Virgin Steele 1
Guardians Of The Flame
David Defeis has been burning the flame of Long Island quartet Virgin Steele for over twenty years now. He has endured law suites, line up changes and very lean times - still he believed in his chosen art form and has seen it rise as one of the greatest metal cult bands of the last two decades. The reissuing of the first two fundamental albums, the self-titled "Virgin Steele" and "Guardians Of The Flame" have been a long overdue. Negotiations with labels have toyed with the record's release for some ten years so it was with tremendous, possibly overwhelming, response that fans greeted the release of these two reissues.
When the laser first hit the disc thoughts over twenty years old filled the room. The booklet fell to the floor. Picking it up and after looking through the extensive pages the true history of Virgin Steele slowly unfolded. Stunning pictures accompany extensive liner note penned by Defeis himself detailing those first struggling years of a band that believed they could conquer the world.
It began by scrapping together all the money they had. The band, including French-born guitarist Jack Starr rented a small studio for a week to record their self-titled debut. They self-pressed hundreds of vinyl records sending them to larger record companies and selling them out of the trunk of Dave's car and at live shows. Signing to Music For Nations in 1982 they became the labels first release, moving 5000 units the first year.
The next year came the release of "Guardian Of The Flame" but soon saw the departure of Jack Starr and thus began the direction Defeis would blaze for the next twenty years beginning with 1985's "Nobel Savage." With loving care and minute attention to detail both records "Virgin Steele" and "Guardians Of The Flame" have been sonically remastered and specially selected bonus material has been added. Says Defeis, "You can't compare these albums to our later material. This was a different time and the albums have a sound all their own."
Some of the songs have been completely remastered. 'Living In Sin' and 'American Girl' were recorded both in the original version as well as an entirely new version with the intention of improving them but giving the fan the option to chose. Defeis dug deep into the archives to find 'Lothlorien', recorded as part of the original "Virgin Steel 1" sessions but never used or heard until now. 'Lesson', 'Life Of Crime' and 'Burn The Sun', part of an early demo, also make it onto the re-issues as well as excerpts from an interview with Defeis during the "Guardian Of The Flame" era. One of the biggest highlights includes a piano composition that Defeis recorded when he was only 17 years old.
Defeis took time out of his busy schedule to paint a detail canvas on the making of Virgin Steele - the band, the myth, the legend. Read on:
The Cutting Edge: First up, thank you for seeing this through. I, and many others are thrilled to have our Virgin Steele collection complete with these essential and classic releases. I know a little about the struggle you had getting these out and appreciate all you did to see that they were done right. Brilliant job!!!
David Defeis: Thanks very much! Glad you enjoy them!
TCE: How has this release been resolved with Jack Starr? Has he seen these reissues?
DD: There was never any problem for me to resolve with my doing the re-issues. The problem was with him trying to put them out on his own. I put a stop to that. I own the Name, the Master Tapes, all the good will associated, etc. I don’t know if he’s seen or heard them.
TCE: In the early days of the band several issues of these two records surfaced. There was the BMI version of the self-titled debut in 1982 then the Music for Nations (1983) of the same title and finally a French version called Burn The Sun (1983). Could you expand on why so many variations?
DD: The first issue of VS 1, which you call the” BMI Version”, was a self-pressing. I came up with some money and pressed it myself. We then landed several deals in different territories throughout the world. In the USA we had a deal with Mongol Horde, in the UK we had the deal with Music For Nations, in France we had a deal with Bernett Records, in Japan King/Nexus Records. In Canada we had Maze/A&M Records. The “Burn the Sun” pressing, was Canadian not French. That record was a combination of “Guardians of the Flame”, and the “Wait For the Night” EP. We did many deals in this piecemeal fashion, as that was a way to generate some income, and to make sure to have each territory maximize their area of detail.
TCE: Was it a territory-by-territory contact in the beginning?
DD: Yes for the reasons I mentioned above, plus we wanted to maintain a certain amount of freedom of maneuverability. If one Label didn't do their job, at least another Label in another territory, might be doing a good job (we hoped)! At least that was our theory!
TCE: Were their any singles packaged and marketed for either of these two releases?
