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Oh My God, He's Dead...HE'S DEAD! - 95%

TheKilla, June 29th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2016, 2CD, High Roller Records ("The Unholy Trinity" deluxe version)

Back in mid-to-late 1985, my group of 30 young and crazed metal head friends were in full swing of the underground Metal movement. Gone were the praises of any act that could get on radio or MTV, replaced with the worship of the heavier lesser-known acts at that time like Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, King Diamond, and Venom. To us, if it had a brutal or offensive front cover with music that matched, we were in. Soon the flood gates opened and numerous new bands came flowing through like Bathory, Possessed, and Exodus, and with each album the genre broaden & broadened, getting darker and more intense. Then one day through all this came an album that has stuck with me more than possibly all the others that came before it, with it's demonic sound and storytelling that today over thirty years later I scream it's praises. That album would be by an unknown "band" (read on) called Exorcist, and that album was called Nightmare Theatre. But strangely just what and how that album came to be might be more interesting (might, I say might) than the album itself....

Y'see back in the early to mid-80's was a lead singer/songwriter in New York by the name David Defeis. He was the leader of a small independent power metal band called Virgin Steele. Steele never grew to the heights of the bands I mentioned above, but consistently put out albums of great Power Metal in the vein of early Queensryche & Iron Maiden. However, after "borrowing" money from his manager to get the quality of the albums he and his band wanted to have, this manager started wanting some of that money back. Wanting to have his client "sing with the angels" rather than "sleep with the fishes", he proposed an idea, one that Defeis couldn't refuse: Write me some albums, find some musicians, record it quickly, and make me three albums I can sell on top of your stuff, all without knowing it's really you.

While artists pretending to be other artists weren't new (see The Monkees first two albums line-up of "real" musicians & songwriters), it was new to the world of metal. But Defeis, stuck in a rock-and-a-hard place, accepted the deal to pay off the debt. Joined by fellow Virgin Steele guitarist Edward Pursino, they set out to record three Metal albums in one month. That's right, one month. Each trying to be distinct, different, and definitely not of the Virgin Steele mode, they quickly went into the studio to create this music all under the pressure to get certain people off their backs.

The first record was by an already established band called Piledriver. Led by vocalist Gord Kirchin, Piledriver was in sort of a "Mentors" like style, macho men with no regard towards women's rights. The album "Stay Ugly" was written by Defeis and Pursino after hearing the first one called "Metal Inquisition" and trying to pick up where that album left off. Written and recorded in less than a week, Stay Ugly was eventually a moderate success, a good start to this charade, but the best was yet to come.

The second album was supposed to be a brand new project. This was supposed to be a black metal album in the vein of Venom & newcomers Bathory. Defeis was to write the material, hire musicians to join Pursino, and oversee & produce the project. Defeis, rasied on a story-telling Opera-like background decided that this album would have a concept: the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600's and the demonic possession that went along with it. However, when it came time to record his satanic opus, both the bass player and hired lead singer dropped out immediately due to their own Christian beliefs. Pressured by time, Defeis realized that at this point the only man left for the vocal job was himself. So he got behind the mic and quickly changed his natural three octave plus vocals into the voice from Hell. And in less than a week, another album was recorded, and this was Exorcist.

Strangely, what really gets me about this album is just how good it is in what little time it was created. Over the top evil vocals that growl in pain, guitar solos that blaze in fire, and even bass and drum parts that sound like a band that's been together playing this material for years, not the presence of Virgin Steele. In fact, it had something most albums of the era couldn't say, it was actually frightening, like a Hammer horror movie of the 70's. To anyone who has never heard it, imagine if say Mercyful Fate were "forced" to make an album like Venom. Or Maiden doing their best Bathory. In fact, a photo shoot was done for the "fake" band with four guys that were not on the album! All this, under the gun of making sure no one could recognize that it was really those guys from Steele. And trust me, they pulled it off. If this secret never came out, even I wouldn't have believed it was the same guys. Truly one of the strangest stories of 80's underground Metal, they created a "band" that after the project was done, hit the stores, sold well, and quickly disappeared with no one ever knowing that the band never really existed.

