’s got a soulful voice full of grit and character but I really want to hear him bust his lungs for the cause. It’s more a frustration than a criticism. If they gave it up more this band would be godly. And I want that for them. Sword Songs is a decisive manoeuvre but it’s not the stuff of legend. You don’t get into Valhalla without cracking a few skulls.
Wrrrow! Look out! Eeee eeee… From the top of the mountain, yeah! Yow! Fire! Owww. Ruff. Oooh… Look out! Rowf! Yeah! Oooh yeah!
And so David DeFeis kicks off Virgin Steele’s 13th album The Black Light Bacchanalia with every vocal exclamation known to man.
He sounds excited and so he should: the opening track By the Hammer of Zeus (and the Wrecking Ball of Thor) is pure awesomeness. It delivers on the promise of its ridiculously mighty title. I’ve become obsessed with this song and have been listening to it thrice daily for many moons now. Ruff!
Unfortunately, the rest of the album isn’t as instantly appealing . Exclamations aside, DeFeis spends most of The Black Light Bacchanalia singing in an oddly soft voice. It’s an interesting experiment, making it seem like he’s whispering sweet nothings into your ear or he’s inside your head. Look out! But it doesn’t do much for the album’s dynamics, especially when many of the songs are meandering and forgettable.
But my hopeless addiction to that opening track keeps me coming back for more and moments of greatness keeping popping out with each listen. Weirdly, considering the laid-back vocals on the heavier tracks, DeFeis sings the excellent piano-ballad The Tortures of the Damned with raging passion. Fire! And the softer vocal approach works dreamily on To Crown Them With Halos (Parts 1 & 2) and Necropolis (He Answers Them With Death), bringing out all the drama and the melody. I’m finding that there’s nothing in my collection quite like this so I’m seduced into giving it another spin. It’s flawed but fascinating. And even if it doesn’t quite live up to its exclamatory opening there’s still plenty to get excited about here. Ooohh yeah!
HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5
[Virgin Steele – By the Hammer of Zeus (and the Wrecking Ball of Thor)]