Yes. It is finally happening. EXORCIST’s one and only legendary cult classic "Nightmare Theatre" is being officialy reissued. As it’s hard to keep up to date with all the rumors and legends about this album, I decided to discuss them with the man behind EXORCIST, Mr. Damian Rath, better known to the Metal world as David DeFeis, vocalist and brain of the – even more legendary – New York based band, VIRGIN STEELE. David was also kind enough to answer a few questions about other projects he was involved in, such as the ORIGINAL SIN album, or the second PILEDRIVER album "Stay Ugly". So, Metal maniacs of the world – enjoy this interview, and let’s hope we will hear something new from EXORCIST in the future!
The very first official reissue of the "Nightmare Theatre" LP will finally see the light of day in May of this year. Why did it take so long? I know you were receiving offers to reissue this album for at least 20 years…
"For the past 5 years or so I had been receiving on average about 3 offers a month for the album, so I was aware of the interest, but there was never really time to prepare the album properly and think about how it could be resurrected until now. I was always too busy with one project or another or concerts or something else these past several years, but after completing VIRGIN STEELE’s very large 29 song "Nocturnes Of Hellfire & Damnation" album, there was finally a window of opportunity. I felt that if I was going to do it, I wanted it to be extra special, not something like another bootleg, but something that captured the spirit of that time and place and shed a new dark light on it."
The reissue will be available as a limited edition LP, and as a double CD. Let’s start with the LP. Will that be exactly the same material like this one released in 1986, or will it be a re-mastered or remixed version? I’m asking as the truth is the original LP sounds really amazing, and it’s hard to imagine anyone could do anything better there!
"The vinyl LP has been re-mastered and there is one bonus track on it, called ‘Spin Your Head Around Backwards’. The re-masters faithfully capture the attitude of the original pressing, while presenting a bit more punch in the mid-range section. The overall clarity has improved. I think it is all there and more.The bonus track is very over the top and encapsulates the entire mood of the album in five minutes and one second. It is music to remove one’s one head to! And it sounds like a demonic radio advert for the Indianapolis 500 car race. I’m quite fond of that one, and I really enjoyed creating it."
The CD version of the album will include 3 different mixes of the entire thing. You called them "The Father", "The Son" and "The Unholy Spirit". I was skeptical about this idea, until I heard all these versions: each one of them reveal something different, it’s basically like watching the same movie, but directed by someone else. Did you do all these three mixes yourself?
"Version 1, "The Father" was re-mastered by Patrick Engel at Temple Of Disharmony studio. Version 2 "The Son" was re-mastered by me at my studio, and version 3, "The Unholy Spirit", was completely remixed and mastered here in my studio by me from the original multi-track tapes. Yes, I agree each version brings out different colors or details, especially the re-mixed version 3 "The Unholy Sprit", as that afforded the most freedom to do that with. Version 3 also contains the most bonus material."
I didn’t catch all the nuances yet, so tell me please: are there any alterations in the tracks, except the mix, which already make them all sound different? I noticed that some vocal lines are different, but are there also different lyrics, different riffs or different drum patterns?
"Regarding version 3, "The Unholy Sprit" version there are tons of different things happening everywhere. Different solos, some different vocal bits including the occasional different lyric or vocal adlib, and yes a few different drum and bass bits. Version 2 "The Son" was re-mastered from some different mixes than what is on version 1, so there are some extra demonic bits in tracks like ‘The Invocation’ or the end of ‘Black Mass’ for example, also ‘The Banishment’ and ‘Consuming Flames Of Redemption’ are longer and somewhat different. The most noticeable thing between "The Son" version and "The Father" version is that "The Son" is beefier, louder and a bit more aggressive sonically. But in terms of different bits… Version 3 "The Unholy Spirit" is by far the most different because all those tracks were re-mixed, not simply re-mastered, so there was more material to draw from."
Are these original mixes you had in your archives since the ’80s, or is it something recent?
"Everything was re-mastered fresh for this re-issue, and all the re-mixes on version 3 are all completely new as well. Everything was completed and finalized over these past few months. In going through the multi-track tapes for the remix process I discovered that I had done a few different types of vocals for some of the tracks and thought it might be interesting to include some of that here and there. Plus I was able to bring out different characters in the drums, bass and guitars and also in those interlude pieces."
