Interview by Arto Lehtinen
The Italian horror rock metal outfit Death SS (Death Of Steve Sylvester) have had a long road since the late 70’s till now. The most recent output titled THE 7TH SEAL is for obvious reasons their seventh release in their long history. Even though the newer material sounds more modern oriented, there remains the recognizable Death SS magical spirit on each album. The band’s frontman Steve Sylvester gives his own viewpoint on the new album and tells more about their famous styles in the following interview.
Ciao, what’s up in Italy and above all in the Death SS horror rank ?
Hi Arto! All well in Italy by now…. Death SS are now touring a little bit before the final part of the “Seventh Seal Tour” that will start on September. In May we’ll be in Greece and Switzerland and then headliner into a metal festival in the north of Italy. In the meantime I’m giving the final touch to the new DVD that will be out this autumn.
The latest opus titled THE 7TH SEAL has been recorded and produced in LA with Fabrizio V. Zee… I can’t help asking what has made you rely on and use producers from The States when recording and working on a new album? Do you find that producers from your own home country aren’t skilled enough with the studio working or are they not well enough aware of how they are supposed to work with a band like DEATH SS ?
I’ve choose to work with some american producers simply because they were the right choose for the type of sound that I was looking for in that moment… I know that in Italy there are many valid music producers, but none was the right one for those works. I don’t care about the nationality of the people that had to work with me, but only of their background and artistic style….
You have worked with different producers for example Neil Kernon on the PANIC album, how do the working methods of these two producers differ from your point of view after all? Does the working with Fabrizio V.Zee make easier as he has an Italian background?
Certainly the fact that Fabrizio was an Italian native has helped our communications, but we had choose to work with him (for two albums) for the special feeling that he was able to create with the band and his music. Neil was a great professional man. Our sessions in Texas for the “Panic” recordings were one of the top moments in all our musical carreer.. Everything was perfect and well organized with him! They have very different working methods: more “clean” and meticulous Kernon, more “warm” and experimental Grossi….
The previous album HUMANOMALIES came out into the dark back in 2002 and this most recent one THE 7TH SEAL saw the dark of the night last year. How come there was a four year gap between those albums? Did you work on the material for THE 7TH SEAL during these four years?
Between “Humanomalies” and “Seventh Seal” there was another album called “The Horned God of the Witches”. It was a particular work that we did for all the fans that from years were looking for all our old and very rare stuff, the one recorded into our early days with the first line-up. This album included for the first time all our first demos, singles and live proofs, done between the period 1977 and 1984. I’ve personally found all the old master-tapes and I’ve hard worked to try to give them a decent sound quality. That album was followed by a special “vintage tour” where we’ve played only the old songs of that era , dressed and masked like we was at these times. The “Horned God of the Witches Tour” was a little success and was lasting about two years. During that time we also provided to the compositions of the songs that took part of “Seventh Seal” album…
How did you start working on the new stuff for THE 7TH SEAL? Do you basically compose all the material or do the other Death SS members bring their own inputs to the song writing process?
Usually I start with a melody and an idea about a song and then one of the guys of the band ( that could be the keyboard player or the guitarist) help me in the drawing up of the song. Then we record a rough demo that we present at the whole band that is free to add their own inputs.
“Give’Em Hell” off THE 7TH SEAL has became the theme track for the Italian official wrestling federation. It must have been an honour for you as you happen to be a long time fan of wrestling. How did “Give’Em Hell” end up on being the theme song for them?
“Give’em Hell” is still the ICW entrance-anthem and it was included in several Wrestling CD-compilations, such us the very well selled “NU-Wrestling Evolution” CD.
I’m still in contact with the ICW guys and sometimes I enter the ring during the fights as a “special guest”….
The album is an interesting package featuring songs from aggressive to melodic ones and sounds are absolutely brilliant. Obviously you have reached all the result as you were thinking about in the first place, aren’t you?
I’ve worked many time on the composition and the arrangements of “Seventh Seal”. This is an important album for me because magically it is the last seal of a kind of “magical pact” I’ve done during the beginning of Death SS’s career… It represent the sum of all the inputs we’ve expressed in all the precedent works, enriched with something new. I’m proud of the final result.
The lyrics of Death SS are mostly based on your own experiences and beliefs as far as occultism is concerned, but apparently you draw other types of issues and influences to the lyric writing process… Could you shed a little bit light on your lyrics more, as there are quite really well thought and taken care of?
