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Nightmare Theatre
(High Roller Records)

We all know that the 1980s were the most interesting and influential decade of Metal music. So many great bands started their (often too short) careers, so many fantastic albums were released. The development of Metal was simply breath-taking, from the early days of the NWOBHM to the pioneering deeds of Death Metal at the end of that decade. Thus it is no wonder that a lot of bands from that era weren't recognized back then and got buried by time and dust until the Metal revival at the end of the 1990s. Another pretty obscure phenomenon of that era were the activities of the Canadian label Cobra Records, who released a few albums of fake bands. In some cases, VIRGIN STELLE were responsible for these activities, using left over studio time after the recording of “Noble Savage”. ORIGINAL SIN were nothing less than VIRGIN STEELE with female fake names and David DeFeis' sister on vocals, delivering some nice US Metal. And then there was EXORCIST. Asides from drummer Joey Ayvazian, who was replaced by Mark Edwards, this band was VIRGIN STEELE using pseudonyms and doing occult Speed Metal with a sinister atmosphere. They did so well that not only me still thinks that the only EXORCIST album “Nightmare Theatre” is the best VIRGIN STEELE album ever. These nine songs, connected by some intro pieces, were a combination of musical craftsmanship, composing skills and a feeling for spooky atmosphere. OK, there were some funny moments as well, since some of the interludes really made me grin, thanks to their comical style, intended or not. But as I said, asides from the absolute obscurity that surrounded EXORCIST from the very beginning, “Nightmare Theatre” was and still is a very good album. The sinister opener 'Black Mass' with its great, horror-movie styled choirs already pushed at an open door, 'Burnt Offerings' was a lesson in Speed Metal well learned, and 'Call For The Exorcist' still is a fantastic dark Metal song. A historical story full of horror and occultism, consisting of the driving 'Death By Bewitchment', the interlude 'The Trial', and hypnotic uptempo song 'Execution Of The Witches' and the outro 'Consuming Flames Of Redemption' were the great centrepiece of “Nightmare Theatre”. These songs dealt with the Salem Witch trials especially, even though the whole lyrical concept of the album was centred around witchcraft in old times. In the progression of the album, 'Queen Of The Dead' showed huge epic qualities (remember: VIRGIN STEELE at work!) and the gloomy and doomy 'Lucifer's Lament' ended a very homogeneous album that was pretty unique back then. Yet, it didn't gain that much attention at the time it was released and a lot of the later increasing interest in the album had to do with the obscure stories circling around EXORCIST. David DeFeis denied being responsible for “Nightmare Theatre” for years until the truth came to light. Despite its growing cult status, there never was any official re-release of the album. But this year 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of “Nightmare Theatre”, so David DeFeis and High Roller Records (who else?) teamed up for an ultimate re-release. And it's nothing less than a double-CD that features three versions of the album. The first disc finds a version entitled "The Father", that got re-mastered by Patrick Engel at Temple of Disharmony Studio, as well as "The Son", that was re-mastered by David DeFeis himself. Both versions are pretty careful re-masters of the original mix of the album and differ only in nuances, with the second one being a little more dynamic. In my opinion, one of these versions would have been sufficient, but that would not have fitted to the concept of the (un)holy trinity. And to my not that big surprise, the third version that's featured on disc 2 is named "The Unholy Spirit". This version is the most divergent of them three, since it was completely remixed and newly mastered by David DeFeis. The sources he used were the original multi-track tapes of the album. And I'm not sure whether he found lost sound tracks or used that trick of “mending” some tracks. But for sure we can now hear sounds that weren't there on the original album, be it effects, vocal tracks or bass lines that I never heard before. Thus the remix sounds a lot more powerful and diversified than the original mix. On the downside, the gloomy magic and the comfortable muddiness got lost a little bit. To me, the original version sounds better, but this might be just the effect of hearing “Nightmare Theatre” a lot over the past years. In my humble opinion, especially 'Black Mass', 'Call For The Exorcist' and 'Queen Of The Dead' lose some of their magic in this remixed version. And the new versions of the interludes are pretty unusual to the ear as well. Anyway, that third version of “Nightmare Theatre” is still not the end of the second disc, since any “good re-release” needs rare or unreleased bonus material. In this case, we have nine additional tracks. The first three are nothing less than Mr. DeFeis playing around with effects, especially 'Spin Your Head Around Backwards', that's full of backward masking and as superfluous as 'Malevolent Entities'. Then we have the so called "The Dark Magick Inscribed Suite". But that should better be re-named to “The Dark Rubbish Soaked Shit”, since this scrap must have been found deep in the trash can of VIRGIN STEELE, or in their folder of most awful sounding experiments that no one should ever hear under their real name. The cheapest and most sticky drum computer ever meets the worst riffs since the dark age, embedding eight minutes of pure boredom and second hand effects. This whisked shit pollutes the memory of EXORCIST and “Nightmare Theatre”! OK, let's get on with the alternate version of 'Queen Of The Dead' - who wants to hear that song with Mr. DeFeis' normal singing voice? No one, that's right! The same goes for 'Death By Bewitchment' with different vocals. And the boring sound effect dustbin 'Spin Your Head Around Backwards' won't get more bearable if it is “Take 666”. So, the bonus material is at least annoying (just like all the bonus material on the latest VIRGIN STEELE re-releases that has quickly been written and recorded by David DeFeis on its own in his private home studio - Frank), if not an attempt to drag the name EXORCIST through the dirt. In contrary to the usually very fine re-releases from Holy Roller Records, this double-CD is musically completely redundant. Making the original album available again would have been absolutely sufficient. Thankfully the new vinyl version of “Nightmare Theatre” seems to do just that. Check:

Thomas Meyer

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