Review: Virgin Steele “Life Among the Ruins” [Shark Records]

Review: Virgin Steele “Life Among the Ruins” [Shark Records]

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Every rose has its thorn
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User Rating : 4.5 (1 votes)

After the semi-epic Age of Consent, it would take Virgin Steele five years to release an actual follow-up and while that record saw the band getting their act together, Life Among the Ruins couldn’t be further from a logical successor. The band ditched everything that made them good in the 80’s and instead decided to play rock music that’s shallow, lifeless and overall unpleasant to begin with.

I won’t deny that David DeFeis sounds in top form here. In terms of tone and acrobatic skills, he sounds like the recognizable maniac who we’ve come to love from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell series. Unfortunately, there’s one big issue: he wastes his voice on these dull rock tunes that don’t rock hard and dull ballads that are of extremely superficial quality at best. Indeed, one might wonder if Life Among the Ruins wasn’t recorded during the mid-80’s and for some reason got released in 1993. David DeFeis can scream, howl and bark as much as he wants and Edward Pursino’s guitar work certainly sticks to a certain degree, but since the general vibe gets closer to that of silly 80’s hardrock than anything else, why bother? If it weren’t for David DeFeis’ recognizable vocals, you’d hardly recognize the band to begin with and while Life Among the Ruins sounds as if it was written with confidence and not due to label pressure, it’s just so… silly. Come on now, can you really call ”Love’s Gone” a great song, let alone a great Virgin Steele song? With a main riff that vanishes soon during the verse (probably because Edward Pursino himself got bored of playing this stuff, I wouldn’t blame him), it’s tame as hell.

Listen to the album for a couple of minutes and you’ll easily detect a formula: there are hard rocking numbers that don’t rock hard, ballads that are as moving as watching paint dry and interludes that are a far cry from Virgin Steele’s later interludes. “Sex Religion Machine” is a swinging rocker that’s actually not be an awful introduction to Life Among the Ruins – David DeFeis sounds convincing enough on it and Edward Pursino’s guitar work actually remains somewhat relevant. But Virgin Steele had proven prior that their strengths lied elsewhere. What follows up just isn’t very exciting and since we’re dealing with a fifty four minute long album, you better prepare to laugh, feel disgusted and weep. The ballads are hardly better and although they’re distinctive enough, they all rely on the same silly crap; a soft verse that leads all the way to a dramatic and loud chorus – basically the stuff that might be fun to sing along to during karaoke but otherwise is best off forgetting about. Indeed, following up with ”Love is Pain” isn’t a great move and doesn’t convince me of any romantic struggles. However, it does convince me how Virgin Steele were desperately trying to reach a wider audience – so there’s that, at least! The three piano-driven interludes that you’re left with aren’t bad on their own, but hardly provide any benefits whatsoever. After all, this isn’t a concept album, remember?

So, yeah… Life Among the Ruins isn’t really good stuff – however, three tracks stand out from the rest and I enjoy spinning these once in a while. “Crown of Thorns” has more of an edge to it compared to the surrounding rockers and the result is something that at least seems to be written with dignity. Edward Pursino’s guitar work screams over the verses and you end up with a chorus that’s actually catchy (in a positive sense, negative catchiness is annoying). “Last Rose of Summer” sees DeFeis changing gears completely and he sounds at his most vulnerable here, resulting into a cute (yes, cute) piano ballad that actually has a romantic feel to it. Some might find it to be too exaggerated for its own good, but I’ll easily take this over the destined-for-airplay-ballads that you otherwise end up with. I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for “Cry Forever”, but that one originates from Age of Consent… so it doesn’t really count.

But oh well, Virgin Steele’s ass-whooping era would start one year later (and how the band managed to temporary redeem themselves that quickly remains one of metal’s mysteries) Just forget that Life Among the Ruins exists in the first place and listen to the band’s good records instead.

Release date: March 1993

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