Classics: Virgin Steele - The Marriage of Heaven and Hell - Part 2

by Matt Hensch

Now that my cherished items are covered in a thick layer of plastic, allow me to inform you that this is an all-time favorite of mine. Yes, the second part of Virgin Steele's rightfully-lauded "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" epic is not only the finest cut of the group's excellent zenith, but a timeless classic whose obscurity among the herd is unpardonable. Much like the first part of the series, "Part Two" falls somewhere between the laurels of traditional heavy metal and the heroism of power metal, although the style is redefined by the untouchable chemistry between David DeFeis and Edward Pursino to make it distinctive among the other two chapters. "Part Two," needless to say, holds the quintessential makings of a magnum opus. It's the best of the best, and if you disagree, you are WRONG.

It's hard to pinpoint why exactly this is the best of Virgin Steele's outputs. To be honest, I don't concern myself with pondering the big question. I mean, I could wonder why certain horror movies are scarier than others, or why certain bands manage to fall flat despite having the important factors of excellent music in order and ready to ship. Why is "Part Two" a masterpiece? Well, it just is. It has the tangibles and the intangibles that together make music, and specifically this brand of heavy metal, superb. Of course, a band as balanced and confident as Virgin Steele pulled off this unique, brazen style without batting an eye from the stellar performance they had issued on "Part One." Same type and same themes, but just a notch better.

Virgin Steele's finest asset is its profundity. On every conceivable level there are layers and layers of meaningful ingredients that are but fulcrums within the multifaceted entity that is Virgin Steele, and each plays a significant role in the success of the group's artistic endeavors. David DeFeis' sharp croons are unusual yet brilliant next to the staunch, robust brand of riffing from the weapons of Ed Pursino, which, when together, make a variety of situations natural. "Part 2" is very much a reflection of Virgin Steele itself: immeasurable in its depth, glorious in its ability to retain an unseen grace and variability among situations that most would find hazardous.

While most of Virgin Steele's outputs feel comfortable in multiple skins, "Part 2" appears a step beyond mere coziness. The amount of musical ground covered here-heavy metal is an open-ended genre under the right management, you know-remains a remarkable feat, proving both the instrumental superiority of the band and the creative engines at work. Among the plethora of cuts are the standard representatives of Virgin Steele, songs layered intricately with the group's balanced motifs of sharpness and elegance. Some are heavier and faster than others, of course, while others (mainly the quasi-ballads "Transfiguration" and "Strawgirl") present a side of unrivaled grace and beauty. But under the organization of this sun, these cuts are immaculate; the embodiment of heavy metal perfection.

Nothing is remotely off-kilter on "A Symphony of Steele," the record's opener. The punchy, triumphant rhythms, leading to its gallant chorus, create a wonderful introduction to one of the album's many themes. These up-tempo numbers are spectacular, overloaded with stellar riffs and the burning drive this band conveys naturally. The Judas Priest-geared "Devil/Angel" is straightforward and excellent, heavy on the riffs and catchy as catchy can be. Perhaps the highlight of these faster tunes is "Victory is Mine." While not as sophisticated as a handful of the record's other numbers, there is a magnificent aura of passion and electricity transmitted through its full-bodied, direct riffs and Pursino's extraordinary lead work. The chorus is simple yet poignant, and DeFeis sounds superb as usual. It's simply a fantastic song; the first that I truly fell in love with, though the rest soon followed.

The finest gems are paradigmatic examples of Virgin Steele at large, songs of incredible drama. "Crown of Glory (Unscarred)," both musically and lyrically, shows the vast peaks and valleys within the band's outstanding ability to sway impeccably between sublime passages of tremendous atmosphere and melodiously-enriched riffs without the slightest hint of error possible. "Prometheus the Fallen One" and "Emalaith" make a reasonable case to be called some of the finest metal songs ever written; both epics are utterly marvelous in capturing their terrific, sophisticated semblances. Dread and wrath lead the intense riffs and bleak structures of "Prometheus the Fallen One," while "Emalaith," an anthem of loss and vengeance, is perfectly structured through its seamless travel between haunting, serene sections escorted by DeFeis' dismay-ridden voice and intense, stout lashings of heavy metal at its very finest.

Each of these songs manages to capture its own sense, its own domain. "Unholy Water," a track more commercially enriched, drops not an ounce of the high quality heard among the opus. Galloping riffs and dominant snare rolls (Frank Gilchriest is a phenomenal drummer) on "Twilight of the Gods" are like vital spices in a complicated dish-vigorous and affecting, not overwhelming or bland. "Rising Unchained" is a spiritual sibling to "Crown of Glory (Unscarred)" in its unhurried equilibrium upon the thin line between calm and chaos, another excellent representation of Virgin Steele's seamless symmetry, with perhaps the greatest vocal line of the whole record: "Don't cry for mercy, for you know there will be none." Love it.

This review is but a hazy photograph of the breathtaking tower that is "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell - Part 2." To describe its limitless depth and the remarkable journey upon which the thread of Virgin Steele's majesty is spun traverses far beyond rudimentary descriptions and words. Virgin Steele, a group with the beauty of a rose and the sharpness of a blade, can never be faulted for the magnificent work they created during a time when heavy metal was parched with thirst and dying. "Part 2" is not only the pinnacle of this excellent band, but one of the finest heavy metal albums ever immortalized; it has been a favorite of mine for years, and there is nothing that even comes close to matching its vigor and divinity. "Part 2" is more than an album, but the kind of record that makes music not just a hobby, but a way of life, a source of splendor when the grandeur of existence has become anything but. To possess such skill is neither found in Hell's fire nor the beauty of Heaven, but in the shared bond of both, forever interlocked, forever bound.

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Classics: Virgin Steele - The Marriage of Heaven and Hell - Part 2

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