By the Gods my friends!
Forged in the desolate halls of 1981, hailing from the majestic kingdom of Long Island, New York… Virgin Steele have been one of the most enduring acts of Powerful Epic Heavy Metal for aeons! The aural magnificence of ultra-charismatic vocalist / composer / keyboardist / all around renaissance mad-man David “Dionysus” DeFeis and trusty six-stringed axe warrior of indomitable fury and vengeance Edward Pursino’s combined creative efforts have been overlooked by scholars of Metal for too long!
Dubbing the spiritual current revealed through their sonic reverberations as “Barbaric Romanticism”, Virgin Steele at their prime truly display one of the most deeply intuitive understandings of the Heavy Metallic spirit. Like all Heavy/Power Metal, the music of Virgin Steele has a tendency to revolve around the vocals as the leading instrument with popular-derived song structures in the vein of Rock music, as opposed to the guitar-led non-linear structures of Black/Death Metal. However, DeFeis, a classically trained composer and pianist, crafts his work with sophisticated harmonies and rich euphonious melodies genuinely influenced by the greats of the Romantic period as opposed to the simplistic chromatic minor key riffing of much Extreme Metal. [Note: Not that there is anything wrong with such simplistic desecration – far from it!] As well, unlike many bands which boast of “neo-classical” heritage yet present only soulless technicality and cartoonish “Moonlight Sonata” ribbing to show for it, DeFeis demonstrates an actual understanding of how classical music works, and much more importantly, how its’ influence should be properly manifested in contemporary heavy guitar-based music. The recurring usage of various leitmotifs subtly interwoven and transformed across various tracks, even across various albums, are but one example of this. True to the “Barbaric Romantic” mantle, Virgin Steele ground and force their luminous compositions through a virile masculous fury of kinetic riffing energy, avoiding the pitfalls of other “artsy” “Metal” by remembering to actually be a Metal band that invigorates the soul of its’ audience with an indomitable Red-Blooded drive to kick ass, as opposed to emasculated flimsy fluff that deludes itself with pretensions of being “better” than Metal and those “plebeian” savages who live for the power of heavy guitar music. While Virgin Steele feature more overtly mellifluous melodies and prominent usage of keyboards than their USPM contemporaries, the utilization of earthy Hard Rock and Speed Metal influenced heavy guitar riffing as a vehicle for their “epic” Romantic compositions set them apart from the flowery feeble sound that comprises the majority of so-called “Euro Power Metal” acts.
Dionysus [his real middle name] DeFeis claims all his lyrics are inspired by people and events in everyday Reality, yet they exoterically deal with themes of Greco-Roman, Gnostic, Occultic, Nordic, Sumerian and [heretical re-interpretations of] Abrahamic mythologies in order to arrive at a more general, eternal understanding of the numinal forces behind human drives, conflicts and struggles. Stripping the conditioned Conceptual aspects of experience to reach at the core eternal Ideas of Reality expressed through archetypal sagas and figures in this manner is concurrent with both Schopenhauer’s theory of aesthetics (specifically relating to “poetry”) and Jung’s “Archetypes”, in addition to the general Metallic praxis of exploring themes of Reality through a mythological lens as opposed to a temporal humanist mode of perception. As the band name itself hints, Virgin Steele focuses on achieving a transcendental unity beyond perceived dualities, such as heaven and hell, love and hatred, light and darkness, etc. The ethos manifested throughout Virgin Steele’s oeuvre is one of fearlessly confronting the struggles of Reality through expression of one’s virile will and passion, and ultimately emerging eternally victorious in celebration of Life, as opposed to wallowing in one’s trivial delusions, sorrows or impotency. This indomitable spirit of victorious grandeur through adversity beyond the limitations of temporality or morality is exactly what the essence of Heavy Metal should be, perhaps most in line with the ancient ethos of old… to say nothing of Virgin Steele’s unique simultaneous exultation of both the numinous soul-enhancing “Romantic” qualities of Love and Beauty along with such so-called “negative” scorned “Barbaric” energies of Violent Hatred and Sinister Vengeance as being non-contradictory expressions of the Passionate Will engaged in a full realization of the vibrancy of Life… which is quite in line with the truth of Nature beyond the illusory false dichotomies of cowardly Enslaver moralistic ideologies or the contemporaneous trends of insecure wallowing in hubristic attachment to all that is ugly and hazardous to health…
The foundations and developments of Virgin Steele’s borderline cartoonish over-the-top sound certainly engage with many different styles throughout the years. From speed metal fury, to symphonic epic majesty, to hard cock rockin’, to an endless supply of BALLADS [by the gods!], to bizarre explorations of blues, and darker gothic chromatic tendencies in later compositions. The average Death Metal “hessian” around these parts may find little appeal in the rock-derived and “uplifting” solar energy of Virgin Steele’s music, however the compositional talent of DeFeis / Pursino and their presencing of a truly “heroic” indomitable Dionysian ethos is certainly worthy of some examination. While DeFeis’s proverbial artistic reach may not always reach its’ grasp [or audience, as we shall see in due time…], his boundless creative drive does appear to be limitless in its expenditure regardless of any external opinions, and is rather inspirational from that perspective alone.
