The Passion Of Dionysus

rating icon 7 / 10

Track listing:

02. You'll Never See The Sun Again
03. A Song Of Possession
04. The Ritual Of Descent
05. Spiritual Warfare
06. Black Earth And Blood
07. The Passion Of Dionysus
08. To Bind And Kill A God
09. Unio Mystica (The Girl With The Grave Deep Eyes)
10. I Will Fear No Man For I Am A God

For more than 40 years, VIRGIN STEELE have been the great oddballs of traditional heavy metal. The New Yorkers' early albums are rightly cherished as classic snapshots of power metal's gestation, while the full-blown symphonic splendor of '90s concept sprawls "The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell" and "The House Of Atreus" were as defiantly unfashionable as it was, among those in the know, effusively praised. Behind it all, and still rattling his conceptual sabre all these years later, is founder, frontman and multi-instrumentalist David DeFeis. Always more opulent and intricate than any competition could muster, VIRGIN STEELE albums seem to pour straight out of the Long Island legend's brain, fully formed, and "The Passion Of Dionysus" is no different. Almost comically ambitious and bursting at the seams with refined musical ideas, his band's 15th studio album is no kind of easy entry point.

The first thing the unconverted will notice is that "The Passion Of Dionysus" has a unique sound. The result of DeFeis's singular approach and laudable ability to sing and play just about everything himself, it does occasionally hint at a certain DIY rawness, with programmed drums that never quite sound like the real thing, and a slightly muted sonic color palette. The secret to overriding those concerns is to dive headlong into VIRGIN STEELE's eccentric world, and seldom have they made an album as unpredictable and righteously bonkers as this.

At the heart of DeFeis's songwriting lies an old-school heavy metal diehard, and there's a recognizable spine of jagged riffs and rib-rattling kick drums running through much of this 80-minute extravaganza. But the truth is that, by this point, VIRGIN STEELE have long since morphed into a wildly theatrical and fearless progressive rock band, with trad metal just one of countless strings to their bow. Based around typically epic and classics-inspired themes of duality and the battle between order and chaos, "The Passion Of Dionysus" plays out like some colossal musical theatre production, but with music that still exhibits strong roots in metal's darker depths. At his age he is still doing extraordinary things with his voice; DeFeis is a mad narrator, lost in a world of his own imagining. He sells every line and nails every perverse about-turn with a tyrant's zeal: his conviction is absolute. That probably helps when what he's peddling are elaborate, melodramatic epics like "The Ritual Of Descent", because there are definitely moments when "The Passion Of Dionysus" teeters on the edge of the preposterousness precipice. Luckily, DeFeis's metal instincts are too finely attuned to let any detail slip out of place, and even the craziest detours are precisely resolved. Perhaps more importantly, his melodic sensibilities are still in peak condition, almost exactly 40 years on from "Guardians Of The Flame". Listeners may have to wade through many minutes of wild, expositional craziness to reach them, but there are some truly great power metal anthems and moments of AOR-like sweetness here too. It's all going on. Often simultaneously.

This is David DeFeis's world and we are mere spectators. "The Passion Of Dionysus" is out of its tiny mind. The madness is real.

Author: Dom Lawson
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