For those in the know, Death SS is a legendary band that you can not overlook when you look back on the history of heavy music. The name, always mired in confusing controversy, stands for In Death of Steve Sylvester (get it, (S)teve (S)ylvester). The band was founded in 1977, but it took until 1988 for the band to release the first album after a series of demos and rarities.
Even more rare is any clarity on the times before that, which Steve Sylvester, still the leading man in the band, was kind enough to fill in (albeit partly and often more confusing and obscure than you’d want) in his book on the history of the band. Read it and be hooked, because it is much like the stories about Kiss. Only here the occult is really the occult, the skulls and bones are really skulls and bones, and the weird stuff is… well just as weird (let’s face it, Kiss has a weird history too).
And now, we are at the point of ‘TEN’, the tenth album of the band. Before we continue to the interview, I have to share the press notes on this release:“X”, the number ten in the Roman numerical system, chosen to name this album, is not a random title.
The number Ten symbolizes perfection, as well as the cancellation of all things.
10 = (1 + 0) = 1, illustrates the eternal starting over.
Ten is the total of the first four numbers (and in our case the first four Albums / Seals) and therefore contains within itself the entirety of the universal and artistic principles contained in each of them.
It corresponds to the Pythagorean Tetraktys which, together with Seven (the total number of musical / magical seals of our pact), is considered the most important number, as it is formed by the sum of the first four (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10), thus expressing the totality, the fulfillment, the final realization…! The number 10 is divine because it is perfect, as it brings together in a new unity all the principles expressed in the numbers (or albums) from one to nine.
Esoterically the symbolism of the decade represents the perfection relative to the circular space-time, or the divine immanence.
Ten indicates the change that allows the initiate to evolve, grow and rise spiritually.
It is the symbol of the totality of the represented reality.
From a religious point of view it recalls the number of commandments that God entrusted to Moses on Mount Sinai.
It contains the Unity that made everything and zero, a symbol of matter and of the Chaos from which everything came out.
It therefore includes in its likeness the created and the non-created, the beginning and the end, the power and the strength, the life and the nothingness.
There are also ten circles, the Sefiroth of the Tree of Life.
In the Tarot the number Ten, which in the Major Arcana corresponds to the Wheel of Fortune (Arcane X) and to Judgment (Arcanum XX), represents the end of a cycle of experiences and heralds a new beginning.
Finally in Dante’s Inferno, the tenth canto takes place in the sixth circle, in the city of Dite, where heretics are punished, that is, the rebels, the free spirits intolerant of Dogma, those who choose to take themselves out of the ordinary way, to which this work is dedicated.
I gather, that this is a fairly long intro, but I could hardly ask Steve to rephrase this in the interview, but here it is. What it tells you, that Steve put way more thought into the title than you’d assume, but also that Death SS may be about the show, shock and theatrics, but has a profoundly deeper layer to it and love for that which is dark.
Without much further ado, here is The Necromancer of Rock himself.
Hello Steve, how are you doing? How did you cope with the pandemic (this far)?
Hi! I did as practically everyone did, with patience and trying not to get discouraged by the absurd situation that has arisen. I have dedicated the unexpected free time to further devote myself to music and to my studies, and “Ten” is the result of these last two years …
You’ve just dropped your tenth album, titled unmistakably as ‘Ten’. There’s a lot of significance to this number, as you explain in the accompanying bio. It shows a side of Death SS that not everyone is aware of, which is the depth of thought behind the music.I’m curious as to what resources you have perused to come to this complex idea of the number.
It ‘s something that was born spontaneously .. While I was dedicated to the composition of the album I thought that this would be the tenth “seal” of the career of DEATH SS and this thing should not be underestimated. Gradually all the esoteric and kabbalistic references that are connected behind this magical number have arisen and this has provided me with a further input for the composition of my lyrics …
What can you tell about the creative process of writing and recording this album? Was the relative isolation helpful to you or detrimental?
I would say both .. It was helpful because it gave me more free time and concentration to devote myself to the collection of ideas for composing the songs, but it was also detrimental because it prevented the movements and the relative union between the members of the band because we all live in different cities, and therefore we had to work remotely.
