Throughout most of the Eighties, a blue-collar, dual-guitar Pennsylvania metal band called Damien Steele — which took musical cues from early Rush, Queensr˙che and Fates Warning — survived many lineup changes and apparently packed regional clubs. But despite sending out a slew of demo tapes, and plenty of demand for an official release, Damien Steele never issued an album. Until now.
Progressive Music Management, home of Damien Steele founder and guitarist Steve Matusik's bands Andeavor and Mythologic, has finally compiled that original five-song demo tape and four previously unreleased songs, remixed and remastered them, and then wrapped everything in this self-titled CD that aims to show the world just how much promise these guys had. The album kicks off with "I Am Doorway," one of the best songs here, inspired both by Fates Warning and a Stephen King short story. It offers the most blatant example of vocalist Mark Hopkins' screaming falsetto, one of the band's musical trademarks on the live circuit. "The Whisper" emerges as the disc's darkest and creepiest song, chronicling the psyche of a man whose voices in his head tell him to kill his family, while "The Last Time (I Sleep With You)" reveals that despite dead-serious chops Damien Steele also had a sense of humor — something that couldn't always be said about Rush, Queensr˙che and Fates Warning, especially in the early days.
A few other tracks have lost their musical relevancy, but given the nature of this release, Damien Steele surprisingly (and to the band's credit) does not sound like a hodgepodge of songs. In fact, without perusing the highly readable liner notes by Erie-based freelance music journalist Debbi Lyon, you probably wouldn't know that this is a mix of demos and unreleased material. Sure, the audio quality is still raw, with too much treble in the mix, but few metal bands of the era could boast exceptional sonics. Full of hooks and melodies, succinct lyrical ideas and brute, honest force, Damien Steele and its long-lost music should be a welcome addition to the CD library of any old-school progressive-metal fan. (It's worth noting that Matusik and Hopkins have begun writing together again; here's hoping their youthful ambition hasn't disappeared.)
1) I Am Doorway
2) On the Crest of a Dune
4) Life After Life
5) Shadow of Our Time
7) The Last Time (I Sleep With You)
8) The Whisper
9) Midnight Rendezvous