Sadly, and I do mean sadly, like many of the labels of that era, Cobra Records folded before the decade ended. Because of that, Nightmare Theatre never got a CD release (outside of a few bootlegs mastered from the vinyl). Over thirty-years passed, and just recently Defeis has come out to admit he was the one behind Exorcist. Lucky for all of us, when he handed over the masters to these three albums back in the 80's, he handed them mixed copies, keeping the tracked master to himself for one day maybe, maybe he'd release it again. Happily, in 2016 he decided it was the right time.

This two CD set, complete with slipcover, new liner-notes/photos, and what I'd never thought possible: lyrics, features not one, or two, but three different versions of the album, each slightly different than the rest. The first version is the original album I grew up with, remastered to today's standards, the second, a higher mix with a few slight additions, and a third where certain parts are extended, re-recorded, and additional eerie effects are added. As a whole it's a great presentation. Also are new "unearthed" Exorcist tracks, but in reality they are new tracks by Defeis recorded in the Exorcist vibe that finally let him be his Steele vocals self along with his "Damian Rath" dark half (for which he was credited as on the original album). These new tracks are interesting, including two re-records of "Death By Bewitchment" and "Queen Of The Dead", where he seems to be dueting with both halves of himself! Overall, this album, both the original and the new, is an 80's thrash/black metal masterpiece. I know I say this a lot, but for an album that I first heard in my mid-teens to affect me so much as this, I truly mean it. With it's unique concept & storytelling (almost two years before King Diamond's Abigail), terror-like interludes, and blistering Metal tracks that will stick in your head forever, Nightmare Theatre is one of my top twenty-five albums ever, yup ever.

Finally, I'd like to add that if Mr. Defeis ever reads this, I'd like to thank him. I know Virgin Steele is your baby, your bread & butter, but out of all your work you've done, nothing has stuck with me as Nightmare Theatre has. A truly original piece of concept-album music for an era of Metal that will never die. It still sounds as fresh and downright scary as it did in 1986. Your personal remaster was well done. Hopefully with this, a new generation of fans will discover it, making you realize that even great moments can come out of duress. As you as the small child at the ending of the album says "All thanks to the Exorcist, God Bless You." Thanks man....but did you have to make me wait thirty years????? (Just kidding).

Oh, and what about the "third" album I was talking about? That final project was called "Original Sin" and was supposed to be an all-girl band. A girl band performed & written by three guys and David's own sister on lead vocals! Sounding like a musical continuation of Nightmare, but with a gothic female lead, it in itself is it's own story. Thanks for reading, and thanks to the Exorcist!

Exorcist's theater of the macabre - 85%

Sigillum_Dei_Ameth, June 17th, 2011

General question: Do you enjoy a good campy horror movie? Because listening to Exorcist is the equivalent of watching an old styled Creature Feature on a Saturday Night when you have fuck all to do. I'm not going to go into obvious trivial facts such as how Exorcist is really Virgin Steele dealing with band/label drama, but more into the classic horror atmosphere this album gives out. It really does. I rarely hear metal albums that give out a good campy feel to their music; of course this was produced in the 80's so it's going to have a real Bona fied sense of fun mixed in with "Yeah we really are talented musicians who are putting out good music" seriousness to it.

Before I even go into describing the music, I just want to say something about the artwork; I love it. No, not like...'like' is more akin to some band you know about but their music isn't the best and holds no interest to you but you want to be courteous and give them some points even if their music sucks so you say "Oh yeah I like their artwork" I LOVE this album's artwork. It's almost like looking at the cover of some cruddy old, disintegrating VHS box cover in some random mom and pop video store that time somehow forgot where you can still also find and actually rent the original 80's big box version of Italian Horror movies. In fact the artwork almost has a striking similarity to 1981's "Night of Horror" with the plastic Halloween masks and slime dripping off them. Whatever, or whomever decided on the final artwork knew what they were doing; they were giving the listener some rather scrumptious eye candy.

The music....everyone has called Exorcist this and that from Speed Metal to Power Metal to even Black metal. Yes there are subtle hints of Black metal, but this music is about as far away from black metal as it gets; I don't even rank it anywhere near the first wave of black metal bands. Take the over-the-top humor of Piledriver, the theatrics of W.A.S.P., the occult/horror lyrics of Venom and the speed of early Destruction "Infernal Overkill" era and that's about as close as you're going to get. It's an odd amalgamation that works. Not only does the music draw-up everything that reeks about the 80's, but they even go for broke with half of the songs on here being 30 second 'intros' that resembles stories. Which again adds to the horror element of their music.