I’ve always studied the “occult way of life” and I’m a member of the Ordo Templi Orientis. My interests in occultism are very serious and the study and practice of my personal magickal philosophy take a big part of my life… If you take a look into my lyrics you could always find a double key of reading that reminds you to something “hide”… You could choose the one you prefer: the superficial one or the hidden one.
How would you compare these albums released in this decade to each other, PANIC; HUMANOMALIES and THE 7TH SEAL ? What are so to say the biggest and obvious differences between those albums ?
We’ve always tried to evolve our sound record after record, enriching our style without to repeat the same stuff everytime…
Everyone of our records is different from his precedent.
From the beginnings untill now, our mood is tied to horror and occultism, but the ways to express it are so many and we’ve subdivided our artistic travel in seven differents “pacts” or “seals”…. ”Panic” was about the ”panic-theathe” a form of art expressed by artists like Alejandro Jodorowsky, Arrabal and Topor in tn the 70es; ”Humanomalies” explored the horror inside our mind, using the ”circus of Freaks” metaphora… In this ”Seventh Seal” you could find references at the book of the Apocalypse of S. John, at the kabbalah, at the numerology (tied to the number Seven), at the sexual magick practices of Tantrism, at the Book of Revelations and many other things… The sound is also different from the last work ’cause is more simple and direct, more dark and less electronic, perfectly right for the apocalyptic concept expressed by the songs…
Several so called hard core and old school metal worshippers usually tend to adore the older material of Death SS, but avoid the newer so called modern style. Have you had to explain to old school fans about how Death SS has developed the music and sounds on each album during these years ?
As I’ve told you before, I don’t like to do always the same stuff. But I also think that anyway the “DEATH SS Trade-mark” is always alive and well recognizable in each of our works! We’ve only tried to adapt it to the new concepts we wanted to express during the time…
It would be artistically sterile and less respectful toward our real fans to repeat always the same atmospheres and the same situations previously expressed. I prefer every time to risk and to bring me up for discussion again, following new artistic influences, even if this can involve disappointment for some less broad-minded fans……
THE 7TH SEAL has been published by your own label Lucifer Rising just like the other Death SS albums, but you have signed a deal with Regain Rec. How has this deal and the co-operation brought more attention to Death SS and helped to get THE 7TH SEAL album more distributed all around Europe?
This was the purpose….
Was the deal with Regain Rec based on a one/off deal ?!
When you were putting out singles and demos in the early 80’s, are you kind of surprised how these Death SS old demos/singles have spread all around the world, firstly throughout the old tape trading and later via net as the mp3 files?
I’ve always loved the singles, ‘cause I’m a record collector. I think they are a kind of gift dedicated to all the die-hard fans that likes to collect everything about the band. For this reason any DEATH SS single is pressed in strictly limited edition. It is not a surprise that the very old ones of the early 80’s are now becoming very rare and high quoted collectors-items… When we recorded our first demos and self financed singles we did this only for ourselves, so we’ve never sold our demos. I still don’t know how some of these recordings were spread abroad……
I believe it is quite hard to keep control over the old releases because there are supposed to be a plenty of versions of your old releases?
The first original releases are now impossible to find. Also the reissues are not so simple to find because they were pressed in limited edition (666 copies). I’ve also seen some bootleg versions….
As a Finn, I can’t help asking about one thing regarding the dresses and I believe you have paid attention to the costumes of the Lordi guys. Their styles and costumes in one way or another have some similar references compared to yours, or how do you view it? Were you surprised at how similar their mummy looked to yours?
I’ve known Lordi because some people during an interview, two years ago, told me that there was a Finn band that was very similar to DEATH SS…. When I’ve looked them I was surprised to see how similar a couple of them were to my bass player and my keyboards man…. I’ve found them funny and there isn’t any problem for me. I only can say that we’ve started many years before them…..
In general Death SS’ image and visual aspects have had a major impact on the extreme metal scene. Have you noticed some bands have been influenced by the visual side of Death SS in their own style as well?
Oh yes! And I’m very proud of this! I often receive many messages from extreme-metal bands all over the world that tell me how DEATH SS has been an influence for them….! We also had a tribute-album some years ago….
When a new member is recruited to Death SS, do you design the custom-made dress and role for a new member fitting to the concept of Death SS?
Yes! It depends from which caracter and instrument he has to play. The caracters are always the same (vampire, mummy, werewolf, death, phantom of the opera) but the costumes and make-up change and are evolved everytime.
Even though THE 7TH SEAL has obviously got better distribution but witnessing Death SS on the stage outside of Italy is still quite rare. As far as I know you have played in some metal festivals and then at Wacken several years ago. Are gig bookers and promoters afraid of booking Death SS for gigs and festivals because of your stage show or is your price a little bit too high?
