Virgin Steele - Nocturnes of Hellfire and Damnation

Virgin Steele Nocturnes of Hellfire and Damnation cover
Virgin Steele
Nocturnes of Hellfire and Damnation
Virgin Steele returns after a number of years in the “wilderness”, five to be precise, after the pompous, but ultimately somewhat failed “Black Light Bacchanalia” that didn’t seem to garner either the critics or the fans acclaim and appreciation. “Nocturnes...” which was delayed and even retitled as its original name was to be “Hymns to Damnation”, is certainly somewhat better than its predecessor, but while it bears all the signs and traits of a proper Virgin Steele piece of work, seems to be also somewhat problematic in a few areas. The drumming, which used a ton of substitutions, but possibly “bad sound patches” has been largely corrected, but still sounds a little weak in terms of sound. Performance wise it’s what you’ve come to expect, from the last decade or so, but a little more imposing, both with the enhancement of the sound and the more solid playing. David, “the face”, De Feis might have maintained a very youthful facade, almost unchanged to what he looked like a good couple of decades ago, making you wonder if he's been spending time in Olympus drinking Nectar, instead of somewhere in Long Island, but his voice has suffered, a bit. On more than a few occasions, the “tuning” sounds quite evident and when David goes for some “voce di Strega” sort of falsetti, it doesn’t sound as cool as it once did, but rather annoying or even a little ridiculous on a couple of occasions ,which is a shame as he’s a good singer overall. Long time guitarist Edward Pursino does his thing rather well, but his parts seem and feel to be pretty enveloped, between keyboard layers on quite a few occasions.
Thankfully, “Nocturnes...” manages to sound more interesting than its predecessor, even if it’s tamer than the band’s classic works, by going for a more focused songwriting style, that rarely strays from the bands unique, romantic barbarism... there are many different elements musically, slower and more melodic, even bluesy parts, but those are all, crushed in the crucible and sprinkle over the bands metallic/rock sonic foundation, creating the amalgam that is Virgin Steele’s sound. Expect, something that encompasses a lot of VS aspects, from “Life among the Ruins” and forth… as much as De Feis, likes to compare this to “Noble Savage”, rather than the overall style and the fact that a couple of people who played on that album are still performing with the band, it’s simply not on the same level of inspiration.
“Luzifer’s Hammer” (Warlord are there to also ask for a set of Luzifer’s Pliers, to fix their bathroom leak) is a very typical Virgin Steele opener, pompous, metallic, melodic, that if the band had done in its heyday, it would have no problems being a bona fide hit. Right now, it’s a little held back by the “performances” that seem to hold it back a notch… but it’s very nice nonetheless...
“Queen of the Dead” relies on the atmosphere, it builds via a heavy riff and the mid-tempo rhythmical patterns that ensue, with De Feis managing to sound more mystical and alluring.
“To Darkness Eternal” is a minute long intro to “Black Sun – Black Mass”, which maintains the mid-tempo/heavy charm, but relies more on its chorus and a nice riff and some soloing to get by, rather than being a properly thought out composition. Also, what seems to annoy me a bit on the album is the mix, that however clean and balanced, sounds clinical – and has done so, for several albums now… the last albums that sounded more lively were the 2 volumes of “Marriage of Heaven & Hell” that had a dynamic and metallic mix, after that the band seemed to progressively lose its way in terms of achieving a great – spirited mix.
“Persephone” has a few very beautiful verses / pre-chorus and is quite alluring, a more temperate and melodic number, that could have probably been a little shorter than seven and a half minutes however... thankfully it doesn’t overstay its welcome...
“Devilhead” moves in the same premises as “Persephone” but is somewhat more solid and a few shades (no, not fifty) darker. Decent chorus, but not much else.
“Demolition Queen” initially makes you think it will be a rocker, but ends up being a way more laid back, sensual number, with a more rock n roll attitude... it’s not something the band hasn’t done in the past, but I always felt that most of these rock tracks were carried on the wings of the stronger material some of the albums they were on, contained... on “Nocturnes” this cowbell inclusive number, just seems to break down the flow significantly... it’s not necessarily skip-able, but goes on for a good eight plus minutes, without being terribly interesting.
“The Plague and the Fire” has the difficult task of getting the listeners attention back and to pick up the relative slack that the previous, slower numbers have created. It’s a steady and “surprise – surprise” slow number, that does little to actually change, the ebb and flow of the album towards a plodding slower tempo... and to almost carve the very tombstone for the album “We Disappear” ain’t much faster… or terribly interesting either.
“A Damned Apparition” is a minute and a half spoken interlude with a bit of keyboards going on.
“Glamour” thankfully manages to turn the tides a bit, mostly by having a lot of rhythmical stuff going on… because for the most part it isn’t terribly swift… the only thing that mars it down considerably is that De Feis, seems to rely a lot on his upper register in parts, which requires a lot of “doctoring” to get completely “right” and it sort of is “audible”.
“Delirium” has parts of erotic, pathos and excitement that sound quite positively delirious, but again, drags the album to the mid-slower tempo tug, that just doesn’t help it one single bit.
“Hymns of Damnation” might be just more of the same plodding material, but here it seems that De Feis did put in a bit more of effort, so this one slower and very melodic number, comes off, quite nicely, as most should have…
Lastly “Fallen Angels” crushes any hope of a faster rocker… by being yet another slower number... but thankfully the “touch” of “Hymns” manages to also make this a worthwhile if not too soft number.
A special edition, coming in a digipak, features a second disk, with some classic bands and soundtrack covers, ie Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin etc… but since the promos don’t include those, we have no idea, of how good or bad these might be. Had “Nocturne” featured a couple of killer, faster rockers, it might have been a lot better, but as it stands with a lot of songs clocking at seven or so minutes and being rather mid-slow tempo, any momentum the band tries to create, dies down in a plodding, thick tempo-swamp of their own making… certainly better than “Bacchanalia...” but still a long way from the band’s finest works...