And that's it. It's disheartening because if you're like me and you really love this album you are still waiting for some rare demos to pop-up and be pressed onto CD from a label like Hell's headbangers. Forget it, jack; they only made one album. But for only one album it's more enjoyable, more campy, and more fun than a lot of other albums I own. If you want to pass-up this album for something more 'polished' and 'serious' than by all means go listen to the new Morbid Angel, but you are seriously denying yourself a fun album.

When the side band eclipses the primary in quality - 85%

autothrall, October 23rd, 2009

The sole album of this Virgin Steele project is, in my opinion, a prime example of when the side band eclipses the primary in quality. It's a shame that this was the only album officially released and we never got another, yet we've been buried in Virgin Steele albums over the years, only a few of which have ever been worthwhile. The fact that this material could have actually been a Steele album is amusing.

But this isn't about that other band, it's about Exorcist, the kick-ass one off. Unlike their alma mater, they let loose with a memorable album of filthy occult-laden speed/thrash metal. David Defeis vocals on this album, i.e. 'Damien Rath', are a killer cesspool channeling Lemmy and Chronos, and fit perfectly over the dirty speed metal licks of 'Marc Dorian', who is actually Edward of the legendary Piledriver. One might actually draw a decent comparison to that Canadian band, yet this album is a little faster and dare I say meaner. There are quite a few tracks here, 15 in total, and just about every one kicks ass. A few of them are intro pieces such as "The Invocation" and "The Hex", very campy vocal ritual chants but they fit in well with the occult theme of the record. But the rest are pure gold. "Lucifer's Lament" with its proto-death metal growls. "Execution of the Witches" with its creepy vocals and excellent riff during the verse. "Call for the Exorcist" makes a nice namesake track, one they could have played live and had everyone freaking out to. But there are no losers on the album, so just take your pick.

I have to re-iterate it's a shame this band didn't continue. They do deserve their place as cult legends alongside stuff like Possessed and Mercyful Fate, even though they had less output, it's clear this stuff had a healthy influence on the early death metal scene. I also note some parallels to the band Ghoul who I have recently covered. Similar masks on the cover of this album, the fact it was a side project and the band used alias stage names. Supposedly there were plans for a second Exorcist album that may have never seen the light of day. David Defeis, you know what to do. Finish it. Or just write a new one. This was amazing. The world could use more.


Emotional Primitive Occultism - 89%

CHRISTI_NS_ANITY8, May 17th, 2008

Virgin Steel playing early occult blackened thrash metal? Hell yeah! And what an album! This is something so weird that is even so difficult to image, also referring to the results…in 1985 Venom are at the top for their music and lots of group decided to embrace those sonorities that were fresh air in a continue musical evolution. Exorcist too took this road and decided to mix heavy metal, speed influences and horror music.

Useless to say how much I love these sonorities, when the production was perfect for the rituals in a desolated forest and the music was really something extreme for the period. We are not talking about the sheer, malevolent assault of an album like Seven Churches that was put out in the same year, but Exorcist’s music is always able to be scary and violent at the same time. Sometimes they reminded me a bit the very first Onslaught on their debut Power From Hell. The sounds are more or less the same as the way the music was played.

There are some scary intros between the songs and the music is based on Venom patterns with lots of the speed metal influences to result faster like in “Burnt Offering”. The solos are in pure early Slayer style, as the sound is very similar too. Furthermore, the vocals are really extreme for the period, on the borderline between early Sodom (but less screamed) and the classic Cronos’ rough tonality. During the slower songs like “Possessed” and “Black Mass”, the sulphur atmosphere grows and you can really imagine to take part to strange rituals.

During the horror atmosphere and the scary but melodic refrains, sometimes they are so similar to the Italian legends Death SS. Basically, the influences were the same: classic metal/doom music and horror influences. This album is one of those things that really capture the intensity and the atmosphere of those, forever gone, years where few things were enough to make a really obscure album that surely sounds more vicious and sincere than most of the black albums nowadays.

You can think that the titles of the songs were immature or childish. Maybe. But in that period were far ahead for this music, because it was a new think and from now on everybody would have been inspired by this image and lyrics. All in all, a must for any lover of this magic, dark sonorities that bring you back to the 80s, with nostalgia but with pleasure too.