I think that the problem is in the fact that our records are very hard to find outside Italy and we’ve never had a real promotion abroad. To all this you must add that our show is expensive because we have to carry with us many people and stuff to organize one of our famous horror performance. We’re not the type of band that could play everywhere. We need a good organization and a large stage. We prefer to decline offers that cannot grant us the chance to offer a decent show to our audience….
But don’t you get bored to play in the same venues and towns/cities in Italy where you must have visited more than once during 20 years ?
We never did very long tours. Usually we play a maximous of 10 gigs in Italy during the same year and often in different places… Every our exhibition must be a kind of event!
The show of Death SS is based on visual and theatrical aspects. Is the planning of shows a long time process for you ?
Yes. Every new tour is planned before. I start to think at the new choreography and the new theatrical storyboard of the show soon after I’ve finished to record a new album…
Do you always develop an entire new show and stage construction with brand new ideas when a new Death SS album comes out in order to be based on the material and lyrics ?
Yes. The new stage must represent the principal concept express by the lyrics of the new album…
You have collaborated with a plenty of other bands like Solemnity, StormLord (I assume), Tenebre, Schizo etc… Are you asked to do guest vocals for bands’ album and do you have to turn out offers etc and which bands usually catch your attention as well as interest that you wanna do background vocals and collaborate generally?
Usually I’m very glad to collaborate with all the bands that have a good feeling with DEATH SS, no matter of the musical style they play. I’m very satisfied with all the collaborations I did until now. Sometimes I’m obliged to decline some offer only for a question of time…
Other members are involved in other bands for example Dave Simmone plays in Eldritch and obviously Emil Bandera has several irons on fire at the moment, Freddy Delirio obviously plays in H.A.R.E.M. Hmm how do you and other members of Death SS coordinate the time and schedule between other activities and bands and Death SS ? Do you ever face schedule problems?
Every band’s member is free to do all that he want during his spare-time. The important is only to give the priority to DEATH SS everytime it is request.
Regarding the Lucifer Rising label run by you, besides DEATH SS, as far as I know other bands have been signed to the label, could you unveil a little bit more about them?
Lucifer Rising born in 1996 for an agreement between me and Self Distribution of Milan. During the past years I’ve tried to increase the label with other artists beside DEATH SS , such us Hogwash, Sine Macula and X-HELLS, all good bands that I’ve personally produced, but actually the label is stopped and reserved only for the DEATH SS stuff.
Several members have come and gone thru these years of existence of Death SS, what has resulted their departures from Death SS? Did they lose interest in the band, have you got some kind of personal disagreements?!
Nothing of this. Simply the most part of them has preferred to change kind of work to gain more money and get married….
As far as the Steve Sylvester band, are some current and former Death SS members involved in it as well !?
The Steve Sylvester band was not a proper band. It was formed just to play some gigs to support my first solo album in 1993. Actually it doesn’t exist…
Regarding the name Death SS referring to you by meaning “Death Of Steve Sylvester” and has no political involvements. However are you kind of dead tired of explaining all over again the true meaning behind Death SS?
You’re right! I’m really dead tired to explain this fact again!!!!
Death SS has always been quite a controversial band in Italy and faced all kinds of problems. For example the Italian religious fundamental groups have somehow attacked and protested against Death SS ?
I’m always in war against italian censorships and fundamental groups! Some time ago, i.e., some stupid criminals of a “self-made satanic sect”, killed two guys here in north Italy… All the media immediately accused heavy metal music and all the rock ‘satanic’ bands to be the inspirer of these crimes, ’cause some of the killers are used to play into a black metal band…I and DEATH SS were soon accused to be the principal souce of inspiration for these stupid killers and I was obliged to take part into some demential TV talk-shows, with priests and censors, to try to explain them our point of view…..!
Italian metal has got more attention, Rhapsody is constantly on the road with Manowar and Lacuna Coil has made an incredible breakthrough in both Europe and The States. In general, Italian neo classical power metal is highly respected. As a long time metal follower and pioneer of the Italian metal, that must feel good for you to see Italians bands are on the tour all the time?
I’m really happy for them! There are so many bands in Italy that deserve a big international success…
All right I for one thank you for your time and interest to do the interview for Metal-Rules.Com and In this case you have so called final words to conclude the interview…
All The Be(a)st to all of you!!!!
The official sites
HIGH TECH JESUS – Promo Video