VIRGIN STEELE — Guardians Of The Flame (review)

VIRGIN STEELE — Guardians Of The Flame album cover Album · 1983 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Oh, boy, do I remember this one. “The album Judas Priest should have made” was the critic’s quote about Virgin Steele’s debut in an ad promoting the new album in Circus Magazine. I was adventurous when it came to finding new metal bands and to liken a band to my heroes Judas Priest was like opening my wallet to the nearest record store to have this on cassette. The Canadian release, however, was different from the American one. First, it was called “Burn the Sun” and featured a plain red cover with the album title and band name branded on in black. My best friend picked up his secure purchase of a band he knew he liked while I took my experiment back to his place.

After listening to the single off the album my friend bought, we put in “Burn the Sun” and the album opened with the synthesizer heavy “Don’t Say Goodbye (Tonight)”. My friend burst into laughter. I asked him to skip to the next track as his stereo came with one of those features where you could skip tracks on cassette, and the piano chords of “A Cry in the Night” came up next. He laughed even more. Next track. This was “I am the One” which wasn’t included on the American release and opened with gentle acoustic guitar strumming. My friend was in tears by this time, laughing at me for having wasted my precious paper route earnings on this rubbish.

But it was I who had the last laugh. I refused to be beaten and took the cassette home where I listened to it front to back. I discovered that the gentle acoustic opening to “I am the One” was just an intro to one of the heavier and totally rock-out aggressive songs on the album. The title track of the Canadian release, “Burn the Sun” was definitely in the same league as Judas Priest. “Guardians of the Flame” was an epic metal track that had some unfortunate wild synthesizer solo but was otherwise very good. Other songs followed a more standard metal course along the lines of, say, Y&T but with a New York feel as opposed to the California outlook of Y&T. “Don’t Say Goodbye (Tonight)” did lean a little too much on the synthesizer for my taste but still it galloped along in a traditional 80’s metal flair. “A Cry in the Night” was a gentle piano ballad that was good enough but didn’t match some of the power ballads we were hearing in those days. Overall, I liked the album enough to buy the debut (also with different cover and track listing in Canada) and when “Noble Savage” came out I snickered at the irony of my best friend spending his hard-earned paper route earnings on it.

So, back in late 2011, I decided to track down this old classic and bring “Burn the Sun” and “I am the One” back to my music collection. The remastered disc includes all the original tracks from the American release, “Guardians of the Flame” (some of which I hadn’t heard) as well as the songs that were on Canada’s “Burn the Sun”. As it turns out, the more aggressive tracks had been saved for Canada! This disc also includes an interview with the band around the time of the album’s release and some bonus live tracks.

How does the album sound now? Admittedly, the recording quality is pretty poor, though not as bad as the first album. It was recorded in someone’s home studio, I think. “I am the One”, “Burn the Sun” and “Guardians of the Flame” still hold up like those old blues albums from the 1930’s hold up. Other songs like "Go Down Fighting" and "Metal City" sound pretty trite and cliche now. I can picture young headbangers in leopard skin-pattern spandex with feathered hair thinking this is the bomb, but these days it sounds really dated. Still, fun at the time. The other tracks are not bad but for me they are also forgettable.

Of course, this reissue includes the songs from the original American release and so there are some new tracks for me. "The Redeemer" is another longer track like the title track and could be said to be another example of early power metal. Of the previously unheard songs, this one makes an impression.

How do I feel about spending my hard-earned teaching money on this CD – imported from the US – now? It’s OK. I still love two of those old tracks and from time to time I’ll drop this in my iPhone and give it a listen. It is a perfect relic from those days when metal was making a comeback. It captures the boldness of making an album that was meant to nudge the boundaries of metal into new directions (power metal perhaps?) and the rawness of home studio recording. Jack Starr delivers on the guitar and David Defeis has his trademark high pitched vocals already in gear. It’s a fun album in a way.

So dust off your old denim vest with the Iron Maiden patch on the back, tie on a Motorhead headband, but forget about fitting into those paint-on tight jeans. This is 80’s metal on its way up from the underground. Welcome to “Metal City”.
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