Review Summary: Power. Impurity. Perfection.
A classic album born from the effortlessly successful blending of black and power/heavy metal. A combination made in Hell, you claim? Well, suitably, Satan's Host come straight from the source. They know Hell well - and they're here to bring it directly to you.
With the infernal flames of the underworld still freshly licking at their feet, Satan's Host return for the 2nd consecutive album with Harry 'The Tyrant' Conklin, after his inevitable departure for redder pastures over a quarter of a century earlier. As an underground band in the metal scene with very little promotion, The Tyrant felt he could take better advantage of his in-demand pipes elsewhere, joining Jag Panzer and releasing the heavy metal classic Ample Destruction, before moving on again to join Titan Force. They disbanded after releasing 2 albums, and he completed the Satanic Circle by eventually returning to Satan's Host.
Before I wax lyrical about the vocal performance of The Tyrant, special mention must be given to the all-round musical performance of the rest of the band members. Patrick Evil, Margar, and Evil Hobbit have crafted a cohesive, well-written and captivating array of songs, each of which coming with at least one moment that will leave you replaying it over and over in your head. But it's not just for those moments that one listens to Virgin Sails. The album flows from strength to strength; from darkness to... darkness slightly enlightened by spitting flames...
With a runtime of 54 minutes, this is an impressive feat. Split between 10 songs, of which 2 are interludes, 7 of the remaining 8 exceed 6 minutes, and the 8th is 5 minutes. But it doesn't get stale. Shifting between mid-tempo and blast-beats, the songs never meander on past their welcome. Maybe these shifts aren't done with the same elegance or beauty as could be found on a classic Opeth album, but it's done well enough so that it doesn't detract at all from the music.
Despite the heavy praise given to the other Hosts, the focal points of this album are the vocal points of the album. Harry Conklin truly does possess a stunningly magnificent voice; the sort of voice that combines raw power with excellent range, as well as an instinctive understanding of texture and voice control. These tracks have been blessed by The Tyrant (a.k.a. Leviathan Thisirin), who takes each one and just does his thing so comfortably. After more than 30 years into his singing career, he has seemingly almost reached the true pinnacle of human performance, outdoing everything else in his career, and effectively burying lesser vocalists under the weight of their own comparative inadequacy. I would go so far as to argue that this particular vocal performance is in the top 3 of all time, across all metal bands and genres (that includes you, Bruce Dickinson, despite my intense admiration), with only the legendary Ronnie James Dio holding a genuine claim to the throne.
90% of the vocals on this album are cleans, with the last 10% being a relatively interesting (though nothing particularly special) combination of traditional black death metal, interspersed throughout for variety. The cleans are mainly on the higher-pitched end of the scale, but Conklin is just as comfortable with his powerful mid-range bursts of aggression. On each of these tracks, Conklin arrogantly displays his prowess in multiple ways. I have my own personal favourite moments in each, but will provide only one for your immediate reference, considering that I'm listening to the song as I write: from 2:22 to 4:00 in 'Infinite Impossibilities'. Listen to that and hopefully you'll understand what I mean by my usage of the term 'texture' in this context.
Starting with the first track, Satan's Host make their intentions known with 'Cor Maleficis - Heart of Evil', which is a good example of the mix of styles that you will hear throughout this album (even though, strangely, is arguably the weak link on the album). They continue to display their musical versatility as the tracks stampede fowards, with 'Dichotomy' taking things to a more melodic, softer approach - but don't expect it to last too long; this is Satan's Host, after all, and not (Nina) Simone's Ghost. The interludes are well-placed after every 4 tracks to calm the raging seas caused by the sonic firestorm that has been your one focus up to that point. By the end of the album, with the title-track 'Virgin Sails', the voyage is coming to a close. As Satan's Host returns to the sandy shores of Hell, the waves are calming and the ferocity that follows these waves dissipates slightly with it, in a much slower, calmer illustration of the soundscape you've been enveloped by for the past 45 minutes. When the journey finally comes to a close, all you want is to set sail again... Who knows what you might find this time around?
Pros: Read the review. Also, more stuff that I didn't have the time to write about. Just listen to the album.
Cons: A couple of the solos are played so fast that they seem to slightly lose their sense of purpose, instead representing chaos.
I don't know any other bands that sound like this. So I'm just going to recommend more of this God damned band.
- If you want something slightly less serious, and maybe a little more theatrical, then I HIGHLY recommend 'Celebration: For The Love of Satan'. It is a re-master of their previously recorded material with The Tyrant on vocals.
- If you want something similarly 'serious', then 2011's 'By the Hands of the Devil' is almost as good as 'Virgin Sails'. Obviously also with The Tyrant on vocals.
- If you want more of The Tyrant on vocals... Ample Destruction by Jag Panzer is a heavy metal classic, and The Age of Mastery is also top quality.