Virgin Steele was somewhat caught in a minute funk (at least I think so) during 1988 and the album it heaved from the roaring womb of one of the most underrated bands of all time. I’ll be the first to tell you there’s no greater slab of human failure than the neglect of Virgin Steele; it’s actually embarrassing they were never standing among the Black Sabbaths and Iron Maidens of metal’s elite. Granted, there’ve been a few slips in their lengthy career, and “Age of Consent” might be one of those little goofs in a discography that otherwise reached pretty damn close to perfection. Glimmers of Virgin Steele’s expected glory shine through, yet there’s an unnamable inconsistency that the band seems to carry with them like a ghostly spirit that refuses to just drop the curse and leave.
And honestly, the sound of the album is Virgin Steele, just not at full creative strength. You should know the explosive voice of David DeFeis that lights the air ablaze as if he exhaled kerosene and ignited the metallic front on fire with vocal chords that shoot sparks by now; the epic riffing; and the fundamental traits of a stellar group crashing down on insipid ears, and if you don’t…well, you should, dick. Getting to the music, nothing hits the spot more than the monstrous cut of prime heavy metal that is “The Burning of Rome (Cry for Pompeii),” the album’s opener–at least on the reissue. It’s pretty much a total blast of fantastic riffs, melodies, and vocals condensed into a sensational piece of excellent, catchy metal, and it’s really no wonder the song has out lived most of its kinship and still captures the hearts of Virgin Steele fans everywhere.
The album declines in content as it progresses from this point, but there’s still no denying the unrelenting awesomeness of the speedy “Let it Roar” and the epic gallops of “Lion in Winter,” two songs that genuinely represent the phenomenal nature of DeFeis and crew. Things get a little hazy from here on out though, because the various reissues that were released after the original copy not only scrambled the tracklisting like Willy Wonka’s Wonkavision, but also dumped deposits of bonus material, most of which just blows to be frank. Three useless interludes are added along with two eight-minute mammoths which range from emotive and superb (“Perfect Mansions”) to a test of one’s patience (“Serpent’s Kiss”) in a blink of an eye, and there’s an average Judas Priest cover of “Desert Plains” to end this extra fluff too. The rest of the original album unfortunately trucks on in a rock-laden approach which inconsistency produces acceptable tunes. There’re a few goodies like “On the Wings of the Night” or “Tragedy,” but nothing in league of the album’s first half.
The armpit of the record is just that: an armpit. Virgin Steele for some reason included a handful of ghastly anthems between the occasional pitch of relevancy. “Cry Forever” makes me want to cry forever; they should’ve tossed that weak ballad on a b-side somewhere or a demo tape, never to be touched again. “We are Eternal” is a lame rocker that sucks the life out of Virgin Steele’s usually-impeccable atmosphere, and the Uriah Heep cover is probably the worst recording under the Virgin Steele banner; words cannot describe how much it sucks. And I don’t care what anyone says: “Seventeen” rules. I mean, everything controversial comes from this one tune: the lyrical affair regarding the porking of jailbait, the questionable album title, the sleazy hard rock, the chorus which repeats like a broken record…what's not to love? It essentially represents everything wrong and right with “Age of Consent,” albeit magnificently I might add. The lyrics are famous in their own right, mainly because Dateline NBC wasn’t too fond of Virgin Steele’s, uh, lyrical focus. Mr. DeFeis, please have a seat: I’m Chris Hanson and we’re doing an investigation about sexual predators…
Kidding, only kidding. Hey, I'm not disputing the level of immaturity displayed by the band, but as I said, "Seventeen" truly whips butt. Overall though I feel like "Age of Consent" sets the stage for what Virgin Steele would eventually accomplish, and that makes it remarkable in its own right. However, the only truly problematic quality of “Age of Consent” is its ceaseless irregularity after “Perfect Mansions," and the fact that there’re only a handful of significant tunes kind of makes it a bit of letdown. The vice of inconsistency was thankfully canned after this album, and soon they were riding the sky in the chariot of the gods. Here, Virgin Steele merely sits around and thinks about boning the passing jailbait. A utopia for some, but a fate not acceptable for Virgin Steele.