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Virgin Steele

Virgin Steele viert dit jaar haar 35-jarig jubileum. De band rondom vocalist David DeFeis heeft nooit de status van vele genre- en tijdperkgenoten gehaald, maar heeft de meeste al overleefd, heeft nooit opgegeven en gaat nog altijd sterk door het leven. In de underground een legendarische status en behoort ongetwijfeld tot één van de meest creatieve en ingenieuze bands die het metalen wereld ooit heeft gekend. De band is daarnaast verantwoordelijk geweest voor één van de mooiste, meest complete en meest epische metal opera’s ’The House Of Atreus’ die in 1999/2000 het levenslicht zag en bewees dat Virgin Steele altijd zijn tijd vooruit is geweest. De albums waren al een lange tijd zeer moeilijk verkrijgbaar, maar werden onlangs opnieuw uitgebracht. Dat, en het 35ste jubileum gaf ons genoeg reden om zanger/boegbeeld DeFeis weer eens lastig te vallen voor een (traditiegetrouw gezellig) babbeltje.

Door: Nima | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

Hello David, it’s has been a while. The last time we talked was actually for ‘The Black Light Bacchanalia’ album! A lot has been going on since then, but first of all congratulations on 35 years of Virgin Steele!
Thank you very much. Well yeah, of course any life, any career and anything has its ups and downs. But I try to look at it as a whole and remember every bit of it: the good, the band and the ugly. The struggles that were in our way made it interesting but the rewards for all of that were the good times. You have to go through all of that in order to keep moving. To be honest it feels like it has just only begun, and not at all that it’s been such a long time. We’re still trying to take on the world and keep creating new material. The creative source is still far from done and we are constantly coming up with new ideas and new pieces of music. I’m still pretty much into it.

And has your attitude towards the whole thing changed over the years, especially when you compare Virgin Steele anno 2016 to the early 80s when you started with the band?
Well, as you get older some things change of course, but in general my attitude is pretty much the same. You know, I never got into it for certain reasons that a lot of people did. I never set out to be the most famous band or the most famous person on the planet. I was trying to create a way of life that worked for myself and the other member of the group, and that would keep us going in creating and friendship and a life together. And that’s what we’ve done and we’re still doing. So that’s still the same. The music has always come first and we do the best that we can and document the moment that we are living. With each album we try to represent who we are at that moment and say something about the world, our place in it and where we’re going.

Let’s talk a bit about the ‘Nocturnes Of Hellfire And Damnation’ album if you don’t mind. In my opinion that is a really interesting album, a little bit different than ‘The Black Light Bacchanalia’ and a very divers album, but in general also quite complex. But all in all I think it’s also an anthology of everything Virgin Steele has done and stood for over the years, with new elements…
Thank you very much for this compliment and believing in the record. And yes, we did indeed try to bring forth and combine all the different sides and elements that we have done musically, and I think that’s why the album is so strong, and also such a long record. We had 29 songs for that album, which was initially meant to be released as one whole. I unfortunately didn’t know that the digipack edition, which contained all the songs, was only the limited edition. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people have missed out on the second disc and everything that went in there. But even the one-disc version is quite diverse and there is a lot of different sides on there. But when you kick in the second part then you see even more colours of the rainbow, so to speak, and hear where we were going and where will go. But that album had to be made; it’s all inside you and you have to get it out somehow, and my idea was to release it as one giant swoop, and then move to the next era and the next albums, which we are working on right now. I can tell you that the next record will probably be more along the line of the more classical heavy metal thing and ‘The House Of Atreus’. I think that’s what’s going to happen. But as you probably know, with us it could go anywhere. But at the moment there are two records written and another one being written, so anything could happen. We’re always in the studio and always recording, so it’s a question of what will be finished first.

band imageSpeaking of ‘The House Of Atreus’, I must say that I’m very happy that those albums are finally re-release. The original albums were quite hard to come by nowadays, especially ‘Act I’. But anyway, back when the albums were released the whole metal opera thing was gaining popularity, also thanks to bands like Rhapsody, Kamelot, Edguy, etc., but you came with a completely different approach and took it to the extreme. Although the albums were received well in general, in my opinion they were still a bit underrated at the time…
I think that’s possible. I think some people got it right away, and that’s always gratifying when that happens. But a lot of people didn’t get it right away and maybe it took them a couple of years to really get into it. There were a lot of things on there that… I remember doing the opera-thing in Europe and also did a face-to-face promotional tour at the time, and there were some people that were confused by the instrumental sections. So I had to explain that the idea of this record was an opera and that the instrumental parts also represented the characters and their emotions and where the music is going. And if you had seen the work on stage and the theatrical presentation we did in Germany, then it would have made sense to those people, I suppose. But I personally grew up with that kind of thing and am used to it, so to me it wasn’t at all confusing or boring or whatever. And I didn’t want to leave those pieces out and wanted to make the album more operatic and fusing more of that classical side with the metal side, and that was the result. Some people liked the first part more, and some were more into ‘Act II’, but it’s actually one story. So, I’m very happy and pleased that it is now out as a whole. So if you haven’t heard the albums back then you have it all there together and can experience the whole thing in one go. But yeah, it was quite a lot of music there that took a while for some people to catch onto it. But I’m excited that some people will experience it for the first time.

