Genre: Heavy Metal
Label: Metalmaster/Horror/Lucifer Rising/Svart/Shadow Kingdom
For the Italian Heavy Metal act called Death SS, there aren’t many words to use as means of introduction. Anyone seriously into heavy metal knows even the elementalities of the path of a band, whose origins are lost back in the late 70s and is the unprecedented pioneer in the sound of the genre: Death SS (where SS stands for the name of the singer and key member from the beginning to the present day, Steve Sylvester – Stefano Silvestri). Death SS were one of the earliest acts that included elements of Satanism, horror, occult and theatricality in the classic heavy metal structures that they form (they called it “horror music”), drawing influence directly from Alice Cooper, Arthur Brown, etc, “ancient artists”, long before dudes such as Marylin Manson, Ghost or the Scandinavian black metal scene of the early 1990s popped up. In any case, this is what we call a “cult” case, especially if you look at the covers, makeup, costumes and their general aesthetics. The question is if it is worthwhile to deal with them, after this preface.
I think it’ll be enough for someone to listen to the ‘Black Mass’ LP (Metalmaster, 1989) and be transported to a time when black metal was a subgenre within the heavy metal, a subgenre that included bands, such as Mercyful Fate or Venom (who actually baptized the genre with their second LP), long before it became distinct as a musical genre with specific characteristics. I have already written more than 200 words and I don’t know if I can describe it sufficiently. The sound is Heavy Metal, with tracks that serve as hymns, with dark though clear production, with amazing solos and those love-them-or-hate-them vocals of Steve Sylvester, who summons the mighty Beast and unfolds stories of horror, like King Diamond’s lost cousin from Pesaro (those who laugh with the “Italian” aesthetics should take a look at “All The Witches Dance” of their bewildered compatriots Mortuary Drape and if they manage to sleep at night, we can continue the discussion. Same aesthetics can be found on the debut of the British act Demon, who were also characterized by that theatrical/horror elements, especially at their live performances. Anyway, I guess you’ve got the gist of it by now). “Kings of Evil”, the opening track, with its acoustic passage and the simple, yet much inspired guitar lead, with a chorus that sticks to your mind, is an instant classic. Same thing happens with “Cursed Mama” with its exceptionally addictive melody and the double bass after the mantra-driven chorus. The mid-tempo track “Horrible Eyes” with its lead and acoustic passages in the background, escalates monumentally to return to his basic grim motif. At moments, the album touches Speed Metal forms (“Devil’s Rage” – great guitar solos there), sometimes however the album moves into slower paths (“In The Darkness” – probably the album’s weakest moment for me). Generally, however, it’s based on simple structures, with an escalation of the guitar solos that play inspired themes, while throughout its whole duration, it tries (and succeeds) in delivering the atmosphere of an orgiastic ceremony (listen to the title track with the recitation in Latin, the ecclesiastical instrument and that – not that surprising – dissonant saxophone, which is also heard in “Welcome to my Hell” – possibly in analogy with Black Widow’s flute in “Sacrifice”. Coven of “Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls” pops into my mind now, as well. The back cover of the re-release of the LP by Svart Records is probably what the mastermind of the band wanted as a back cover from the beginning (to give an idea, a reference to the scenes of Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” would do). In general, Death SS flirted with all of this package that has now become “breadcrumbs” in metal, that is: extreme cover art, especially for their time, extreme imagery, satanic lyrics (which are no joke in this case); they just managed to invest in it with excellent heavy metal, with songs that even though never made it to the big league, at least outside Italy and may sound generic, but they are a solid proof of the existence of a band that deserves to be discovered. I keep as a positive point the fact that the first three albums are now out there without having to give three days’ salary for each one.
Come with us! We’re the Kings of Evil, we wanna fight for a new creation / Come with us! in the Satanic Service, we wanna destroy to reconstruct!