Reviewed: January, 2022
Released: 2021, Lucifer Rising
I can honestly say that I’m not a fan of Death SS. It’s not because I have heard them and dislike their music. Far from it. It is only because I don’t own a single Death SS album! Of the thousands of bands I’ve heard and bought albums of in 40 + years, Death SS is not one of them. I think I heard one ‘Best of compilation CD’ (they have about twelve of them) once, maybe 25 years ago, and it went in one ear and out the other. I can’t call my self a fan with any legitimacy.
I’m not one of those guys who pretends to like an old cult band, or loudly declares that “I was an original fan’ just to get Metal street cred. We have all met those types. If I had a dollar for every Metal guy who claims they own an original Metallica ‘Power Metal’ cassette demo or a ‘yellow goat’ Bathory vinyl or a Maiden ‘Soundhouse Tapes’, that they bought when it came out, I’d be rich!
I have no problem ‘admitting’ (like it’s a crime of some sort) that I have no clue about Death SS. For whatever reason or reasons this iconic underground band totally passed me by. Obscure labels, poor distribution, lack or promotion and media meant I just never explored the band despite the fact they have been around since 1977.
Two factors united to motivate me to explore the band; the publication of a new memoir by Death SS founder Steve Sylvester and the recent release of the bands tenth studio album simply entitled ‘X’. I decided once and for all I’m going to explore this band I’ve known about since I was a kid but never paid attention to. Feel free to enjoy both reviews in this long overdue feature.
The first thing that caught my eye was the really great cover art. It pays tribute to the classic characters that have inhabited the Death SS world for decades. I’m not so thrilled about the album title. Roman Numeral ‘X’ has been used so many times before by bands for their tenth album. It shows a disappointing lack of originality from a band known for originality. Do Death SS really want to have an album with the same title of a Def Leppard album?
The new album is once again on Steve Sylvester’s own vanity label, Lucifer Rising and comes hot on the heels of 2018’s ROCK AND ROLL ARMAGEDDON. For a band that works at a slow pace, three years turn around is quite quick for the band so it is nice to see the increased productivity.
Death SS has never really been a ‘pure’ Metal band, there have always been gothic and industrial influences and this album is no different. After a fairly standard ripping opener called, ‘The Black Plague’ with a very decent solo from Al De Noble (whose main band is Secret Sphere) the songs slowly introduces more and more keyboards and industrial style rhythm’s. In fact the bassist and drummer are also in Secret Sphere, so basically it’s Secret Sphere with founder Sylvester doing all the composition and singing. If you are going to hire a band to back you up, why not hire the best the local scene has to offer?
I don’t have an accurate baseline to compare to previous catalogue but I suspect this album seems quite bouncy and poppy in places. I’m hearing hints of Lordi in tracks like ‘Rebel God’ with a catchy chorus and big gang-vocals. I like it a lot but it is not quite what I expected. I was perhaps expecting something more gloomy and atmospheric along the lines of Mortuary Drape. The songs are strong, short and memorable. The backing vocals of Romina Malagoli are used very effectively on ‘Under Satan’s Sun’.
My first true, focus listening experience of Death SS was very pleasant. I hear an unexpected mix of Rob Zombie, Ministry, maybe even Nine Inch Nails, (of course Death SS pre-dates all those bands) over a solid bed of Metal. The swirling soaring solos help ‘metalize’ the album and tracks like ‘ride The Dragon’ just kills taking the band into speedy Power Metal territory. There is a lot going on on ‘X’ and it is evident this veteran band has the experience, chops and song-writing skills to deliver an album this decent so late into their career.
I’m not sure how this will be received by old, original and /or true fans. Is this an abomination compared to the old days to a decent evolution? Regardless, I really like it and if you are like me and are new to Death SS this is a good as a place to start as any. I’m impressed enough to going back and start to explore their deep catalogue.
Al De Noble-Guitar
1. The Black Plague
3. Under Satan’s Sun
4. Rebel God
5. Temple of the Rain
6. Ride the Dragon
9. The World Is Doomed