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While David DeFeis’ ambitious perspective was an undeniable force that drove him forward during the 90’s, it would only be a matter of time before this would get the best of him. Most of Virgin Steele’s earlier albums had their fair amount of issues, sure, but to me The House of Atreus – Act II sees things getting really shaky and the biggest issue should be very obvious. This is a double album that only partially works and unfortunately, I can’t help but think that it just hint signs of the end.
The first disc isn’t as varied as its predecessor was, but still sees Virgin Steele mixing things up through a series of riff-fronted instant numbers, several elaborated tunes and moody interludes. David DeFeis sounds a little restrained when compared to the previous records in terms of showing vocal range and vocal tricks, yet tunes like “Wings of Vengeance” and “The Wine of Violence” feature enough catchy and memorable lines to make him stand out. This is also arguably Edward Pursino’s last standout album and while he doesn’t rip through the gates with a vengeance as he did on the earlier albums, tracks like “Fire of Ecstasy” and “The Wine of Violence” are fair reminders of his worthy contribution. Interestingly enough, this is also a fairly song-oriented disc, thanks to the limited amount of interludes that each allow one to take a break between the upbeat tunes – that is, until you reach the first disc’s eerie finale track. Indeed, “Summoning the Powers” is a very untypical sort of Virgin Steele song; instead of triumph and a sense of romance, it’s a surprisingly bleak. You’ve got these eerie orchestrations, minor driven riffs and David DeFeis who gives his best performance, here, too – as he wails and howls through the corridors of despair that he got trapped in with no signs of redemption in sight.
Then there’s the second disc and truth to be told, I find it much harder to get satisfied by it. Out of the thirteen numbers, you’ll end up with five actual songs and none of them match in terms of quality that the first disc possessed. It only makes me wonder if Edward Pursino ran out of his best riffs during the record’s writing process, or if David DeFeis had other plans with regards to the album’s second half, since it’s mostly full of stale ballads and the brief riff-driven songs aren’t much better either. “Flames of Thy Power” still features some melodic and appealing riffs marking its verses, but besides a catchy vocal-hook, the tune never progresses into something grandiose. “Arms of Mercury” is the first ballad to show up on this disc and while it’s certainly listenable, I don’t find it to be much of a moving track. Again, we’re dealing with a welcoming chorus that sounds somewhat inspiring, yet Virgin Steele has written actual empowering ballads that makes this one sound dull in comparison. At last, “By the Gods” is somewhat better, even if it doesn’t feature actual stand-out riffs. Instead it’s a piano-driven number that’s at least somewhat provoking on an emotional level.
Unfortunately The House of Atreus – Act II goes off the rail not soon after. You end up with some short interludes that unlike the ones of the record’s predecessor sound like filler-y leftovers that David DeFeis had written and felt like using no matter what the costs were. It’s not until “When the Legends Die” where you’ll encounter an actual song again and while it’s a decent darker kind of ballad not unlike that of “Child of Desolation”, it’s rather overlong. After a few more pointless interludes you’ll finally reach the final closer, but it marks the band’s downfall more instead of serving as an epic closer. While ending with this ten minute track makes sense in terms of the album’s context, it’s a plodding finale track that takes far too long to get going and while it certainly features some acceptable riffs of Edward Pursino, it’s not much of an enjoyable album closer by any means.
For years I wondered where it all went wrong for Virgin Steele and nowadays I’d pick The House of Atreus – Act II as the band’s misstep after a series of great albums. Here we have a concept album that partially expresses itself as a concept album gone wrong and that was something David DeFeis was able to prevent from happening with the records that came out prior to this release. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come with disastrous results, but I’d rather not think about that anymore.
Release date: October 16th, 2000
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