VIRGIN STEELE - Seven Devils Moonshine
December 26, 2018, a month ago
David DeFeis is nothing, if not ambitious. Some would say overindulgent. In additional to keeping Virgin Steele alive and relevant since the early 80s (after the contentious departure of guitar whiz Jack Starr), the VS catalog is filled with multi-album releases. Even by their own standards, this five CD package (!) is massive, packed with three discs of “new” music, in addition to reissues of Hymns To Victory and The Book Of Burning. Rather then construct a review equivalent in length to War & Peace, I'll “simply” focus on the trio of new material (although each of the original platters also feature an extra, bonus track). That said, there's a fair amount of non-rock covers and some re-worked, orchestral versions of previous VS material, but the singer is adamant that all are new recordings, not leftovers that have been sitting around for ages. David, put down pen pen, step away from the piano, go outside and take a break!
The initial pair share the title Ghost Harvest (The Spectral Vintage Sessions), with the first subtitled Vintage 1 – Black Wine For Mourning, comprised of 13 offerings (the final two combined as “Clouds Of Oblivion Medley”). In the last fifteen years or so, DeFeis has opted for grandiose stories/cinematic soundscapes featuring epic, progressive music (often with prominent keyboards/piano), as opposed to the curt, full-out, aggro guitar rocking fare of earlier in his career. Therefore it's nice to hear Edward Pursino wailing away on just the second number in the running order: “Greek Dusk Blues”, although mid-way through it takes an orchestrated detour. Speaking of wailing, DeFeis still is capable of hitting those high notes, sporadically popping up throughout. While a couple of the baker's dozen are mere snippets: 1:13 piano accompanied spoken word intro “Murder In High-Gloss Relief” or the 2:10 “The Gods Don't Remember”, no one ever feels ripped off by VS albums, at least in terms of material, as most songs eclipse seven minutes and “Feral” alone gets into double digits. “Hearts On Fire” kicks off like it's going to be a high energy 80s rocker, before downshifting (slightly) into a strong flashback from the Starr era. Opening line of “Wicked Game” is delivered in French. It's a sludgy (think Type O Negative) cover of the sexy Chris Isaaks (video) single, “I don't want to fall in love”. Hendrix's “Little Wing” gets a jazz lounge, piano/guitar treatment, to close things out.
There are 26 compositions (including a pair of live acoustic rehearsals) on mylar #2, subtitled Vintage 2 – Red Wine For Warning. The red flag and self-professed warning are appropriate, as there's precious little original VS stuff within. The cuts are often grouped into three or four tune medleys, despite possessing individual monikers. Begins with a growl, as DeFeis unleashes falsetto for piano accompanied “The Evil In Her Eyes”, sort of demented Paul Stanley sings Broadway number. Next is a bluesy cover of Joe Cocker's “Feelin' Alright”. In fact, there are bits and pieces of famous music strewn across the second disc, including a belabored lounge singer rendition (with slightly different lyrics) of Sting's “Sister Moon”. Not really what I want from Virgin Steele! On a similar tip, the singer seamlessly strings together tracks #3-#6, labeling them the Summertime Darkness Suite. It commences with a 21 second intro, leading into “Summertime” (made famous by the late Ella Fitzgerald!) and capped by a 57 instrumental. “Rip Off” the Marc Bolan/T Rex number, almost gets things back to rock, but only at a slow pace. Songs #8-#10 are entitled The Gods Are Hungry Triptych, beginning with scat/spoken word/piano poem, equally succinct (two minute) “The Poisoned Wound” weeping guitar solo and legitimate song length “The Birth Of Beauty”. Interesting, faithful, albeit even slower (if that's possible) take on UFO's “Profession Of Violence” is followed by a run-through of “Rock Steady” (Bad Company). Why is a unique talent like DeFeis of the mindset that he must produce (or fans would indulge in) an album of covers? Keys and orchestral take on Alice In Chains' “Nutshell”, ZZ Top (“Jesus Just Left Chicago”), slurred vocal adaptation of a couple Doors songs melded together...it's all here. “After Dark” was popularized in the From Dusk Til Dawn movie, but not with the danceable electrified ending herein. Guess that's what makes it part of DeFeis' Drained White Suite. More isn't always better. Guess the folks at SPV were afraid to tell David “No! as this disc adds nothing constructive to the Virgin Steele narrative. If it were possible to buy without this one, I would.
Lastly, disc #3. Whereas the first extra platter gave us some new material (painting solely from the recent musical palette) and the second opted to rework other artists, the finale is essentially comprised of orchestral re-writes to pieces of the established VS canon. Since he goes back to albums like Marriage Of Heaven & Hell and House of Atreus, as well as the newest output, the seven orchestral re-dos (of 17 total options) are easily the most stirring/rousing (rock oriented) material within the “new” package, beginning with the Manowar-ish symphonic/spoken word “I Will Come For You”. Seriously, 56 “new” compositions and can't think of one I'd want to see/hear performed live. Nuff said.