:: Interview with Virgin Steele
Interview with Virgin Steele
Long before the rise of pagan/folk metal and the term “epic” became common usage, Virgin Steele
created metallic odes to the gods of old. Starting in 1981, these New Yorkers combined a love of mythology, heavy metal and classical music. Staying true to the themes of Greek Mythology that the group often crafts stories from, Virgin Steele
albums convey a wide range of emotions, from quiet, tear-jerking piano notes of tragedy to double bass drum and guitar attacks that follow the thunderous rumble of a gladiatorial chariot.
David DeFeis is the primary architect of the Virgin Steele
phenomenon. He handles all orchestrations, keyboards, vocals and pens the band’s lyrics. He possesses a vocal range that stays true to the mood of the music, singing softly and morosely or letting forth hawkish shrieks of such high notes the gods of Olympus could take notice. Being the only original member, he has kept Virgin Steel’s war drums pounding.
On October 27th, 2010, Virgin Steele
releases “The Black Light Bacchanalia” via Steamhammer/SPV Records. Although not a concept album such as the two parts of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” and “The House of Atreus,” ideas connect conceptually through the recording. DeFeis even revisists ideas and stories from past recordings. DeFeis spoke to Metal Ship via email about some of these stories that comprise “The Black Light Bacchanalia,” as well as detailing the recording of the album.
Metalship : The recording update for The Black Light Bacchanalia on your Web site details many ups and downs. What were some of the obstacles and how did you overcome them to arrive at the finished product?
David DeFeis: We lost some performances due to electrical and natural disasters from the late summer storms here. Fortunately, I had earlier versions to begin re-assembling from, and I also always notate all the parts (by hand, the old fashion way), so I always know what I am supposed to play. It was quite unnerving and I had a fit of panic…but I simply just took a deep breath and began again, from whatever point each song was at. I record very quickly anyway and I just went even faster because time was running out.
Metalship : You mentioned that after completing the final mixes, you began the process to send the album over to Steamhammer/SPV. This ensured you couldn’t go back and adjust anything. When you listen to the album, do you find anything you would change?
David DeFeis: Once you send an album over and it goes into production that is it. If you wish to make any changes you could do so, but no one would hear them until you did a new pressing of the work, which sometimes happens after the first pressing sells out. Some artists make their second pressings very different from their original release. Bowie, for example, sometimes does this. If I were to revisit the album, I would change some things in the mix. The performances I would leave alone. It is always the mixing that I wish to adjust—the blends of the instruments, the EQ, compression, that sort of thing.
Metalship : “The Black Light Bacchanalia” will be released in three formats—CD, Limited Edition digi-pak, with a bonus CD, and Triple LP Vinyl with a book, CD, and extensive packaging. I’ve spoken to artists who don’t like releasing bonus items because they feel they being cheated out of an extra release. How do you feel about these multiple formats?
David DeFeis: I think they are quite interesting. I don’t really mind putting out extra material, as I have quite a bit and I am always writing, so it is not a problem for me. I believe in giving full value for the money the fans spend.
Metalship : How did you arrive at the album title? Does this refer to the dark side of Bacchus’ worshipers?
David DeFeis: No, it doesn’t refer to the dark aspect of the Bacchanalia. That phrase is my way of saying something like “This insane Life.” It should be thought of in the same spirit as the way Dante called his work “The Divine Comedy.” He was discussing life in all its multifaceted craziness, and I mean something similar with the phrase, “The Black Light Bacchanalia”. I too am speaking about life and all its attendant drama, aches, and pains, pathos, joys and sorrows. By that phrase, I also mean “The Great Reversal.” Where when one culture conquers another, the deities of the conquered people become the demons of the conqueror’s religion. Everything is turned upside down, topsy-turvey. This is essentially what happened to Paganism & Gnosticism. The Pagans were killed off, and their worship of Bacchus/Dionysus with their bacchanalias was suppressed, but in the glow of the Black Light, things that are white are illuminated. The other colors fade into the shadows; the Pagans went underground.
Metalship : Is Greek mythology an exclusive theme in your lyrics?
David DeFeis: No, not at all. I do reference it from time to time, and I did do an “Opera” based on the Greek Myths of “The House of Atreus,” but I also discuss Nordic, Sumerian and many other myths. However, it should be understood that myths are simply metaphors for life, so what I am really talking about is life today and my part in it.
Metalship : Why did you bring the gods of Greek and Norse mythology together on “By The Hammer Of Zeus (And The Wrecking Ball of Thor)”?
David DeFeis: I also brought the Sumerian in that song. I am discussing all those Male, Mountain, Fire Gods, and the myths around them are all essentially the same. The album discusses the rise of the Male Mountain Father God and the eradication of the Female Goddess Principle within divinity. The “Black Light Bacchanalia” is a concept album. It does continue the tale I began on the “Visions Of Eden” album, and brings those elements to their conclusion, with the death of Lilith (in “To Crown Them With Halos”) and also God finally lamenting all the damage he has done and the havoc he has wrought in “Eternal Regret.” I equate Lilith with Hypatia, Joan Of Arc, and Lyzebel, as well as all the goddess figures. I continue the discussion of the death of Paganism and as I said, the eradication of the Female Goddess Principle due to the rise of the Father God, but I go further with discussing the rise of “organized” religion and its mark upon Paganism, and the subsequent coming of the Dark Ages. However, that being said, I am really discussing today’s Dark Ages, and the rise of fundamentalism in all walks of life, not only religion, but politics, and everywhere else. Ultimately, the album is about rebellion--rebellion against authority, God, government, etc.
Metalship : “Pagan Heart” has a fitting, Medieval-style guitar riff. It sounds as if it may have come from a Viking opera. Were these guitar parts influenced by a classical piece?
David DeFeis: No. They were just the riffs and melodic ideas that were floating around in my head. I am using the harmonic minor and Phrygian mode, which helps to conjure up the mood of Sumer and other mid-eastern places.
Metalship : What is the story contained on “To Crown Them With Halos Parts 1 & 2”? How did you break up the song to reflect the two parts?
David DeFeis: That discusses the death of the Lilith character as I mentioned a moment ago. On this album as I said earlier, I equate Lilith with Hypatia, Joan of Arc, Lyzebel (who some might know as Jezebel), and all the various Goddesses figures that exist. I am equating a real live 21st century woman with all these historical, and goddess personages in order to reveal the universal woman, and discuss all that She has gone through, and what has happened to her over the millennia.
Metalship : Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Therion and Nightwish have popularized using symphonies in metal. Have these groups’ popularity helped instill a newfound awareness in Virgin Steele—one of the innovators of symphonic metal?
David DeFeis: Not to my knowledge.
Metalship : Do you play all the keyboard parts live or are these played through the PA?
David DeFeis: I have played all the parts on-stage live since the beginning of the band until now. For the past four shows, we have experimented with putting the keys on tracks, but I missed playing them so I shall return to doing it on-stage for the next dates.
Metalship : Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and less than a handful of traditional metal bands possess the capacity to draw a crowd in the States as they do in Europe. Because of this discrepancy, Manowar, an American band, has made their bread and butter in Europe. Does Virgin Steele spend more time on the road in Europe than in the U.S.A.?
David DeFeis: Europe. The infrastructure is stronger there for us. Perhaps now with our new deal, things will improve here in the States and we will be able to play more often in our homeland…
Metalship : Can your metal brothers in Europe or America expect a tour in support of “The Black Light Bacchanalia”?
David DeFeis: Oh yes, we are trying to sort all that out now.
added by Darren Cowan, on October 23, 2010 for Metalship