By the Circle of the Sun, By the Blood Red Moon… enough of this garrulous overture! By the fucking HAMMER OF ZEUS and the WRECKING BALL OF THOR, let this divine guide to the perfect mansions of Steele commence.
“I don’t think of it as a Metal Opera. What it really is, is the soundtrack for a major motion picture that has yet to be made! And by the fucking hammer of Zeus, I will make this film one day! I call this work a Barbaric Romantic movie of the mind.”
– David DeFeis
VIRGIN STEELE 
In the beginning, before the arrival of valiant Metallic Axe-Lord Pursino, Virgin Steele was the brainchild of hard rockin’ shredder Jack Starr in tandem with “The Lion” DeFeis himself. The most notable aspect of this self-titled affair is that both Metallica and Queensrÿche were apparently big fans and expressed their admiration in letters to DeFeis and co. before either soon-to-be mega-popular acts had released their own debut records. Aside from that interesting piece of trivia, there is really nothing special going on here, especially compared to the later releases the band is known for. The music on display is a typical sort of late 70’s/early 80’s Hard Rock deal. Slightly above average (at best) and decently enjoyable for this style, there is some cool stuff to be found, such as Jack Starr’s rabid fretwork and cool 70’s keyboard tones from DeFeis as demonstrated on album highlight “Children of the Storm”. DeFeis’ distinctive three-and-a-half octaves of excellence are engaged in a siege throughout this recording, however more on point handlings of such vocalizations, as well as the musicalities in general, shall emerge over the next couple of releases…
GUARDIANS OF THE FLAME 
The second, and ultimately final effort of the Jack Starr era is a significant improvement from the debut. While still based in a grooving rock style, the material has become more possessed with the vigour of the Metallic spirit, in addition to featuring much more memorable song-writing than had previously been displayed. With focused vocalizations, and even more uber-cool 70’s prog-esque synth patches (which for some unfortunate reason don’t appear in later works), this is perhaps the first album where the musical dominance of DeFeis begins to find its assertion over the band. Songs such as “The Redeemer” and the title track are some of the first fore-shadowing’s of Virgin Steele’s “epic” stylings; alongside the first appearance of what would be countless tracks penned entirely by Our Lord and Saviour DeFeis Himself in the form of bookending sensual pop hits “Don’t Say Goodbye (Tonight)” and “A Cry in the Night”. Jack Starr also has plenty of tasty guitar licks throughout, such as on hard rockin’ highlights “Burn the Sun” and “Life of Crime”. Ultimately a solid 80’s Rock/Metal release, however with the departure of Starr, a new era of the band would commence where even grander manifestations of glory would begin to find their vessel.
NOBLE SAVAGE 
It is this classic record that for many marks the “true” beginning of Virgin Steele. With Jack Starr out of the picture, it was now time for long-time friend of DeFeis, legendary guitarist, and all around stand-up dude Edward Pursino to make his entrance. DeFeis had by this point taken full control of the group, and every single track here is either written entirely by himself, or in collaboration with ever-faithful Riff-Lord Pursino. The energy here shows the 80’s hard rockin’ sound of previous records become much more “Metal” in the surging triplet-riffing style of USPM, while still having a bit of wallow in the sleaze and cheese of the era. In addition to such Barbarisms which comprise the anthems here, the iconic Romanticism of Steele makes its first true appearance in the forms of the surprisingly gorgeous brief keyboard composition “Image of a Faun at Twilight” (presumably a homage to DeFeis’ favourite composer Debussy), and some majestic 7-minute epics such as the eternal concert staple title track. Overall a very good USPM/Hard Rock release, and perhaps the beginning of an era… however if the reader starts with this record and for whatever reason finds it lacking to their taste, do not write the band off just yet. For Virgin Steele are an anomaly among classic Heavy Metal bands from the 80’s in that their later material is universally considered to be superior to their older works, as shall be explored in due time…
EXORCIST: Nightmare Theatre 
The lore surrounding this sinister work of Satanic Speed Metal savagery is quite the curious one. During the mid-80’s, Cobra Records put forth a handful of conspicuous releases which were actually the creation of DeFeis / Pursino partnership. These records were all written and recorded within the span of a single month [!]:
1) The sophomore album Stay Ugly by Canadian Speed Metal act Piledriver which featured Pursino on guitars, DeFeis on production, and all music written by DeFeis / Pursino
2) The sole release Sin Will Find You Out by supposedly “all-female” Heavy/Speed band Original Sin, which was actually Pursino and friends under gender-bending pseudonyms with DeFeis’ sister Danae (the only actual female) on vocals, along with a fake band pic of 4 women to disguise this fact. Once again all music actually written by David DeFeis and Ed Pursino.
