Virgin Steele – The House Of Atreus: Act I
Virgin Steele – The House Of Atreus: Act I (1999)
Reviewed by Christopher Foley
The House Of Atreus: Act I is a difficult album to both digest and put into words. I feel this is truly the point in Virgin Steele’s career where David DeFeis began to lose himself somewhat to pomposity, delving into deeper, more complex subject matter than ever before. The music would of course reflect this, and whilst his approach would later have some relatively serious repercussions on the band as a whole; here it works, to admittedly breath-taking effect.
Along with The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell: Part II, these were the albums that set me off on the Virgin Steele journey. Whilst I know the aforementioned like the back of my hand, at times I still get lost in The House Of Atreus: Act I. Whereas Invictus delivered a more song-orientated affair, here the band serves up twenty two tracks at well over an hour; with each track being absolutely integral to the experience. Whilst this isn’t bloated like its follow up, the album is without a doubt a massive undertaking, and should be approached with inquisitive intent.
I’m not going to delve too deeply into the storyline, as it can be easily found all over the net. Basically it’s inspired by Aeschylus’ Greek tragedy trilogy The Oresteia, concerning the House of Atreus following the end of the Trojan War. If you’re interested in the story expect a good deal of drama, and I’d say DeFeis did a pretty good job of conveying the subject matter through the music. What’s more impressive is that The House Of Atreus: Act I stands proud as a metal opera without crutching on an army of guest vocalists to play characters; likely taking cues from Savatage’s excellent approach to the medium.
Further impressive is how well Virgin Steele integrates the interludes, especially the likes of “A Song Of Prophecy” and “G Minor Invention (Descent Into Death’s Twilight Kingdom)”, which are stunning musical pieces: creating atmosphere and serving a lot of purpose. DeFeis’ orchestral and piano talents are seriously impressive here, and I feel that the interludes help to give the album its serious, dramatic feel.
Of course, the finest magic conjured in The House Of Atreus: Act I appears in the fully-fledged songs. Striking a dynamic balance between mighty, riff-oriented power metal cuts, poignant ballads, and stomping epic numbers, Virgin Steele continues on its path of dominating genre and style. If I’m completely honest, outside of its sequel, I don’t feel there is another album like The House Of Atreus: Act I. The band did a phenomenal job of conveying their theme in the music, and there’s a definite air of Mediterranean, as well as Eastern themed motifs, which lends the music its identity and a distinct mythological vibe. The music across the board is dense and multifaceted, and as I’ve said, it’s quite easy to get lost in the scope of the material here.
Whilst the album undoubtedly works at its finest when taken in whole, there are certainly a few individual tracks which really stand out, not just as some of the best songs on The House Of Atreus: Act I, but across the entire Virgin Steele catalog. “Kingdom Of The Fearless (The Destruction of Troy)” clearly deserves a mention, and is likely amongst the top ten Virgin Steele songs. A perfect marriage of the European and American styles of power metal, it is riff driven, symphony kissed, double kicked brilliance. “Child of Desolation” stands as maybe the finest Virgin Steele ballad: heart-rending in its delivery, with a jaw dropping revisit of the “Bury me beside the endless sea” motif which was spawned in “Crown Of Glory (Unscarred)” on The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell: Part II.
Everything from performance to production is across the board nearly flawless on The House Of Atreus: Act I; showcasing a band at the height of its prowess. Whilst I don’t think this quite matches the majesty of The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell albums, it is still a superlative release, and really one of Virgin Steele’s very finest to date. An essential piece of heavy metal which succeeds on many levels – from its artistic merit to its wonderful songs, this gets my whole-hearted recommendation to anyone remotely interested in progressive, power, or heavy metal. Truly spellbinding, get this now if you haven’t already!
4.75 // 5