Friday 16 March 2018

CD REVIEW / VIDEO - VIRTUE (Oxford, England NWOBHM) - We Stand To Fight CD reissue (1985/ 2003)

I remember Oxford being a strange city in the South of England (full of charvs and students paying for chips with cheques – the twats!) I certainly don’t remember it being a hotbed of blazing metal. Perhaps I arrived a little too late, but nonetheless Virtue’s ridiculously short compilation here presents some truly excellent heavy metal. Of course, by ’85 the NWOBHM well had almost dried up but Virtue gave us what has been identified as second generation NWOBHM. They were a young band – I suppose they aren’t any more thirty years can change a lot of things, but never mind that – and certainly they were influenced by Maiden and Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance as opposed to the first wave who primarily had Sabbath, Purple and 70s Priest as their guiding metal lights.

One of the main appeals of NWOBHM is its youthful, high energy nature and its innocence and this is why often bands don’t tend to age as gracefully or even have such a long run in terms of studio albums. Virtue definitely have these two qualities and yet they have that second generation sophistication that sets them apart from, say, the NWOBHM of the earlier 1980s. Somewhat surprisingly, there’s a sense of doom here; a sense that maybe the good days where coming to an end. Just check out the opening to ‘Fool’s Gold’, couldn’t that riff and those ominous tolling bells have fit on a Candlemass album? It’s as if the band knew that England was starting to fade as a metal superpower so they, ahem, stood and fought bravely with true heavy metal fury.

So basically, on what is the possibly the shortest compilation in my collection you get two excellent releases with no mess, no fuss and certainly no filler (isn’t it refreshing to have a compilation without eighteen barely listenable demos tacked on the end?). Which one comes out on top? Well, I couldn’t possibly decide so I’d have to say both! We Stand to Fight might feature the band’s anthem but Fool’s Gold has a classy melodic sheen and a more refined approach… ultimately they were on to a massive winner and it’s just a damn shame that they never managed to make a full-length.

Despite the generally similar formula to this comp – great vocals, great solos, great songs - there’s actually quite a bit of variation in terms of mood. Sometimes it’s verging on epic; ‘We Stand to Fight’ comes across as a fast-paced minature version of an epic and sometimes it has a more playful quality that works just as well on ‘Hideaway’. Either way, it all comes off splendidly and the band just make it such a fun listen with its memorable hooks, over-the-top solos (KK and Glen would be proud – as these young chaps also managed to ride on the wind) and Tudor Sheldon’s rough yet sonorous vocals.

Honestly, this isn’t really the kind of music that needs to be dissected and analysed in great depth. It’s fresh, energetic and gleefully played – as if the band had put together different bits and pieces from their NWOBHM forerunners and added their own dash of magic. Strangely, sometimes Virtue almost sound like a more modern metal band and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It’s not like these are clichéd or trite numbers delivered with a sly-winking glance like some more recent bands might ply (a band from 2010 with a name like "Night Witch" doesn't usually fill me with confidence). On the contrary this has that NWOBHM innocence combined with a more technical flair that reminds me of more modern bands; how sometimes they would combine a more heads-down traditional part with a more involved riffing style that’s informed by power metal. Virtue also did this… but they did it before power metal and with all the sincerity and vigour one could ask for. So, to conclude, if you’re going to buy one Virtue release – buy this one, it’s got all of their songs [score 88%]

Full album We Stand To Fight on YouTube:

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