3) Demented occult force of Speed Metal desecration EXORCIST, the most notable “side-project” and the specific focus of this mini-review.
In the past, DeFeis has been insistent that Exorcist was an entirely separate project from Virgin Steele. However, the fact that the line-up on Nightmare Theatre consists almost entirely of the concurrent VS membership (under pseudonyms), that a significant number of these tracks have since been re-recorded / re-worked for later Virgin Steele albums, and that this record is generally considered to be a cult record in its respective genre regardless of VS connection (which was not even publicly known until almost a decade after its’ release), all certainly make this album worthy of attention.
The music on hand simultaneously manages to be frankly bizarre and demented, while having a very piercing and dynamic razor-blade riff approach. It may seem confusing to some that such ugly surrealisms reminiscent of 80’s Horror Films and Thrashing Speed Metal atmospherics could come from the same sensitive souls who brought you The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and endless streams of power BALLADS. Perhaps this is one such half of the dualisms, the “Hell” to the heaven, or the first hint of some of the nocturnal elements emerging in latter-day explorations of Steele… At any rate this illumination of the “nightside” aspect of Virgin Steele’s musical identity is a killer record point blank. If you are a Virgin Steele fan, this release is recommended as an interesting and arousing look into a different, darker side of the band’s personality. If you are True Thrashing Metal Badass who dismisses Virgin Steele as “lame” melodic fluff, this record is still (perhaps even more) highly recommended to you, for this is indeed a worthy slab of rabid riff monstrosities defining of that era known as the 1980’s, plus this display of aggressive fury from an alternate angle may even create newfound appreciation for Virgin Steele on revisitation…
AGE OF CONSENT 
Perhaps this one could have been titled The Marriage of the Sublime and the Ridiculous. Passions run high in this critical recording, with all the energy and confusion that is inherently entangled with such exertions. The tunes on this album seem to be split between ultra-catchy Hard Rock with its’ Cock firmly out, alongside some truly magnificent Epic tracks of Metallic Romanticism which display the first full manifestation of the style and quality of the band’s future beloved Marriage of Heaven and Hell releases.
On the Cock/Rock/Pop side of things there is indeed much to offer on display here. True to the band name [heh], pæans to lustful romance and “youthful” eroticism with members of the fairer sex abound, as do invigorating heavy riffin’ fury, and a slew of BALLADS which wouldn’t sound out of place in a John Hughes movie. The eternal anthemic earworm “On the Wings of the Night” and the monstrous fucking hymn of desolate supremacy “Chains of Fire” are personal favourites of the present author.
Now, on to the Barbaric Romantic side of things, some of the band’s most popular compositions are to be found here. The astonishingly powerful “The Burning of Rome (Cry for Pompeii)” is perhaps the single most archetypal and defining Virgin Steele song ever, and at any rate, is an enduring fan favourite to rival anything on their later works. It is worth mentioning that the track listing on the 1997 CD re-issue (and all current versions of the album from that point on) is rather different from the original 1988 LP, with the order completely changed to place the more “epic” songs at the beginning, alongside a slew of bonus tracks added to the mix. These bonus tracks consist of some DeFeis keyboard interlude compositions, a Judas Priest cover to compliment the pre-existing Uriah Heep, and two new massive epic tracks. One of these, “Serpent’s Kiss”, is somewhat dull. However, its’ counterpart “Perfect Mansions (Mountains of the Sun)” is an unbelievably majestic and transcendent opus of incalculable beauty and grandeur which features DeFeis’ compositional genius at its peak, and earns the distinction of being the greatest of all the thousands of BALLADS DeFeis has written in his extensive career.
