Founded in 1977 in Pesaro, Italy, by figurehead Steve Sylvester together with Paul Chain, Death SS went on to pioneer an entire genre by combining a serious interest in all things occult with the theatrical grandeur of shock rockers like Arthur Brown or Alice Cooper in a distinctly extreme musical context, thus even predating the achievements of King Diamond and Mercyful Fate.
Incomprehensibly, the band never got full recognition apart from the metal underground, and it may well be for this reason that Steve, who has remained the only constant member throughout the years, was forced to release their latest album “Rock ‘n’ Roll Armageddon” via his own label Lucifer Rising in 2018. Due to its undeservedly low exposure beyond the group’s devoted fans, High Roller have decided to introduce the record to international audiences.
Although half a decade has passed since predecessor “Resurrection” came out, “the production process for our new full-length was shorter and more direct,” says Sylvester. “All tracks were recorded over a couple of months, which gave more compactness and cohesion to the whole work, making it sound much more live. I have always preferred to dedicate myself to music very calmly, going public only when I feel I have something truly valid and artistic to express. As I am not bound by contracts that oblige me to produce records with a precise deadline, I create with absolute freedom and no pressure at all.”
True to horror metal tradition, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Armageddon” is a tight package in both stylistic and aesthetic terms, yet no concept album. “One finds just a thread of union linking the songs. The general mood reflects the tense and difficult political climate of our times, the disappointment and insecurity in many parts of the world. Today more than ever, man seems to have lost his common sense and steer towards self-destruction.”
Consequently, the material follows a clear atmospheric line, building on the industrial glam aura with which the five-piece has surrounded itself on previous efforts. Whereas the title track, which is accompanied by a fittingly spectacular video clip, reconciles Kiss at their catchiest with a certain urban coldness, alternately sneaking and hammering ‘The Fourth Reich’ shows the reason for black metal’s lasting fondness of Death SS.
The frontman wrote this tune “on commission for the soundtrack of Uwe Böll’s splatter movie ‘Zombie Massacre 2 – The Reich of the Dead’, and there is no political meaning behind it.” In stark contrast to repeated right-wing allegations in the course of his career, stemming from the initials of his pseudonym in the band’s moniker, the mastermind has a more benevolent mindset than ever these days – as shown by the thrashing and rolling ‘Slaughterhouse’.
“It speaks of the exploitation and mistreatment of so-called ‘productive animals’ through the practice of intensive farming,” the passionate vegan explains. “This is unbearable because they are living beings capable to suffering. I don’t consider it ethically correct to torture and treat them as objects for our idle commercial speculation.” In this sense, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Armageddon” continues on the rebellious path Steve took all those years ago, still questioning the societal status quo by means of archetypical images.
“We talk about human fears, and the monsters we embody as characters take on the value of ‘romantic heroes’ who try to exorcise them with the power of rock!” Listening to the organ-rich opener ‘Black Soul’ and the classy eighties arena throwback ‘Creature of the Night’, the crooning ‘Forever’ and the riff-heavy gothic of ‘Madness of Love’, one can only agree to this statement.
With the swagger of ‘Promised Land’ and the robotic stomp of ‘Witches’ Dance’, Sylvester catapults his quintet into the future instead of basking in past glory, impressing with searing synth work and edgy guitars while never losing one bit of his identity. The closing ‘Zombie Massacre’ even harks back to his doomy roots without reeking of faux “vintage”.
Proclaiming the end anytime soon would be amiss. “We have been a transgressive band since our inception”, recaps the veteran. “Even without any resounding success, we influenced many bands across the globe. All the tribute albums by artists from different genres are testimony to this, but there are still things that we haven’t done yet and would like to achieve. Let’s see what destiny holds for us!”