Another fake band from cobra, sort of… - 81%

frozenshade, December 16th, 2004

Yet another band from cobra records with strange circumstances, this time more of a side project than an actual ‘fake’ band. Basically traditional/power metal musicians playing occult speed metal, a combination creating a sound like a mix of a tighter version of venom and a traditional metal band with satanic themes such as Tyrant (Us). Call it old school black metal, speed, blackened thrash, thrashing black speed, whatever. It’s excellent. The cover art really mislead me; it just doesn’t fit what is played here in my opinion. I think you will be able to tell if you will like this band or not just by looking at the band picture to tell the truth. It should give you a rough idea of what Exorcist is all about.

What’s good about this album is there is a lot of variety. The vocals change from song to song (especially in the first half of the album) and there are some interesting interludes to help give the album a theme and atmosphere. A couple of the intros are pretty worthless but there are a couple well composed and entertaining. It sounds like they were having too much fun with the different studio effects on vocals and went a little overboard with them. The songs are pretty similar in style but some are faster than others and the riffs are pretty memorable and catchy for the most part. I sense a slight downhill effect with this album where the first songs seem more memorable and thought out than the second half of the album, they are all great however.

I have no complaints on the production, the only problems to speak of are the vocals are mixed a little inconsistently, most notably in the song “Lucifer’s Lament” where they alternate from being too high in the mix to too low in the mix. For the most part everything is mixed rather well. The drums can sound like they are programmed at times, I don’t actually know if they are or not but if they are they are programmed very appropriately. The only thing that even made me think they are a drum machine was some of the fills, which can sound very electronic at times. The vocals change from song to song but mostly are a harsh yell, similar to venom. They are gruff yet decipherable. On the first song “Black Mass” they sound different from all the others, almost a growl even. This is one of the more impressive songs; it is unfortunate that the rest of the album doesn’t sound very much like it. The chorus has very clean vocals which don’t show up very much on the album, layered to give a gang vocals effect followed by some funny harmonizing going “Whoa-o-oh-oohh.” The song “Burnt Offerings” sounds like a cross between BFD era Bathory and Piledriver, not a big surprise considering these guys wrote material for Cobra Records and Piledriver. The rest of the album follows a similar style of mid paced speed metal with venomish vocals, interesting riffs, solos, and the occasional growl even. The themes of the album are occult, mostly dealing with things related to witches. The lyrics Sound really well written, especially when compared to the other ‘fake’ Cobra Records bands, namely Convict.

The better tracks on the album are “Black Mass,” “Burnt Offerings,” and “Lucifer’s Lament,” despite its strange vocal mix. Overall this is pretty consistent so every song is gratifying if you are in need of total black speed metal. I definitely recommend this for fans of Venom, Piledriver, and Bulldozer who are looking for more like them. Curious Virgin Steele fans should only bother if you can handle something harsher, and even then you probably want to give it a listen first before you purchase it. Unfortunately this is easier said then done, it may prove hard to find.

You like Venom? - 65%

UltraBoris, December 16th, 2002

You'll dig the fuck out of this... this is a bit more polished, but just about sounds like old Venom or Bathory, complete with some of the Satanic overtones and whatnot. There are a few little throwaway tracks, but in general this is a very solid album, thanks to the competent songwriting of none other than David DeFeis and Edward Pursino (Virgin Steele)! Yes, it's the Noble Savage lineup! Want more correlation? See "Call for the Exorcist". Now see "The Fire of Ecstasy" from House of Atreus II!

The best tracks are probably "Death by Bewitchment', "Black Mass", or "Burnt Offerings", all quality examples of speed metal... there is a bit of a theme running through the first ten tracks, that of a witch trial and execution by ... you guessed it, burning at the stake. Good stuff. It's not EXACTLY black metal, for all you purists out there, but it's still quite enjoyable.

The last 6 tracks seem to be unrelated, especially the guitar bit "Megawatt Mayhem". But musically they are similar, they are all good rough speed metal in the old Venom sense, though much more tight musically and generally catchier. Overall, this is highly recommended, though it is a bit hard to find. I think it was re-released as a pirate by Old Metal Records or one of those....