How do you look back on the whole ‘The House Atreus’ experience altogether, and of course the theatrical presentation? And more importantly, do you there is a possibility to do the opera live again at some point?
I would not mind at all putting it together as a complete show and going out with it. I’d enjoy that very much, and I know that the other guys are into it as well, ‘cause they also love the record. So that would always be a possibility. I also would like to see another theater company to take it on with actors and so on and so forth and do a production of it. I’d like to see it take a more theatrical presentation like for example ‘Rock Of Ages’ or ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ type of thing at some point. But having done it at least once was a really amazing, and then we did the second opera based on ‘The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell’ and ‘Invictus’ saga, and then the ‘Visions Of Eden’ and the ‘Bacchanalia’ sagas, which was great as well. So anything is possible and I keep the door open for whatever. I enjoy that incredible moment in time when we first did it on the stage and also when we first recorded it as an album. It was a very creative and a magical album in our history and also for me personally.

Continuing on the reissue campaign, I’m not sure if the ‘Hymns To Victory’ and ‘The Book Of Burning’ albums will be re-released, but if not the ‘Visions Of Eden’ would be the next in line. I remember that you mentioned that some people put the album down because of the production and the fact that the guitars were not that present in the mix, and that if you would ever reissue that record, you might consider putting the guitars more up front… And now that the time is almost there I personally wonder whether or not that would work out well, because that would create a whole different album!
I’m not sure if we would do the ‘Hymns To Victory’ and ‘The Book Of Burning’ albums but I have briefly talked about it with our label and we might do it as a box-set. I did this thing called ‘Ghost Harvest’; it’s like half cover things of the songs we like, plus live tracks, plus some new tracks. So it would be great to put those record out with this as a bonus, but we’ll see. As far as ‘Visions Of Eden’ goes, well, of course, every time you change the mix you also change the mood of the record. I do have quite a bit of other material that I could put on there, because I wrote so much and we only used so much of it for the album and also for the stage presentation. But there is more material and there is some really massive instrumental things that are very heavy; more in the style of ‘Conan The Barbarian’ heavy-duty classical music. Those could be added to the record. Furthermore I would like to do it as a special edition release as ‘Revisions Of Eden’, where you have the original record in its entirety, re-mastered. And then I would remix some of the record, if not all of it, and we sequence it with some of the tracks that I wrote during that period. So that’s kind of a dream of mine that I actually discussed with SPV, and if they are also interested then I would be happy to do it.

As some of the older fans and the diehards might know, in the mid-80s a few members of Virgin Steele, along with David a.k.a. “Damien Rath”, were also involved in a project called Exorcist and released only one record in 1986, called ‘Nightmare Theater’. During the years ‘Nightmare Theater’ became a very sought-after record. And last month that album was finally reissued as well…

Well David, along with the Virgin Steel reissues we also, finally, have a reissue of ‘Nightmare Theater…’
Haha, yes, that’s true! That was a lot of fun to do. I really had a great time resurrecting that album and that’s very special. Along with the vinyl version there are going to be three different CD-version, haha: ‘The Father’, ‘The Son’ and ‘The Unholy Spirit’ versions. ‘The Father’ is re-mastered by Patrick Engel, and the ‘The Son’ by myself here at my studio. ‘The Unholy Spirit’ is completely remixed and re-mastered here in my studio, straight from the original multi-track tapes. All with bonus material and different takes that I had from that period… a lot of interesting stuff. So if you’re into that record you will definitely like the reissues.

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Having gotten deeper into that material again, do you think you would consider doing anything like that again… or maybe even also the Original Sin (a band with David’s sister Danae, with which he was also involved) stuff…?
I actually wouldn’t mind at all doing things like that again. I even sometimes want to write something in the style and make another Exorcist record. But then I’m writing stuff and then it’s like, naah, this is more Virgin Steele, haha. Actually, ‘Nightmare Theater’ would have been the next album if we had worked some of the ideas out fully. That was kind of meant to be an “album in between albums”, as a heavy passage between ‘Noble Savage’ and ‘Age Of Consent’. And I kind of wish that we had done that. But then again the Exorcist thing was very cool and took its own interesting life. Some people eve say that it’s one of the cornerstones of black metal, so that’s cool. And we really like those songs and that’s why we did some of them for the ‘Nocturnes…’ album. Like for example Edward and I were jamming on ‘Queen Of The Dead’ and I said “Let’s do it, let’s do another version of it the way we would approach it now”, and that’s what we did on that. Also ‘Black Sun, Black Mass’, which was originally Exorcist’s ‘Black Mass’. So that was a cool thing to do and also very gratifying. And while we’re on the subject and on that period: I’m actually remixing the Original Sin album at the moment, so that’s gonna come out next, haha.