It is also crucial to raise awareness to the fact that in 2012 a video for “Perfect Mansions” was created which is notable for being the greatest music video in history, a masterpiece of the cinematic art medium, and magickally empowered to cure the viewer of Depression, Cancer, GRIDS and any other form of affliction, be it physical, mental or spiritual. Definitely check it out. BY THE GODS
Overall, Age of Consent is unquestionably the greatest offering of Virgin Steele’s 80’s output, on the basis of the aforementioned highlight tracks alone which are light years ahead of anything they had done up to that point. However, the group still had yet to release their most popular albums, although that ultimately would not occur for quite some time due to various factors…
LIFE AMONG THE RUINS 
Due to various legal issues and personal disputes with their former manager, it would take almost half a decade for the group to make another album. A controversial record in the band’s discography, this schmaltzy BALLADS ‘n’ Butt-Rockin’ affair was seen by many as a confusing step backwards from the neo-Romantic stylings hinted at on the previous album. Despite what the cover and title may bring to mind, the music contained within Life Among the Ruins is commonly decried by fans as being “sell-out” material that sounds closer to Whitesnake than Wagner. To this day DeFeis stands by the record as an authentic expression of the group’s earthy roots in Led Zeppelin and classic Blues artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. While Life Among the Ruins is undeniably rather far from Virgin Steele’s best work, both qualitatively and stylistically; when taken in the context of mainstream Rock music a la AC/DC or Guns N’ Roses, the best tracks here are admittedly quite catchy and endearing. At the very least, this is an exponentially better execution of this style than Whitesnake… although the complete absence of any true Metallic Barbarism or Mythological Romanticism makes this affair strictly for psychotic die-hard fans such as the present author, and definitely not for Virgin Steele newcomers or individuals with a strong aversion to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
It is also interesting to point out that, as counter-intuitive as it may seem to release a Glam Rock album during the peak of the Grunge era, it was around the time of this release that the band received their heaviest mainstream attention with their connection to a now semi-forgotten national tabloid scandal. In 1992, the group released a VHS tape of music videos for this then-upcoming album entitled Tale of the Snakeskin Voodoo Man. Amidst the soul-healing euphoria generators [earthshape for mortals: “music videos”] for “Love is Pain”, “Never Believed in Goodbye”, and “I Dress in Black (Woman With No Shadow)”; the appearance of Joey Buttafuoco and his wife Mary Jo Buttafuoco (then the subject of widespread tabloid hysteria for Joey’s illicit affair with 16-year old “Long Island Lolita” Amy Fisher who ended up shooting Mary Jo in the face) hanging out with the band in the video for blues number “Snakeskin Voodoo Man” got the group featured on various mainstream TV news outlets for a brief period in the early 90’s. [It would appear none of this news footage still exists, or at least cannot be easily found on the Internet. If anyone can find links to such footage and/or the “interviews” mentioned here , that would be highly appreciated.] Apparently, according to a 2010 interview with DeFeis, the reason for this connection is that Joey’s brother Bobby Buttafuoco is good friends with the band and would let them rehearse upstairs in the club he owned, and that Joey would do anything at the time for attention including pretending to be the manager of a Long Island Heavy Rock band. At any rate, with all this bizarre mainstream attention, the band even managed to get their music featured in some Hollywood movies. However this “15 seconds of fame” era for Virgin Steele would soon be forgotten by the mainstream rabble, and even more so by their fans, after the ground-breaking material they would immediately follow-up with…
THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL: PART ONE 
As hinted at earlier, it is universally acknowledged that Virgin’s Steele’s best work was released much later into their discography, unlike the majority of their 80’s Metal peers. It goes without saying that this album marks the beginning of this true “golden era” for the band’s music. One can only imagine the initial reaction to this bold release which went far beyond anything in their decade-long catalogue up to that point. It is rather extraordinary that this full realisation of the unique epic style hinted at by earlier tracks like “The Burning of Rome” came into manifestation barely a year after the disappointingly unoriginal and straight-forward affair of Life Among the Ruins. It was apparently around the time of this recording that DeFeis returned to university and was heavily immersed in studying music; this along with enthusiasm from recent touring on the previous outing seemed to have been some of the sources for the wellspring of inspiration which emerged on this record and would only continue in increasing ambition for the next decade or so. It is interesting and perhaps somewhat amusing to note DeFeis claims he was unaware that William Blake had originally written a poem with the same name before new drummer Frank Gilchriest brought it to his attention during the recording of the following album. Whether the origination of the title was synchronistic/coincidental or not should however be beside the point. For the Red-Blooded sonic current presenced between DeFeis’ lush compositions and Pursino’s kinetic guitar riffage is bursting with pathos and dramaticism of desire for Love and Vengeance beyond all human boundaries. Overall, this rich yet accessible record is a high point of the band’s career, one of the greatest Heavy Metal albums of the 90’s, and a recommended entry point to Virgin Steele’s varied extensive catalogue.
THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL: PART TWO 
As the title plainly states, this is the sequel to the previous album. Along with the following record Invictus, these are considered by the band and fans to comprise the “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Trilogy”. Despite not being “concept albums” in the typical sense of telling a story like a “Rock Opera” (although there will be more than a few of those to follow…), they are united by the re-occurrence and transformations of various leitmotifs/themes/melodies which manifest throughout these records, along with the general “spirit” they all share.
However, back to the subject of this album in particular… The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Part Two is certainly an example of a case where the sequel is better than the original. This record is vastly superior in every aspect to its already ground-breaking predecessor. The compositions have become even more rich and melodious, while the energy is bursting throughout with a passionate intensity seldom matched elsewhere in their extensive discography. The opener “A Symphony of Steele”, while excellent in its’ own right, is arguably one of the weakest tracks here, with pieces of ever grander brilliance emerging throughout the album’s duration. [A similar case to Fates Warning’s Awaken the Guardian, another Heavy/Power favourite of the present author.] From the indomitable energetic fury of “Crown of Glory (Unscarred)” and “Rising Unchained”, to the pathos-filled BALLADRY of “Strawgirl” and “Unholy Water”, to the magnificent Barbaric Romantic opuses of “Prometheus the Fallen One” and “Emalaith”, to the triumphant conclusion of “Victory is Mine”… the passionate hymns on this record are for the aeons! Perhaps the only track that may seem out of place here is the Heavy Rockin’ jam “Devil/Angel”, however it rules, so any and all potential criticisms are rendered totally null and void. At least to the personal estimation of the present author, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part Two is the greatest Heavy/Power album of the 1990’s, one of the greatest Metal albums ever created, and the crown jewel of DeFeis and Pursino’s career, dwarfing even the accomplishments of the other great works analyzed in this article.
Right off the bat it should be mentioned that this is by far the most Heavy, aggressive, and/or “Metal” sounding album in Virgin Steele’s catalogue, and accordingly may be the best album for the typical reader of this site to try out as an introduction. Indeed, the forceful power of the sound here was intentionally sought out for a realization of what the band felt was the intensity that was both inherent in the previous Marriage of Heaven and Hell compositions and emblematic of their vibrant live performances, but was not necessarily fully captured in the production of previous studio efforts. Even the compositions of the riff-work here are full of some of the most grinding virile fury. Continuing off the heels of the previous two masterworks in the “trilogy”, the high quality of song-writing is still present in the form of many classic tracks such as the astonishingly furious, hateful and invigorating title track, the kick-ass cosmic riff domination of “Dust From the Burning”, and the epic fan favourite hymn to victory “Veni, Vedi, Vici” which concludes the album on a very high note. However, while they don’t really cause much of a detraction here, it is worth pointing out that this marks the first album where some of the more “questionable” aspects of later Virgin Steele releases make their appearance… namely the demanding 75+ minute run-time, a slew of interlude tracks, and slightly un-intuitive “detour” song-writing structures. [As we shall see in the next couple of entries.] Overall, while not quite as fully consistent as the directly preceding compositional heights, Invictus is one of the most immediately grabbing Virgin Steele albums, a more than worthy entry emblematic of the “golden” era of the group, and another recommended potential starting point with the band (as it was for the present author many years ago).
[Continued in Part 2]
Tags: aeschylus, ballads, barbaric romanticism, blues, by the gods, classical music, cock rock, composition, Concept Album, cover songs, david defeis, dionysus, edward pursino, epic, exorcist, frank gilchriest, hard rock, hatred, Heavy Metal, insanity, jack starr, josh block, lilith, long island, love, madness, Mythology, new york, Occultism, Opera, original sin, over the top, Paganism, passion, piano, piledriver, power metal, rock opera, Romanticism, sexuality, Speed Metal, the hammer of zeus, the wrecking ball of thor, tragedy, Transcendence, USA, USPM, Vengeance, victory, virgin steele, wine