The first thing you notice when you open up the booklet for this new Heaven & Hell Records archive release are the words ”Too good to be forgotten”. That is kind of the truth when it comes to the demos recorded by Pennsylvania’s own Damien Steele in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The main material on this disc comes from their 1990 demo which has been released on CD once before in the early 2000s but is now long out of print and kind of hard to find. Those of you who are familiar with Heaven & Hell reissues know that you get a thick booklet full of band bio and the lyrics reprinted along with remastered sound from the best possible source.
The promotion material describes Damien Steele as being a crossover between Fates Warning and Queensryche. What you get is melodic progressive metal similar to those bands. But they should also be worth checking out for fans of Lethal, Luv Hunter, Crimson Glory etc. I think they lean more towards the commercial side which is closer to Queensryche than Fates warning.
The band was formed as far back as in 1982 in Erie, Pennsylvania, by guitarist Steve Matusik and bassist/vocalist Paul Staub. They started out as a three-piece with Jeff Trott behind the kit. These two gentlemen (Staub and Matusik) remained the core of the band throughout its course. They went for a time by their stage names Steve Steele and Paul Damien. Which is also the reason the band was christened Damien Steele. Second guitarist Mike Learn joined in 1985 prior to the band recording any material (but leaving for a couple of years to join east coast metallers Powerslave). At first, the other positions were revolving doors. When it was time to record the 1990 demo tape the band consisted of Staub, Matusik along with drummer Ben Tomlin and lead vocalist Mark Hopkins. This line up would also be recognized as the most classic line up.
Compared to the 2005 PMM Music release this reissue contains three older demo tracks with a slightly inferior sound. After recording their classic 1990 demo tape the music climate changed and Damien Steele almost faded into obscurity and oblivion. However, Chris Rodler at the aforementioned PMM music managed to track down old DAT tapes. He convinced the guys to send demo tapes over to some overseas magazines like Metal Invader in Greece, Rock Brigade in Brazil and Heavy oder was in Germany. This produced some rave reviews and in 2005 saw their 1990 demo released on CD. Since then. however, both Paul Staub and Steve Matusik have tragically passed away. It’s partly to honour these rockers that the Damien Steele material is once more issued on CD.
When you examine the music on this disk the strong opener also has one of the weirdest lyrics ever written… I mean how can you name a song ”I Am Doorway”? This song has a punchline and chorus that sticks in your head for a while after spinning the disc. Throughout all the songs you get some nice riffing from Matusik and Learn and the high pitched vocals from Hopkins that you kind of associate with this style of music. Personally, I prefer the more restrained vocals in songs like “Shadow Of Our Time”, “The Last Time (I sleep with You)” and “Sword of Vengeance”. But it is overall a high-quality effort. The latter being one of the bonus tracks that has inferior sound quality. But still, it is one of the best songs on the album.
The musicianship is flawless. It’s a really nice find for me being completely oblivious of the previous release. Or that the band even existed. So if you are a fan of the above-mentioned bands and have a soft spot for melodic progressive metal do yourself a favour and check out the newly reissued Damien Steele album. It might take a couple of spins for the album to really take off but it is an investment well worth. And for being a recording made in the early 1990s the production and sound quality is surprisingly good. I would give this album an 8/10 Geeks rating.