VIRGIN STEELE – “Expect To Expect The Unexpected”
December 7, 2018, 6 months ago
“Insanity. Madness. Relentlessness.” Virgin Steele wizard and voice David DeFeis describes what went through his mind recording three new albums worth of material for the robust box set Seven Devils Moonshine, released November 23rd via SPV / Steamhammer. Besides the three new discs, also included are reissues of Hymns Of Victory and The Book Of Burning. The New Yorker, fresh with that Long Island accent cracks, “If I wasn’t doing this, I’d be a danger to the neighborhood perhaps.”
Being very personable and a big believer to what the band is doing; the power metal has mostly been replaced with this Gothic bluesy type of music with more emphasis on pianos and DeFeis’ vocal gymnastics. The Seven Devils Moonshine ties into the act’s 35th anniversary so the mainman thought this was a perfect time to put something huge together.
“We wanted to sort of celebrate a bit with this anniversary that we've got going on and we knew it was going to be a box” explains the singer. “We were going to reissue Hymns Of Victory and the Book Of Burning together and we said ‘okay, we'll do one disc full-length, like, you know, 70, 80 minutes and stuff.’ But it just grew and we had two in a very short amount of time and then we had three and there could have been more. So I know kind of put the brakes on that because there was only so much time remaining to get it all done.”
The songs ideas snowballed and out pops three new records with the titles Ghost Harvest: Vintage I – Black Wine For Mourning, Ghost Harvest: Vintage II – Red Wine For Warning, and Gothic Voodoo Anthems.
Vintage I is the material fans would normally expect from the Steele while the second has more of an eclectic flavor, a lot bluesier and even jazzy in some parts. DeFeis believed strongly in the material and relates, “You know, I knew we were doing some stuff that we could have just, you know, not released and then done two or three half discs or whatever. But I think I went in, we did it and those who played on it were enjoying this stuff. So let's just put it out on one, make the second disc more of the left hand path so to speak stuff. And the other one a bit more what people might expect. Though I don't know what people expect because everybody who came on board with Virgin Steele, whatever record it was, what some people came on board with Life Among The Ruins, they wanted more of that. Some people came on with Noble Savage, they wanted more of that and Atreus (House Of Atreus) whatever, you know. So they're all different. That's one thing that the audience should understand about Virgin Steele is that every record is always different. So what to expect? Expect to expect the unexpected.”
Presenting the albums as different wines was a no-brainer to the singer and the Ghost Harvest title was personal for him. “The Black Wine For Mourning, that album lyrically, it's really based on my life experiences and most of them dark things that have gone through things I'm currently going through. There's a lot of people I have lost, especially in the past year, so Black Wine For Mourning kind of sums up that one. The Red Wine For Warning because it is the more eclectic you have been warned kind of thing” laughs DeFeis.
Gothic Voodoo Anthems is basically a stripped down live set and features orchestral versions of some of their previous tracks like “I Will Come For You” and “Queen Of The Dead”, “The Black Light Bacchanalia”.
DeFeis explains the thinking behind these versions saying, “This is largely the set list that we do when we do strip things down. Then I went back and added other stuff like ‘I Will Come For You Later’ later because I wanted to make a bit more of an aggressive state with some of those tracks.”
A big believer in the blues, DeFeis believes that element is ever present in the heavier VS tracks and states, “You probably have noticed this heavy sort of bluesy slant to this stuff. So when we play in that mode where it's more stripped down, that blues element comes out more. I don't want it to show that those songs all sort of have that in there. That was one of the reasons for stripping it down and doing that record is to show that side of what the band does and has always been there. But it’s not always quite so obvious. The bass, guitars, double bass drums, all of that is wonderful, but for Virgin Steele, that is for cosmetics and interpretation. The metal, if you will, you know, quote unquote is built into the songs. They don't need that treatment to make them be what they are. I wanted to showcase that side of it as well. Not everyone gets that, but those who do certainly do.”