The double CD will also include several bonus tracks, which didn’t land on the original album. Can you say a few words about them?
"Sure. In addition to ‘Spin Your Head Around Backwards’, we have ‘Malevolent Entities’, which is a psychotic demonic possession type track featuring bizarre piano and a possessed individual being eaten alive both physically and psychically. There is a 3 Part Suite called ‘The Dark Magick Inscribed Suite (A Poem In 3 Parts)’. This features the tracks: ‘Spiked Vengeance’ which is a fast thrashing type track with maniacal fills, and this segues into ‘Spellcraft’ which is a kind of ethereal movie soundtrack type of piece, and is the centerpiece of this work. I wrote the lyrics or poem to all three parts first and then immediately began writing the music. ‘Spellcraft’ is further divided into various "scenes" to suggest the movie or film-score idea. This one is largely about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and even though it is largely an atmospheric piece it still manages to include a frantic bass solo section. ‘Spellcraft’ segues into Part 3’s ‘Malefic Wine (A Dark Magick Reprise)’. This one is a reprise of the song ‘Spiked Vengeance’. It was completely re-recorded, all different performances, and is a different idea or reaction to how the first song is presented. The madness… or the spirits come home to roost… which is why there is that reprise. In keeping with the lyrical themes of the original record, these tracks reinforce the idea of psychic attack and the use of various types of evil spells. What is rather interesting about this re-issue which in addition to everything else really sets it apart as not another bootleg, is that due to the new mastering and especially in the re-mixed version, you can hear more of the lyrics, and… you can now read the lyrics. For years most people had no idea what was sung or howled… so that is a pretty cool feature. But anyway let me continue talking about the bonus tracks…The tracks ‘In The Name Of The Father’, ‘In The Name Of The Son’ and ‘The Unholy Spirit’, are meant to be short introductions or chapter markers to set the mood for all that is to follow and to differentiate the 3 different versions. They are atmospheric bits that again set tone and mood. The entire work as you suggested earlier is meant to appear like a movie. The track ‘It Is Finished…’ signifies that the album is over… Yet it is not… as that one actually introduces all the extra, extra bonus material. We have ‘Spin Your Head Around Back Wards (Take 666)’, which is an even more insane version of the song, featuring an extended beginning with demons, and crazy guitar bits and a short drum solo. And last but not least as I mentioned before, when going through the multi-tracks I found different vocal performances of some of the songs. These were essentially the guide vocals that I had done while we were laying down the music. Sometimes I am using more of my "normal" voice on them, so they give somewhat of a glimpse or an idea of what might have become of these songs had we saved these tracks for the follow up to VIRGIN STEELE’s "Noble Savage" album. I am talking about the songs ‘Queen Of The Dead’ (Alternate Vox Version) and ‘Death By Bewitchment’ (Alternate Vox Version). You can pretty much easily tell that it is me screaming away there."
Let’s move back in time a little bit. EXORCIST has never been a real full time band, but a studio project you did right after recording "Noble Savage" with VIRGIN STEELE. What’s the real story: that you did it all for fun, or you wanted to generate some cash to pay off an old VIRGIN STEELE manager (I heard such story many years ago)?
"All of the above and then some… We definitely had fun doing it! But yes also there were some monetary concerns. According to our manager, apparently we had incurred a fair amount of debt at that time, and we were told that there could be a way to excuse or satisfy this debt. He said that if we created some works he would forgive such debt. At that time, we were famous for renting cars and getting them towed away, consuming large amounts of sake and racking up red wine bills… and all such manner of excess… So both Edward and I agreed to write some material for several projects in order to free up the VIRGIN STEELE account."
How do you remember the recording session of "Nightmare Theatre"? Was it hard to switch to this totally different way of singing? Wasn’t your throat bleeding at the end of the day?
