exorcist_nightmare theaterEven in the strange annals of metal history, the Exorcist saga is particularly weird. As an early entry into the fledgling death metal scene, they released but one album and then promptly vanished without a trace as surely as if they went into Metal Band Witness Protection. No live shows, no album signing appearances, no interviews in crappy DIY zines, no nothing! Making them all the more mysterious was the fact that only one super crappy, out of focus photo of the band existed (which included one guy in reverse KKK garb). Over time, rumors slowly began to leak that Exorcist was never a “real” band and in fact, the whole thing was a studio project by Virgin Steele frontman Dave DeFeris and bassist Joe O’Reilly, done at the behest of a small record company in a cynical attempt to cash in on the new wave of extreme metal. Jaded music industry bullshit aside, the resulting album is an interesting slice of early 80s extreme metal, fusing elements of thrash, proto-death and early elements of black metal with loads of over-the-top atmosphere designed to be eerie, but often coming across as rather cheesy. Still, some of the songs have the makings of cult classics and rival the output of better known contemporaries in early extreme metal like Venom.

Songs like “Black Mass” and “Burnt Offerings” bristle with energy and overblown attempts at being evil and raw and while it pales in comparison to the music of today, it was rather heavy and impressive way back in 86. “Death by Bewitchment” features the same pre-black metal style as the earliest Bathory platters with some Venom mixed in for good measure and my personal favorite is “Possessed,” which rocks a simple but oh-so-catchy version of blackened death very much like that which Witchery would later ride to acclaim and accolades. There are a few clunkers too and “Riding to Hell” and “Queen of the Dead” are both silly and corny, sounding more like bad Piledriver than true extreme metal.

ExorcistDavid DeFeris did all the vocals and took great pains to mask his distinctive voice and singing style behind a wall of distorted death roars and slightly blackened rasps. He doesn’t always remain in form though and some of the vocals veer toward clean singing, but never quite get there. The guitar work is simple, but some of the riffs and flourishes remind me a lot of Possessed (ironically enough, especially during “Possessed”) and early Death.

Unlike the other retro reviews I’ve published over the years, Nightmare Theater isn’t exactly a classic that got overlooked. I view it more as a historical oddity, both for the way it was made and for the style of the music itself. It’s an interesting window into the early days of the black and death genres, before either had a fully fleshed out identity, and most likely without intending it, Exorcist created one of the first black/death crossover albums. Worth hearing for its place in the metal timeline and some of it may really stick with you.

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  • Daniel Figueiredo

    That “guy in reverse KKK garb” is freaking hilarious!

    • It is, but you gotta admit, it’s unique!

      • eloli

        Rather than a “reverse KKK garb” I’d say it looks like a traditional Easter pageant costume from Sevilla, Spain. Makes sense, exorcism is a über Catholic thing, after all. :D

        • Im gonna go out on a limb and assume a bunch of meatheads from Long Island probably weren’t thinking Seville Easter Pageant when they came up with that outfit.

  • Shahir Chagan

    Listening to the album on YouTube now – really freaking good! How did these guys not gain the amount of attention HellHammer did?? Unless they planned on being super-underground… In which case, kudos, this is the most kvlt speed metal release I’ve ever heard. And it kicks ass!
    P.S. I don’t like that album cover – reminds me of Slipknot

    • I think it got a very small release in the New York area. I don’t think it ever got a bigger release and I doubt it got any marketing push. I found it by chance in a small local records store and bought it based on the name and cover alone.

      • Shahir Chagan

        Sounds like a Cirith Ungol / Manilla Road complex. How unfortunate for them!

  • Al Tatts

    I well remember hating on Virgin Steel, but never heard this. Would have been good to hear it all those years ago.

    Having said that the sing-a-long stuff still grates my ears.

    Black Mass ohhh ohhh ohhh oh oh oh.!

    • It is a tad cheesy, but when you know they came from a power metal style and were trying to do extreme metal, it makes sense.

  • David Rosales

    This is all speed metal!
    no black/death crossover whatsoever!

    • I hear it for sure.

      • David Rosales

        I do hear some scant riffs that will later form part of the DM repertoire. And there is a quasi-BM feeling in a song or two, but that’s it. It’s really harsh speed metal, most of the time. Celtic Frost is far more DM than this on To Mega Therion, and that’s a 1985 album.

        • I didnt say this was the first death metal album, just that it was part of the very early beginnings of the genre.

          • David Rosales

            My point is that at best this album is late to the party for “early beginnings of Death Metal”. It’s 1986 and it has one or two DM-like riffs. At that time there already are full albums that already sound like proto-DM.

  • Excentric_1307

    With the knowledge(interpretation) that this album was effectively out there to make a mockery of everything Death/Black, it’s an incredible album! I love it!

  • Madam__X

    Sounds like the perfect album for the dead of a Saturday night :) Listening now!!