DD: Yes but only for the second album, and the EP’s. We released “A CRY IN THE NIGHT” & “DON’T SAY GOODBYE(TONIGHT)”, as 7 inch Singles, and also “DON’T SAY GOODBYE backed with “I AM THE ONE”. The 12 inch EP’s were A CRY IN THE NIGHT in Europe, and WAIT FOR THE NIGHT in the States.
TCE: The following bonus tracks are included on Virgin Steele: The Lesson, Life Of Crime, Burn The Sun. Were these included because they were rare B-sides?
DD: No, they were never released before anywhere. This is the first time. Those are rough demos of things that we recorded sometime between VS 1, and the second album, “Guardians Of The Flame”. Life of Crime & Burn the Sun, were later re-recorded for the second album.
TCE: As far as I know “Guardians of the Flame” was only issued once through Music For Notions. Is that right?
DD: No, it was issued in France on Bernett Records and in Japan on King/Nexus, and in the USA on Mongol Horde Records.
TCE: The following were included as bonus tracks on “Guardians of the Flame”: I Am The One, Go Down Fighting, Wait For The Night, Interview, Blue Deluxe Oreganata (I Might Drown). Why were these included? Do you think they add to the recording?
DD: I AM THE ONE, Go Down Fighting, & Wait for the Night, as I mentioned earlier were on the EP, “WAIT FOR THE NIGHT”. I Am The One & Go Down Fighting were also released on the EP “A CRY IN THE NIGHT”, along with a different edit of the “INTERVIEW”. The earlier interview was only that…"the speaking part". I added all the music/vocal excerpts for these re-issues. That music/vocal is from my home recordings prior to the formation of the first lineup, and recording of the first album. I thought it might be interesting for Fans to experience those very early moments, especially as they relate to the dialogue on there. "BLUES DELUXE OREGANATA", was from a 1990 live concert, and that has Edward Pursino on guitar, alongside me and the early rhythm section. I thought that this was an interesting gig/performance and rare song, plus a glimpse of what the band sounded like at that time. And yes, I think they do add to the re-issues. They provide rare insights into the period.
TCE: Having seen VS live, you put on a very spirited live show. Were the first two albums basically your live show record in the studio?
DD: Thanks!!! Ahhh...hmmm...the first album, was really basically our rehearsals!!! We did those recordings after only about 3 weeks of playing together! The second album was perhaps more reflective of the live show at that point.
TCE: Do these CDs complete this stage of Virgin Steele?
DD: Yes, because they also include all the material from the EP’s of that era, and all the actual 'proper' recordings we did with that lineup.
TCE: Did you ever think you would be revisiting these album 20 years later?
DD: I knew one day….the time would come, if I stayed in the game, and continued to make albums that people care about. Since we have endured, it makes sense. If we had stopped after the second album/EP, then I don't think people would be all that interested.
TCE: How has the music held up?
DD: Do you mean for me? If so then….I think the records hold up pretty well. Nice Spirit, enthusiasm and frantic feeling! I can clearly see the whole Era in my mind as I listen!
TCE: Were you happy with the way the tapes were reworked?
DD: Yes, I spent a great deal of time, making sure that they were Re-Mastered correctly, to achieve maximum impact! I'm very much a hands on person.
TCE: Were you involved with the remastering?
DD: Yes of course!!! I’m involved with every facet of what goes on with any VIRGIN STEELE recordings. It's all part of my job.
TCE: At the time what did you think having your first records released?
DD: That it was a major achievement. Most bands could not release their own recordings back then. There was no internet, no CD burners, or any really good quality inexpensive home studio recording gear. We had to use all the traditional methods, like an actual recording studio, mastering lab, pressing plant, printing house…etc. It was a lot of work. But we believed in it and were proud to do it. It was definitely a learning experience and trial by fire. We were certainly the first band in our area to really go for it.
TCE: I know you are very popular in Europe. How have these reissues been received there? Was there a big demand?
DD: Very well I think. Those people who had the original vinyl were interested in having these new re-issues, (as their old copies were worn out!!!), and now due to our greater success since those days, over these past years some of our newer Fans have become aware that those recordings existed, and they were curious, so….it made sense to do it for those reasons.
