Death SS - Heavy Demons
Lucifer Rising
Heavy Metal/Shock Rock
12 songs (51.50)
Release year: 1991
Reviewed by Elias

Heavy Demons. How’s that for modesty? They’re evil and they’re heavy, and they want you to know. Italy’s Death SS, practically unknown outside of the Italian speaking world, although considered an important block of the Italian metal culture, are doing their best to get you to notice them. From the moment you pick up the album and notice their unbelievably cheesy costumes taken from even cheesier horror movies and the deliberately provocative moniker (I don’t care if it’s the singer’s initials; “SS” alludes to Nazism, and they know it), you know that you’ll remember this album. While this marketing behaviour is similar to that of, say, Marilyn Manson, it would be unfair to draw up an analogy between Death SS and their American Shock Rock counterparts, simply because Italy (barring the few known exceptions) is a death trap for Metal bands. No matter how many legions of cult fans they may have, Death SS were doomed to fail from the start (their realization of this fact may also very well explain the transformation from heavy metal to the industrial à la Pain of their later albums).

That said, how does one approach an album made by B-series horror movie geeks with a fatalistic sense of failure? The album starts off exactly as one would expect it to, with the appropriate horror movie sounds combined with the spooky deep-voiced narration, supplied by none other than famed tough guy actor Oliver Reed, of “Oliver!” fame. Pleasant minor key arpeggios turn into Carmina Burana-esque chanting, pandering to every single auditory cliché in the horror genre. By the time the first riff of Where Have You Gone? starts, the listener will probably be expecting the usual campy shock rock a la Alice Cooper, with simple, catchy riffs and cute choruses. And that’s where Death SS turn the tables and show why they deserve musical respect. Drawing on thrash roots and adding a rocking sense of melody, the band demonstrates excellent technical as well as compositional ability. Aggressive (albeit slightly forgettable) riffs supported by the occasional burst of double pedalling for that extra kick are interspersed with memorable choruses to form a highly enjoyable and original album.

Where Have You Gone?, while perfectly incorporating this formula, is nevertheless something of a weak album opener. It’s a perfectly good song, and has a very catchy chorus, but it doesn’t grab the listener into immediate fandom. The damage is minimal, however, as the next track Heavy Demons supplies a perfect remedy. Melodic enough to have you humming it the next day, but not too melodic as to be cheesy; excellently arranged, as it manages to stay interesting despite the small amount of variety in the riffs, by using dynamic drumming, key changes and pretty good solos. Even the pseudo-ballad Family Vault demonstrates a similar songwriting approach. Beginning with a soft acoustic verse (slightly damaged by vocalist Steve Sylvester’s strong accent), the song goes through the expected verse – bridge – chorus – solo structure maintaining interest again by clever dynamic changes; crescendos, double pedalling and acoustic breakdowns all play their part. Now comes the one downer on the album. Lilith, while perfectly enjoyable, is neither diverse enough nor aggressive enough to merit equal attention as the rest of the songs on here. The song lumbers painstakingly through alternating doomy riffs and an unremarkable instrumental refrain. Luckily we have Peace of Mind immediately afterwards, which fixes any low we may have suffered through Lilith with pure heavy metal goodness. The guitar even pulls of some nice pinch harmonics reminiscent of the guitar work on Blizzard of Ozz. At this point further analysis of the separate songs is no longer necessary, as the rest of the album follows a similar trend. I will finish, therefore, with a few words about the production and the technical performance of the musicians. The production is unremarkable. It doesn’t play a strong part in the entirety of the album, but it is good enough not to ruin the music. There is nothing scratchy, nothing exaggeratedly off-balance, and the bass is strong enough to be noticeable when its presence is required, but not so strong as to overpower the rest of the instruments.

The overall performance from the musicians offers nothing to complain about. Death SS are a tight, able band, who don’t overstretch their limits and make the most out of their abilities. I would never focus on technicality as a highlight of the album, but it isn’t supposed to be. Death SS don’t try to impress by means of virtuosity; their strength lies in the songwriting, and they know it and play accordingly. The one complaint a listener could possibly have would be with the vocals. Sylvester has a slightly nasal tone, which combined with the heavy Italian accent, may dissuade some listeners from giving it the attention it deserves. Which is a shame, as this album truly is an underrated, overlooked gem of European metal. The impact it has had on the bands of the area is undeniable, and it is without hesitation that I bestow the moniker of “classic” upon this album.

Killing Songs :
Heavy Demons, Family Vault
Elias quoted CLASSIC
1 readers voted
You did not vote yet.
Vote now

There are 12 replies to this review. Last one on Tue Jul 07, 2009 3:00 pm
View and Post comments