Virgin Steele take on the gods with creative masterpiece

They have been in the game for over 40 years, but Virgin Steele remains somewhat of an unknown quantity on this side of the Atlantic. According to the band have played here a meagre two times, both at the Underworld in London in 2001 and 2002. The New York outfit has a lengthy discography, with their first self-titled album released in 1982 and their most recent release 2018’s compilation Seven Devils Moonshine. 

Virgin Steele – The Passion of Dionysus (Steamhammer / SPV)

Release Date: 30 June 2023

Words: Paul Hutchings

Virgin Steele has always been a band that I’ve been aware of, but I have never really delved deep into the catalogue. Their Metal operatic style, combined with dramatic and lengthy releases, has not always grabbed my attention. 

The Passion Of Dionysus is no different in that it’s another twisting collection of tales weaved around a central theme. Over to the band’s founder David DeFeis to explain. “The album deals with the concept of duality. Where something is both one thing and its opposite simultaneously. It obviously has to do with Dionysus and, as the title suggests, his ‘Passion’ or suffering, and his coming to Thebes to avenge the slander of his mother, as well as punish the King of Thebes for denying his worship there. But that being said, more is going on”. 

Taking in the wider themes, DeFeis tackles the struggle between control and freedom, restraint and release. Is there room in society for the irrational, the wild, the letting go?

With a running time of over 77 minutes, the first thing to note is that this is a long album. The second is that it is in part dominated by rich keyboards and Defeis’ vocals. He’s a singing athlete with a range which straddles several styles and octaves. 

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It’s certainly dramatic, ripping along at breakneck speed on songs like A Song Of Possession which is one of the paciest songs here. Early single, Spiritual Warfare, also demonstrates the harder edge of the band, a powerful driving track that has a solid riff central to its core.

A blend of dark and light elements provides plenty of contrast, with the huge, symphonic, and operatic elements combining into a huge rock opera that will either have you absorbed or reaching for the off button. 

The double track opening, the Gethsemane Effect and You’ll Never See The Sun Again, sweep you into the record, and from there, it’s a joyous dive into a hugely complex, expressive and at times breathtaking album. 

It’s impossible not to be impressed by the musicianship on display. DeFeis gives a fine performance, although there are parts which sound almost ELO in their exuberance, something that I struggle with as I cannot stand Jeff Lynne. But put that aside, and revel in the quality on offer. As well as singing and playing keyboards, DeFeis also delivers the drums, bass, and orchestrations whilst ably accompanied by guitarists Edward Pursino and Josh Block. 

Virgin Steele - The Passion of Dionysus. "...This album is stunning."
Virgin Steele – The Passion of Dionysus. “…This album is stunning.”

The big piece arrives early. The 12-and-a-half-minute The Ritual Of Descent is an epic of staggering proportions. It soars and swoops, throwing in everything that Virgin Steele has been known for over the past four decades. It towers in cinematic style, building in atmosphere and tension, whilst the layered vocals bring the melodies to the front. 

Once you’ve got past the central pillar of the album, the treats continue to come. The thunderous pace of Black Earth & Blood throws an intensity that has threatened into the mix. My only disagreement is the high-pitched harmonies which I struggle with. 

To fully appreciate The Passion Of Dionysus, one needs to invest several hours to allow it to soak in. I could certainly do with further listens to unpack some of the phenomenal creativity that is contained within songs like To Bind & Kill A God, and the uplifting finale, I Will Fear No Man For I Am a God. 

Forty-two years and counting, and Virgin Steele continues to produce some quite astonishing work. This is an album that deserves wider acknowledgement. 

And whilst the overblown nature of it will no doubt not be to everyone’s taste, the sheer quality contained within this album can only be applauded. A truly stunning album – should you take the time to invest in it. 

Sleeve Notes

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  1. This record is painfully bad, and I couldn’t help but ask several times what Davids thought process was in creating it.. Wake up David and put effort into your music again, turn the damn power back on, because as it stands you have lost it. 1.5 out of 5 only because I have respect for the band, and know they can do better otherwise it would be a .5 out of 5.


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