With the wine flavored albums; that sounds like a most convenient time for to push a VS branded wine to go along with the release. DeFeis laughs when I first ask him because I was the second person to and he thought more reporters would ask him about it. “I've actually been talking to quite a few nights vineyards on Long Island where we live and I would like to see something of that go on because Edward (Pursino, guitarist) and I are big, big fans of the grape and wine and spirits in general. Sowhy not? It's only a matter of time”, he says.
DeFeis writes most of the material and then presents it to the rest of the band. He brings us into the writing process saying, “I write the bulk of the materials, sometimes I write with Edward when we're together. We've written some wonderful things. We wrote 'Hearts On Fire' together, which is on the album Ghost I. But the bulk of it is me always. I work on the piano first. I have a very inexpensive cassette recorder with a built in microphone that lives on top of the piano and I always have fresh tape in there. And when I get something I like, I hit play and record and if I've got a song there, I'll bring it into the studio and I'll show the other guys and, we'll teach them and we'll go from there with it. But it always, always begins there with that. Or if I'm writing with Ed, he'll be sitting next to me with his amp and guitar at the piano with, with the tape recorder, with a microphone.”
The past decade has seen thorough reissues of Virgin Steele’s discography, culminating with this Seven Devil Moonshines containing the reissues of The Book Of Burning and Hymns Of Victory. Nothing else is in the pipeline, although DeFeis has his sights set on a reissue of 2010’s The Black Light Bacchanalia.
“I will probably put out again the Black Light Bacchanalia but I would do what I did with Visions Of Eden (2006). I would like to remix it because I was not super happy with all the mixing on that record. It was done so quickly and I didn't feel quite as comfortable as I would've liked to me personally, vocally on some of those tracks. I think the songs that we did from that album on Gothic Voodoo Anthems, I was a bit more of what I wanted for the original record, especially the song, 'Black Light Bacchanalia' and that was all live, so that's neat. I'd like to go back in and revisit some of those songs in a couple of different areas and give it a whirl again”, reveals the singer.
The Life Among The Ruins is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and it’s definitely a divisive album with the fans. It’s more hard rock and bluesy and has more in common with acts like Whitesnake. DeFeis loves the album and believes it has aged wonderfully.
“I love that”, enthuses the VS mainman. “Some people in the States who didn't understand what Virgin Steele was and didn't really get on with Noble Savage or Age Of Consent or whatever came earlier really liked the band when the album came out and we did play, especially in America. In Germany sometimes it was a bit of… if you were expecting 'Burning Of Rome’ number two or whatever, then you didn't get that record. But that record is one of those records that years later a lot of people are like, ‘oh yeah, I love that record.’ And same thing happened with like Visions Of Eden when we first put it out, four years later, everyone was, ‘oh, it's the best album you've ever done.’ You know, not everyone, but I've, I've heard that from a lot of people. So, I think sometimes Virgin Steele has leaped ahead of the audience.”
The singer wanted to illuminate a further point of writing what’s in your heart and rehashing the same type of music over and over again. “I rather do that than be fake and say, ‘okay, I’m just going to keep remaking ‘I’m On Fire’ and ‘Noble Savage, and stuff like that, which would not be honest. You've got to create from the standpoint of who you are in the moment.”
DeFeis has deep love for the blues and says the band makes that influence a lot more obvious in the music now concluding, “I love the sensuality of the blues and that dark Gothicness. It just sits well with the way I'm writing now. It's like Visions Of Eden, Bacchanalia meets the blues. It's like, I think I said it in my liner notes, so what Robert Johnson might have sounded like if he really had sold his soul to the devil,” he laughs.
With all the new music that just came out, it’s easy to think a break or maybe some shows would ensue, but DeFeis is already trudging on with new music and in fact two new albums. One will be in the vein like a Greek tragedy with similarities to House Of Atreus and one that DeFeis describes as “autumnal” and “very dramatic, very heavy, and very bombastic”. In fact DeFeis excitingly relates about these records, “Edward agrees and the guys agree with me that they contain some of the best songs that I've written thus far.”