I understand from another interview you did that the album follows a concept, as the songs are connected. Could you elaborate on this? How personal is this record?
“TEN” is personal to the extent that all the records I write are because they represent my mood of the precise historical moment in which I compose them. IT is almost a sort of concept album because all his songs are connected to each other by a common feeling, related to this particular historical period, dominated by the terror, that we have all lived and that in part we are still living today …. Both lyrically and musically there is, therefore, an alternation of lights and shadows, even if the latter often seem to prevail over the first. The mood is very “doomy”, even if there is no lack of power and energy and the desire to rebel and fight, which is the characteristic of all the “heretics” of the Rock people.
What can you tell about the track ‘Zora’? I’ve read your book, The Necromancer of Rock, so I am aware of your love for classic comics. I also watched the video, which I believe contains exactly what your vision of rock’n’roll is. I can only imagine how much fun it must have been for you, so what can you tell about this?
Yes, it was very funny shooting the ZORA video. As you said, the song is dedicated to the homonymous character of the Italian horror-erotic comics of the 70s and 80s, so I wanted to give it a vintage, sexy and ironic touch, like the comic in question …
What is the connection between heresy and rock’n’roll for you? I very frequently see those terms together concerning Death SS, so I’m curious about your thoughts about this.
Great question! The term “heresy” derives from the Greek “haìresis” which means “choice”, also in the sense of “turning”.
The heretic is who refuses to accept what is passed off as dogma or absolute truth, who is not satisfied with easy definitions or predefined schemes. Even in music. Being heretics is a way of life. It requires us to dig where someone tells us there is nothing to dig, to speak up when the others try to silence us, to be critical of any dogmatism and imposition.
The heretic is therefore a “free” man, because freedom, as opposed to power, generates a passion for public action and creative participation. For all these reasons I consider DEATH SS and all our followers as “heretics”…..
Death SS is still the horror-inspired band, that it was from the start. A band that delivers a performance. It’s been said that this performative side of rock music appears to be disappearing (Nikki Sixx actually writes that in the last edition of ‘The Heroin Diaries’). How do you feel about this? And how important is the visual aspect of Death SS?
The visual aspect in our musical performances is and will forever be a very important aspect to me. Since I was a child I have always been attracted to the glamorous and scenographic side of certain artists and I have incorporated this aspect into the DNA of my band. I would not be able to conceive DEATH SS differently!
Since reading your book (which was my ‘get to know’ Death SS moment) I try to explain Death SS as something akin to Kiss and Ghost. I very frequently see this comparison, so how do you feel about this? What are your thoughts on these bands?
Well, KISS have certainly been one of the sources of inspiration for the band, as well as Alice Cooper, all people who started doing what was then called “shock rock” before us, even if when I formed the band in 1977, I didn’t thinking at these artists, but rather at the SWEET, obviously in a “horror” version …..I like Ghosts. They came out long after us and from what I know, it was probably us who influenced them in some way.
Having mentioned those, it’s as if in the evolution of rock and metal, other bands choose punk or metal, and Death SS did something else. Paving the way for what was to come, yet never really challenged, sounding uniquely like yourselves on Ten. But what is that unique essence of Death SS and the drive behind its creativity?
Since from the beginning, I’ve never asked myself the problem of labelling what I was playing. It is difficult for me to channel my band into a specific musical genre. This is why I have always said that DEATH SS play “Horror Music”, because it simply means that we want to express certain atmospheres that draw from the esoteric and horror imaginary, in the freest possible way, obviously always with a Rock matrix.
What are the current future plans you have for the band? And in your personal artistic endeavours?
For now I’m simply promoting “Ten” which has only been out from few days. I’m waiting to see how things will go and above all I’m waiting to see if the concert situation can finally evolve without all the limitations to which we all was forced lately, in order to be able to do some important show …
Will there be more writing with adventures from Steve Sylvester?
Who knows? Maybe in another twenty years … Ha! Ha!
Would you say that rock’n’roll is the secret to keep looking as young as you do, or is it actual vampirism? You’ve been making music with Death SS since 1977, there are artists who started a decade later and look 40 years older than you. What is your secret?
You said it: I’m a true vampire!
All The Be(a)st!