"Yes, I remember everything with great clarity and detail! We recorded everything live in the studio with all of us playing together. After we recorded all the tracks I then went back in and re-sang all the songs straight away once again after the music was laid down. I did this because I felt that what I sang during the initial tracking was too "normal" or too much like my usual singing voice for the record, and also because on some of the tracks there was too much guitar bleeding into the vocal track, because I was often standing right next to Edward’s guitar amp while conducting the group and doing the guide vocals, and his amp was incredibly loud during the tracking. I came up with that style of singing on the spot because I had to. I was not originally supposed to sing on the album. A gentleman named Sal Gibson (not his real name), who played the bass guitar on the second PILEDRIVER album “Stay Ugly”, was supposed to be the vocalist. I had given him a cassette with my singing, for him to learn the songs, but the day before we were scheduled to go into the studio, he came by my place and said that he couldn’t do it… He had had some kind of epiphany and thought that it was too satanic or demonic or some such thing for him to do. So… Since I already knew the songs and I was already rehearsing with the group, it made sense that I do it. The manager we had at the time was adamant that the vocals should not be recognizable as me, so I invented a new approach. My thought was to somehow conjure up the combination of the sound or the spirit of a pirate, Lemmy, and a Ghoul or the Crypt-keeper which consisted of me wailing like a burning warlock or witch and howling into the mic with a beer can in front of my face. No I was vocally OK at the end of the day, because as long as it takes to hear the album was about how long it took to record the album… it went very fast."
Is that true you recorded and mixed everything in just three days?
"Yes. It was more like two and a half days. We did all the music and vocals the first day and then on day two, we did any additional solos that needed to be done, and then we began mixing. Between day 2 and 3 we finished up whatever mixing was needed to be done, and I also did all those interlude pieces on day 2 and 3… things like ‘The Trial’, ‘The Hex’, etc. We were very well rehearsed going in to do the album. I think we did about 3 weeks of solid rehearsals. Therefore the tracking went very fast. There was another late night session for another band scheduled in the studio that last evening that is why I say it was more like two and a half days, as we had to be out of there because if I remember correctly there was a kind of Glam Rock band coming in that needed the room to work on their album. We were fine with it… we were done. Everything came together we finished and went off to a night of roaring in the Rock Clubs!"
And what about the cover artwork: was it something planned and you had the whole concept in your head, or was it made spontaneously?
"That was the idea of an artist friend. We wanted something that represented what we looked like and felt like at the time… And that was it…"
The album was originally released on Cobra Records. How did you land in their roster?
"That had to do with the management we had at the time."
You were able to keep the secret who is who in EXORCIST for many, many years, actually first rumors started to pop out somewhere in the ’90s. But my question is, why did you actually want to keep it in secret? Maybe you have a different opinion, but if I would record an album like that, I would be telling about it left and right, and I would be very proud…!
"Let me be clear, it isn’t VIRGIN STEELE in its entirety as many people think it is. Yes, I am on there and so is Edward for sure… We weren’t really all that secretive about it right away. We did the album and then basically forgot about it and carried on with life in VIRGIN STEELE and elsewhere… We started touring more and were busy with recording other albums. But once we realized that it had started developing this mystique we decided to leave it at that. Sure we were proud of it and we still are, but I think also at the time we might have been hesitant because we didn’t want people to think that we were jumping on any kind of Thrash bandwagon, because that was definitely not the case at all. If you listen to VIRGIN STEELE you can hear that we always had an interest in that type of thing, from the atmospheric demonic section of ‘Angel Of Light’, to songs like ‘Fight Tooth And Nail’, and all the later things we did like ‘Invictus’, etc."
And when did you realize that "Nightmare Theatre" became a Metal classic?
"That was much more recent… Probably within the past 10 years or so. While I did realize that it was a cult classic, fairly early on, I wasn’t really aware of the real deep devotion that people had to it until actually much later on. In truth "Nightmare Theatre" didn’t receive as much love back then when it was first released, as it does now."
Let’s stay in 1986 a bit longer… You did one more album that year, with another phantom-like band, named ORIGINAL SIN. How has this project started?
"We actually did that album a week later. The "Nightmare Theatre" album was recorded on January 19th, 20th and part of the 21st, and we went back in to do the ORIGINAL SIN album on January 25th, 1986. We had been rehearsing both albums at the same time. The ORIGINAL SIN album was made for the same reasons I explained regarding the making of the EXORCIST "Nightmare Theatre" album. We also did the second PILEDRIVER album "Stay Ugly" as part of that agreement."
The vocals on the ORIGINAL SIN album were recorded by your sister, Danae. If I remember correctly, she is an opera singer? Was it hard to convince her to sing this kind of music?
