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Virgin Steele Hymns To Victory/The Book Of Burning

By Daniel Höhr, European Correspondent
Saturday, January 19, 2002 @ 9:09 AM

(T & T)

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Right, imagine it's somebody's birthday, okay? Who gets the presents? The one who's celebrating or the ones who are invited to the party? Normally it's the birthday boy or girl who gets the presents, isn't it? Now, melodic metal veterans Virgin Steele are celebrating their 20th anniversary and as a present for their fans they've put out two albums at once. A double release then? Certainly more than that. The first CD is called Hymns To Victory and contains seven re-mastered classics, two previously unreleased alternate mixes, two previously unreleased new songs, one long-lost early mix and an acoustic version of another classic Virgin Steele track with all the instruments played by master mind David DeFeis. Wow! I mean, thirteen tracks is nearly a double album.

The other CD is called The Book Of Burning and has sixteen tracks on it (eight previously unreleased new songs, seven new recordings of older material and one newly recorded acoustic version). Looking at the quantity, you'll get...let me think...thirteen plus sixteen...my calculator says 29...yes, 29 tracks. This is nearly two double-CDs. Good value.

Now, Hymns To Victory is one of those compilations of re-mixes, newly recorded songs, original mixes and new tracks that I would normally see as the result of emptying out the dustbin to see what can be put out when the band doesn't have the material to do a new album. But along with The Book Of Burning , David's collection of Virgin Steele classics taken from The House Of Atreus I and II, Invinctus, Noble Savage, The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell Part I and II and Age Of Consent comes along as a credible compilation and not as a CD full of the sticky rubbish out of the band's studio dustbin. Most of the tracks show David De Feis's incredible musical talent, his versatility as a songwriter and his gift to combine classical elements with kick-ass metal. Especially the opener, "Flames Of Thy Power," "The Burning Of Rome" and the new acoustic version of "The Spirit Of Steele" with David playing all the instruments are very much to my liking. Of the previously unreleased songs, "Saturday Night," which was recorded during the sessions for Noble Savage, sounds like a party rocker we in Europe would regard as "typical American.” It doesn't really fit into Virgin Steele's overall concept, but is nevertheless a great song. The other one, "The Mists Of Avalon," was recorded during the Age Of Consent sessions and is, frankly speaking, a bit of a lame accoustic track with lots of atmosphere but not much excitement. And hey, does the acoustic guitar in the last song on this compilation, "Emalaith," sound like Randy Roads's guitar intro to Ozzy's "Diary Of A Madman" or what? All in all Hymns To Victory is a good compilation with many an old Virgin Steele gem frehly polished up, but the only real complaint I have is the so-called battle mix of "A Symphony Of Steele.” IMHO a musician like David DeFeis doesn't really need to adopt Manowar's primitive peasant metal style, because he can do much better. Good stuff otherwise, not just for Virgin Steele fans, but also for folks who want to get an idea what David's music is all about.

Now, whether you see The Book Of Burning as a new studio album plus eight re-recordings of older tracks or eight re-recordings plus eight new songs is entirely up to you. It's got a bit of both. Among the freshly recorded versions I'd like to recommend "Conjuration Of The Watcher,” "Don't Say Goodbye,” "Children If The Storm,” and "Guardians Of The Flame.” A little gem is the re-recording of Bach's "Minuet In G Minor,” which in its original version can be found in Johann Sebastian's Notebook For Anna Magdalena Bach and has been used by many a piano teacher (including the reviwer) to introduce the kids to Bach's piano music. Virgin Steele used the minuet as an intro to the first album. The present recording sticks entirely to Bach's original and show's David's talent as an arranger. Another highlight on The Book Of Burning is certainly the freshly recorded accoustic version of "A Cry In The Night.”

Amongst the new songs, "Rain Of Fire" is a typical Virgin Steele neckbreaker."Hellfire Woman" turns out to be mid-tempo rocker with a hellish groove. A bit more bombastic is the intro to "The Chosen Ones,” which lives from staccato riff attacks and has some really cool keyboards in it. More party rock-orientated is "Hot And Wild,” which was originally intended for the Noble Savage album, but the song remained unfinished until the bass and drum tracks were added to the vocals and guitars that were done in the earlier sessions. The stomping "The Final Days" comes along with quite a brutal guitar sound and is another serious attack on your neck muscles. Check out the great solo guitars in the middle part, adding a touch of dramatic atmosphere to the track.

The Book Of Burning is more than a warm-up CD for the next real studio album, which I understand is to be released soon. Once again, David DeFeis proves that he has the talent and skill to bridge over the gap between artistic concepts and powerful metal attacks. The only slight complaint that might be added is the production sound that could do with a bit more of low frequencies. Nevertheless a great present for everyone who believes that there is more to heavy metal than just superficially "kicking ass.” Great band, good music, definitely recommended! Happy birthday, Virgine Steele and here's one to the next 20 years!

Hymns To Victory ***

The Book Of Burning ****

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