VIRGIN STEELE – The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell Part One & Part Two/ Invictus (SPV)
SPV Records continues its rehabilitation of lost treasures from the Virgin Steele back catalogue with the union of the two parts of ‘The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell’. The albums were originally released as two separate CDs in 1994 and 1995 respectively, by which time Virgin Steele was effectively operating as just a vehicle for the songwriting and performing talents of original vocalist David DeFeis and guitarist/bassist Edward Pursino (who joined in 1985), with original drummer Joey Ayvazian dipping out during the making of ‘Part Two’. Seemingly unbowed and unbroken DeFeis and Pursino carried on producing more and more bombastic, epic metal, outwardly unaware of – or antagonistic to – the rising tide of plaid shirts and whining malcontents of the grunge movement all around them.
You get the impression that in you sliced DeFeis in half you’d find ‘metal’ running through him like a stick of seaside rock, and certainly the changing fortunes of the music world did nothing to blunt his enthusiasm nor that of the ship he’s steered since founder member Jack Starr quit back in 1984. Cut from the same (loin)cloth as Manowar the material swings between full-frontal assaults and the odd ballad, but never takes its eye off the wrecking ball. The was metal as it’s meant to be played and meant to be heard – loud ‘n’ proud and to hell with the consequences – and it’s great to have this and other material from the band repatriated from the wilderness once more.
Unlike the other VS re-issues, as the two albums have been packed as one there’s no disc of bonus material this time around, although the first CD adds a couple of new songs (a short instrumental called ‘Angela’s Castle’ and ‘The Sword Of Damocles’ which appears to be a more simplistic chest-beater although there’s a twist in the tail), while the second CD carries two live cuts (‘Life Among the Ruins’ and ‘I Wake Up Screaming’, both originally from ‘Part One’) recorded “exactly as they appeared live onstage somewhere in Germany”. Slick they may not be, but exciting they most certainly are.
Fast-forward to 1998 and the boys were back in town once more with ‘Invictus’ which could either be taken as a stand-alone album or a continuation of the ‘Marriage…’ theme. Frank Gilchriest who’d completed the second ‘Marriage…’ album was now sat fair and square on the drum stool, but other than that it was metal business as usual again as guitars howl, drums pound and choirs sing while DeFeis either rages against the gods over a maelstrom of riffage or raises his voice to the heavens in praise. This time there is a bonus disc once more, featuring a selection of acoustic cuts – in fact, if you’re partial to acoustic metal there’s so much on offer it’s hard to know where to start; and of course with both albums there’s an extraordinarily detailed booklet which tells you all you need to know about the songs and how they came to be. What’s not to like?
© John Tucker June 2014