TCE: Virgin Steele has progressed to a very intricate, almost classical-styled band. Did you for see this as the direction of the band early on or did it evolve over the years?
DD: I wanted this result we have now, even from the beginning. I think examples of the style are evident from day one, and it progressed as we developed onward from that early point. If you listen to "Children of The Storm", or one or two other tracks from the first album, and the title track of the second album, or "A Cry In The Night", you can see the early seeds of the style. The intention was there, and we were trying to let the beast out!!! I grew up with classical music, so that element was always present. We had several other styles we did at that time too, but the prevailing mood, was the flare for the Epic or Bombastic.
TCE: When Jack left did the band become more of your direction?
DD: I always had a very heavy hand in the direction. I produced the first and second albums, plus wrote and arranged a great deal of that music. Once Edward (Pursino) came onboard, it freed me up to push the creative boundaries much further, because he is a very disciplined player, and he can actually play all the more intricate things I compose.
TCE: Was there any thought of breaking up the band and reforming under a different name?
DD: No. Why should we? The rhythm section and myself, felt a great sense of...hmmm... increased potential with Jack gone. We had Edward in the band, and we were quite keen to forge forward. The result of this new burst of energy was the "NOBLE SAVAGE" album.
TCE: Will you ever pursuer a solo effort or do you feel Virgin Steele allows you complete freedom?
DD: VIRGIN STEELE actually does afford me complete musical freedom, but…who knows.… perhaps I might do it just to play with some different people, or have a different experience. I have a ton of music inside of me, and it must come out in some way!
TCE: Was there or will there ever be a possibility for you and Jack to work together again?
TCE: The artwork is fantastic. The reissues stay true to the original art and the booklets are superb. How did you originally contract the artwork from the artist?
DD: Thanks! The first album and the weird green cover of the second, were painted by a guy named Robert Schmucker. I don’t remember how we met him, but he was one of those guy who was around that early club scene that we moved in I think. A friend of a friend sort of thing. Those were works in his collection that we had him add a few items to, such as the dragon/serpent on the first cover. The USA 'flames' cover/photography of VS 2, and the EP "Wait for The Night", was our idea.
TCE: Did you come up with the concept or was it left to the artist to interoperate the music?
DD: It was a combination of his finished works, and our ideas on how to augment them.
TCE: Did you over see the assembling of the booklet? Amazing photos very rare and cool for the fans!
DD: Yes I did indeed!!! I went through all my files/archives and I carefully selected photos that I felt summed up the feelings of that era/time! Yes indeed, they are rare glimpses into the dim dark early days!
TCE: What came first you and the sword? Or was did the artwork inspire the sword?
DD: I always had swords. I grew up with swords and crossbows and all sorts of ancient items. I was raised in a very theatrical household, and such items were a part of my everyday use.
TCE: How many swords are there total in your collection?
DD: I’ve lost count! I recently received a glorious handmade short sword from my girlfriends brother. He is a very talented craftsman of Steele!!!
TCE: Thank you again for all the music over the years. I know, at times, it must have been very hard to keep going. As a fan, I am deeply grateful you pursue your dreams and take us with you for the ride.
DD: My pleasure Sir! Thanks for being there through it all, and….for listening!!! Cheers, and All The Best to You & to Your Readers!!! BY THE GODS & GODDESSES REMAIN…..FOREVER…INVICTUS,
If our interview with Mr. Defeis has got you interested in this era of Virgin Steel pick up their current offering "The Book Of Burning." A compilation of sorts featuring new songs and remastered material from "Virgin Steele - I" and "Guardians of the Flame." Last years "Hymns to Victory" was similar, as it was a kind of compilation that provided a range of songs from the "Noble Savage" era up to "The House of Atreus." These forgotten gems include 'Hot & Wild' from the "Noble Savage" era, 'Minuet In G-Minor', 'Danger Zone', 'Children Of The Storm', 'Don’t Say Goodbye', 'Birth Through Fire', 'The Redeemer' and 'I Am The One'. Some of the songs have been rearranged, some have been completely re-recorded by the current band. The new tracks show Virgin Steele (2003) is staying true to themselves. Their music is still hymnic heavy metal influenced by classical music and bursting with power and creativity.
See these web sites: www.virgin-steele.com or www.noiserecords.com