"No, Danae is not an Opera singer. Danae is a Rock singer. My other sister Doreen is the Opera singer. I gave Danae a tape of me singing the tracks and she learned the songs that way. We took her into the studio and she did all the vocals in one evening. It was the same scenario as making the EXORCIST album. Do all the music first live with me doing the guide vocals on day 1, then on day 2 we brought Danae in and did whatever background vocals were needed and solos or weird bits and then we mixed it all later that night. I recall that we did the vocals on that album the day that the Challenger Space Shuttle blew up… Danae loves to sing so she was cool with the style, the lyrics and all. She still enjoys the album."
You were very busy in 1986, as except producing and recording keyboards for the BURNING STARR album "No Turning Back!", you also produced the second PILEDRIVER album, "Stay Ugly", for which you also recorded some vocals – and for which Ed from VIRGIN STEELE, with whom you also did the EXORCIST and ORIGINAL SIN albums, recorded all the guitar tracks. How did it happen you were involved in doing this album?
"Again that was the arrangement to free up the VS accounts… Edward and I wrote the "Stay Ugly" album, and we recorded that one with my friend Rob Esposito on drums, (called The Hammer on the LP), and our friend Sal Gibson (not his real name) on bass. His real name is Mike Paccione. We did all the music again on day 1 and on day 2 we flew in Gordon "The Piledriver". He did all his vocals in a few hours and we took him back to the airport and he flew home to Canada, and we then returned to the studio. I remember that we melted the tubes in the Marshall heads that we were using during the recording… Everything was on 11, 12 or 13!"
So let’s sum it up. In 1986 you recorded and/or produced albums from BURNING STARR, ORIGINAL SIN, EXORCIST and PILEDRIVER. Did I miss something?
"I believe I also assisted with the mix on the DAMIEN THORNE "Sign Of The Jackal" LP that year or at least around that time. I also did an EP for a guitar player named Mark Dennaro that turned out really well and featured my friend John Blaze from SWIFT KICK on vocals. I got him that gig for Dennaro. I also did a really excellent sounding demo for a band called FOXX that featured EXORCIST’s Geoff Fontaine on drums."
So I missed something (laugh). Well, look: you re-recorded five of the ORIGINAL SIN songs with VIRGIN STEELE, and if we will put away 2 songs that were short instrumental solos, it means we have just 3 songs left. Didn’t you think about releasing separate VIRGIN STEELE album with the entire "Sin Will Find You Out" LP being re-recorded?
"No, we never thought of doing it that way… We just decided now and again to pull some songs that we particularly enjoyed from there and re-wrote or re-worked them in some way. I especially like how ‘Conjuration Of The Watcher’ with that new orchestral middle section turned out… But all were enjoyable to re-do and to be a part of."
As the "Nightmare Theatre" is finally coming out, when can we expect to hear and see the ORIGINAL SIN album reissue?
"I believe that the High Roller Records label is interested in doing that. I’m looking forward to diving into that one as well as soon as possible!"
And do you have any unreleased ORIGINAL SIN recordings in your archives?
"There are some tracks…"
Awesome! By the way, I always wanted to ask you this question: were you, or are you a fan of the Hammer Films and Amicus film productions? ‘To The Devil A Daughter’, except being the title of one of the ORIGINAL SIN songs, is also a title of one of the classic Hammer movies. Were the lyrics inspired by this movie?
"I am a fan of all things horror, so yes. But that song wasn’t particularly inspired by that movie. That song came about because the original title for both the album and the name of the group was supposed to be SATAN’S DAUGHTERS. I had this whole concept based around that idea. So the song made sense as their birth song. The powers that be at the time thought this was way too over the top… So it was changed to ORIGINAL SIN."
Let’s go back to EXORCIST. You keep on playing occasional shows with Ed Pursino (aka Marc Dorian in EXORCIST) and Mark Edwards (aka Geoff Fontaine in EXORCIST) as the CARNIVAL OF SOULS. I know you keep on playing a bunch of cover songs, but also some EXORCIST songs. Do you think it may actually happen that you will do some shows as EXORCIST…?
"I would like to do it if we could do a proper production…a real theatrical event, not just a concert. I want to do the full Black Mass and everything…"