Review: Virgin Steele “Invictus” [T&T Records]

Review: Virgin Steele “Invictus” [T&T Records]

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Score 75%
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Sometimes you stumble upon an album that’s enjoyable on its own, but compared to what a band had released before just feels a bit pale, you know? Think of Fates Warning’s No Exit, which came out after the monolith Awaken the Guardian. Or Metal Church’s The Human Factor, which wasn’t necessarily a bad album, but compared to the transitional excellent work of Blessing in Disguise lacked some magic. Virgin Steele, too, now in their prime would release something that certainly good for what it is, just feels inferior in several aspects when compared to its predecessor.

First of all Invictus doesn’t feature the best production – let’s be real here. Whereas The Marriage of Heaven and Hell series sounded divine, as if the production process of those albums were guided by Apollo himself, Invictus sounds as if Virgin Steele were damned by the gods and had to rely on the worst sources possible. While a poor production job does work in certain albums favor, Invictus certainly isn’t one of them, as the album sounds compressed, cold and stale. This hurts Edward Pursino the most, as his once juicy-yet firm guitar tone of the earlier two albums has been replaced by a poor digital guitar tone so dry you would expect it to come out of a practice amp. Then again Virgin Steele claimed this was produced by someone who knew more of hip-hop than metal. That probably explains a lot!

Invictus doesn’t really bring out the best out of the Virgin Steele crew either and again, I can’t help but compare the sense of musicianship to that of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell series. Edward Pursino’s playing is arguably at his most aggressive and conventional here. Those classical and bluesy licks Edward Pursino had used on the previous two albums are hardly present here (though still notable on A Whisper of Death’’ with that classy introduction or on ”Veni, Vidi, Vici”). While a more straightforward approach certainly shouldn’t be a problem on paper, something like the pounding “Dust from the Burning” does come off as something slightly generic for Edward Pursino’s standards and the verse riffs of ”A Shadow of Fear” feel a little unimaginative. Still, Edward Pursino is for the most part still a joy to listen to (we’re not talking about any of his possible guest-roles you’d come to expect out of the recent Virgin Steele records, after all!) David DeFeis still switches between those angelic falsettos and beasty shrieks, but instead of dominantly letting his present known, he doesn’t manage to reach out the gods and goddesses like he did earlier on. I could have done with some more singing than screaming from him, but again, this is hardly a serious issue. This is also the second album to feature Frank Gilchriest on drums and while he generally adds the right amount of fire to this record, I’ll admit that I’m not exactly a fan of the drum-kicks. To me they cause more of a mild annoyance than a proper sense of aggression.

Even though these so-so performances aren’t exactly what one might expect out of this era of the band, Invictus still contains some goodies. Interestingly enough I’ve heard that aggression motivated David DeFeis to write this album, but it came out like an emotionally flexible in the end. From the dramatic mayhem of the title track to melancholic punch of “Mind Body, Spirit”, to the brief lamentation of “God of our Sorrows”, Virgin Steele’s ability to convey several moods is still is still very much present here. The latter could easily be expanded though; it’s one of the more emotional interludes only David DeFeis could come up with… but by the gods does it sound brief! Anyway, after a silly introduction (something Virgin Steele started to have a thing for around this era), the title track kicks off with Pursino’s guitar work screaming into the heavens. I can’t help but think that David DeFeis sounds somewhat passive-aggressive here and while the vocals are far from awful, let’s just say that they’re not exactly fantastic. Strangely enough “A Shadow of Fear” doesn’t bring out the best of Edward Pursino and David DeFeis actually shines here; confidently he takes charge of that storming chorus and it only makes me wonder why the two men weren’t capable of bundling their strengths on every song instead.

Still, most of what Invictus has to offer should be up your alley if you’re a fan of this era of the band. “Defiance” gallops onward like a horse riding warrior who is on his way to his final battle, almost sounding like an upgraded version of “Lion in Winter” and the referential “Sword of the Gods” is a monument of emotional power; a triumphant and melodic song that foreshadows the same majesty “Agony and Shame” from The House of Atreus – Act I would. I just wish that Invictus would finish on a higher note than it does, though. “Veni, Vidi, Vici” was clearly meant to be an epic album closer and while I’m fond of its pre-chorus and the romantic pianos that emerge later on, the track itself is slightly overlong for my taste. What I find strange is how it clearly has all the ingredients to be a fantastic epic closer; partially the track is reminiscent of “Life Among the Ruins” (the track, not the album), but let’s just say that it’s not on the same level as “Prometheus the Fallen One” or “Emalaith”.

You can safely pick Invictus up, though. While I would consider this to be Virgin Steele’s worst album out of their mid-late 90’s period, it’s still good for what it is – even if it doesn’t make me feel as invictus as I would want it to.

Release date: April 15th, 1998

www.virgin-steele.com

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