Review Summary: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Part II changes Virgin Steele's sound for the better, using their new found musical appreciations to add onto their epic metal persona, rather than to contradict or contrast it.
After releasing one of their most critically acclaimed albums, American heavy metal band Virgin Steele were ready to go back into the studio and experiment with their sound. One might think that to do so would end in disaster. And understandably so, as Virgin Steele had configured their sound before to make what many would consider their weakest effort in their entire discography. However, there is no need to worry, as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Part II changes Virgin Steele's sound for the better, using their new found musical appreciations to add onto their epic metal persona, rather than to contradict or contrast it.
Album opener A Symphony of Steel lives up to its namesake, showcasing why The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Part II is often considered to be one of the most influential for modern symphonic metal bands. Beginning with an artificial orchestral piece with dramatic synthesizers along theatrical trumpets effects, and turning into an experience of blistering pace and surging guitar solos. The song almost seems like a mixture of Warrior's Lament and The Raven Song from Part I with its combination of Warrior's grandiose nature and Raven's speed metal pacing. Vocalist David DeFeis commands a very anthemic experience on this song, with his melodic voice being backed by reverb and an occasional monotone choir. Ultimately this could be seen as one of if not the first song in the band's catalog to be purely power metal in a sense, with the overly fantastical nature and the fast riffage the genre is known for. While the song's repetitive chorus can be seen as a potential downside, A Symphony of Steel doesn't really have any problem as a track and successfully sets up the album's formula.
Crown of Glory keeps things interesting, with a heavily underused guitar riff 20 seconds in, and a beautiful piano break half way through that brings out DeFeis' more somber side. Crown of Glory is very good at expanding on the emotional front that was presented on a few tracks throughout Heaven and Hell Part I. Mainly with its use of more melancholic instrumentals and vocals, though the lyrics do represent religious and tragic themes of ones want to get to the kingdom of heaven through a distinctly romanticist writing style. David also does a fantastic job of using his voice to make each and every word stand out in pure clarity.
Twilight of the Gods is also particularly notable, beginning with David's Halford-like scream. The vocals here do a good job of keeping the song melodic throughout, and are particularly commandeering during the epic chorus filled with frantic drum work and crushing guitar riffs.
Skipping over a couple of songs, Transfiguration is a pretty unique song for the band. It has a power ballad aesthetic like some of their previous songs, but it is slower, less in your face and in a way very serine. Davids vocals are surprisingly calm, and don't focus too much on showing off like most power ballads. This gives the track a little more room to breath, straying away from the pure corny-ness of past works like House of Dust, making Transfiguration feel very appropriate for the album as a whole.
The next track, Prometheus the Fallen might be the most epic track the record has to offer. Ghostly hums and chants are backed by eastern guitars, which make way for one of the most memorable choruses of the entire album as David angrily proclaims I AM THE MAN IN GOD while guitars surge behind him on command. His vocal work during said chorus is surprisingly catchy, and the particularly Egyptian vibe from the backing vocals gives me goose bumps from the sheer atmosphere alone.
The track following, Emalaith, is also very memorable. It consistently references the bands previous works, going as far as to spout out song titles like Life Among the Ruins or The Weeping of the Spirits as if David had a bad case of rampant verbal diarrhea or a tourettes inducing seizure.He even goes as far as to read off lyrics verbatim from I Will Come For You. The instrumentals mimic the song as well during that segment, though they are different enough to keep things interesting. This level of referencing actually works extremely well for the track though, and makes it quite playful in the process.
Track 10, Devil/Angel is a heavy rocker that will get your blood pumping with its lightning fast speed. It might not be impressive to some, but it adds to the record greatly, as adding a balls to the wall track can often break up some of the pretentiousness that comes from extremely long albums with extremely serious themes. Its just a damn fun track and rejuvenates the record.
By now you have probably noticed a pattern of me skipping over tracks. There is a reason for this.No matter how great a lot of the songs on this record are, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Part II suffers from similar problems to its predecessor. It can sometimes feel like the songs structures and melodies are a bit too similar, to the point of creating monotony. If there were more hooks that could really sink into your skull, than the some of the blander tracks could really stand out a lot more. In general though, just like the previous output, the main problem here is that the album loses its cohesiveness behind its 1 hour run time. Some of this is because of the album's failure in many moments to take a change in pace, such as the missed opportunity that From Chaos to Creation represents, which is basically just an instrumental piece that doesn't capitalize on the idea of a calmer tone and instead fails to live up to other tracks because it's missing the pizzazz that David's voice brought to the table. If you're going to make a rock tune, don't degrade it to an instrumental piece that hardly adds to the album as a whole, give it more life. Or the fact that when the album does take a change in pace, the songs ironically drag on and add to the tedium instead of detracting from it such as the terribly out-of-place power love ballad Straw Girl or the unfortunately tedious but potentially amazing Unholy Water . In other cases, its just the simple fact that having so much similar(albeit great)music back to back just feels unnecessary. That's not to say Part II isn't a clear improvement from its predecessor. The album is much more consistent. In general, I would say there's only 9 songs worth listening to on Part I, with 7 of them being particularly amazing(see my Part I review for further context). For a 14 track album, that's fairly consistent, but it definitely draws the question of "Why couldn't Virgin Steele just cut out the other 5 tracks". Part II on the other hand features 10 songs worth listening to on a 13 track album, meaning that even though the album can still feel monotonous with these amazing tunes being played back to back, once you get used to the rather lengthy experience you will have to press the "skip" button far less often(though for this review I didn't have the luxury most of the time. Curse objectivity!). It helps that Part II has even better production than its predecessor as well.
Overall, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Part II is a clear improvement. It may not always have the same impact of Part I. In fact, I don't even know if my love of I Will Come For You, Weeping of the Spirits, or The Last Supper can be replaced(I have only listened to these two albums after all). But it is far more consistent. Highly recommended!
Best tracks :
A Symphony of Steel
Crown for Glory
Twilight of the Gods
Prometheus the Fallen One
Worst tracks :
From Chaos to Creation(not bad per say, just a missed opportunity)
Strawgirl(ugh....power ballad. still not bad, but...ugh)
Unholy Water(too repetitive)
Victor is Mine(not memorable enough)