And if I’m not mistaking you are still doing shows with you other band, Carnival Of Souls, and you still have the old Exorcist songs in the set…
Yes, that’s correct. Sometimes we do those shows and we have indeed performed some Exorcist songs. Over the years we also re-wrote and re-recorded some of the Original Sin tracks, like ‘Conjuration of the Watcher’ that I added that whole crazy classical section and put that on ‘The Book Of Burning’. And we did ‘Succubus’ that was originally an Original Sin track and some other along the way that ended up as bonus material. So yeah, we also like that other side, that thrashy side, so it’s kind of nice to live in that skin now and again.

Speaking of live shows, with Virgin Steele you haven’t been that active on the live front in the last couple of years…
That’s unfortunately right. You know we have been recording and releasing so much and this whole reissue campaign with all these bonus material and extra tracks have been so demanding. Also the personal lives of the people in the band has changed over the year, which doesn’t always make it easy to be away from home for a while. But now we are getting back into it and there will be more live activities coming, for sure. The whole package actually, both the electric and the acoustic stuff. And speaking of Carnival Of Souls; there was a keyboard player in that band that I also do kind of a duel-version of that with, just keyboards and vocals. And we have a three-hour set that we play. We have done some shows here in the States and we eventually want to bring it over to Europe.

And what about the live CD/DVD that we’ve been talking about for almost a decade now..?
Well, you know, I have all the footage and it’s all boxed-up. I’m looking at it right now and it’s a matter of converting it into something that can be edited and used when I have the time. I also have a gentlemen in Germany who wants to be involved with that together with me. So it will happen eventually, but I just need to have the time because it’s a very time-, labour-, and brain-consuming process. It’s something that I really want to do, as it will be like a jewel on the crown… at least for me.

Also out of personal interest, when the time comes, do you think it could be possible to add the footage from the ‘Tales Of The Snakeskin Voodoo Man’ (video from 1992) as a bonus?
Oh that would be definitely in there along with the DVD. There is also more footage from that era, so that would fit very well. And we are also recording footage all the time, so there will be a lot of behind the scenes and homemade footage along with the whole package. So we are not sitting around waiting for lightning to strike or whatever, we are constantly doing stuff.

With Virgin Steel you have been going strong for 35 years now and although you may not release new material that often, when it has the name Virgin Steel on it we always know what to expect and that it’s going to be high-quality. Now this may sound as a strange question, but after 35 years do you think you can put all of your creativity into Virgin Steele or do you also feel the need to do something different?
Well I never felt restrained by the name Virgin Steele and what I could put in there. But I think that at some point in time there is a possibility to do something else under a different group name, or my name, just for the hell of it. I don’t know… but at the moment we have everything from the classical side, the metal side, the thrash side and even the blues side on all over these records. So I don’t think that will be doing something so alien that it would not fit into the Virgin Steel picture. But if I do, I guess it’s better to do it under a different name.

I think, even on the first two records, Virgin Steele has always been quite a peculiar band, and over the years you have always done what you have done, you know? And I sometimes think that some people never really took the time to get to know and to see what this band is all about, and especially since the ‘Noble Savage’ one. And of course your music have been more and more demanding over the years. I always think that Virgin Steele has still not fully gotten the recognition it deserves…
Thank you very much. I think part of it is indeed that some of it went over people’s heads, and the other part of it is also that we never actively seek to be the most famous band on the planet. So we could have made certain choices that could have brought us more attention along the way, but we didn’t do that and neither wanted to do that as it is not who we really are. It is what it is. Still today we can be better-known if we do certain things in a certain way, but we’re not into playing that same of game. Like you said: we just do what we do and if people catch on, then that’s great, and if they don’t, maybe in a couple of years, in another way, another life…

Well David, I think I’m out of questions for now, so unless of course there is nothing you’d like to add, I guess we can call it a night…
I just want to say thank you for the pleasant conversation, your support and belief in us over the years and I hope your readers will enjoy this interview as well. And for the rest, we’re just gonna keep going, the next album is being made and as I said it looks like it’s going to be more straightforward and thrashier, but also more in the line of ‘Atreus…’, and we’ll see what happens next. Thank you!

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