Death SS LPs Coming Not So Soon
Death SS “The Story of” LP
Death SS “The Cursed Singles” LP
(Biography by Craig Conrad)
The full story of Death SS is one that spans over forty years, but as with most bands that have had a truly revolutionary historical impact, it is the formative years of the band’s existence that are most significant. “The First Seal,” as it is described by band founder and creative director, Stefano Silvestri, encompassed the years between the band’s conceptual genesis in 1977 and Silvestri’s temporary departure in 1982. During this time, Silvestri envisioned and created an entity that would permanently alter the trajectory of heavy rock, metal, punk, and other related genres.
As a boy in the provincial capital of Pesaro, Italy, on the country’s Adriatic coast, Silvestri’s vision was initially inspired by imagery conjured in the comic books of RG Publishing and that of Hammer films like “The Vampire Lovers,” “Lust for a Vampire,” and “Twins of Evil,” as well as books such as those in Sabellicus’ “Magia Pratica” trilogy. Additionally, the robed characters that would later take the musical stage as Death SS were abstractly based on the satanic Templar Knights depicted in Spanish director Amando de Ossorio’s filmography, prior to being actually sketched by Silvestri himself during downtime in school.
Silvestri’s first band – The Smooth – did not adopt this ghastly visualization that would eventually come to fruition with Death SS. Instead, The Smooth assumed more of a glam rock image and was relegated to simply rehearsing cover versions of their favorite bands of the moment in the basement of the Silvestri family home. That said, young Stefano had already begun his journey towards the darkness by practicing meditation and invocational rites in the attic of the same home, alongside his growing library of occult literature. In fact, the attic and basement would later be labeled “As Above” and “So Below,” respectively, and Death SS would utilize the two spaces for both the band’s mystical and musical rites.
If there were a single experience that would serve to crystallize the direction that his life’s work would soon take, it was a 1977 visit to England as a fourteen-year-old, where he discovered punk rock and thus became acquainted with the underpinnings of the musical vehicle by which his vision would be realized. This immediately led to the dissolution of The Smooth in favor of his newfound mission. Nonetheless, one song from The Smooth, “Exterminator Angels,” would later evolve into the Death SS standard, “Murder Angels,” after a series of different iterations and revisions.
Silvestri first met his eventual bandmate, Paolo Catena, in the summer of 1977. Although he was initially disappointed with his first impression of Catena, he soon learned that the two shared much in common, including their ritual practices and similar musical tastes. Indeed, it was the partnership between Silvestri and Catena that culminated in the official formation of Death SS. The band name itself was the result of a combination of influences – both as an homage to the poem, “In morte di Carlo Imbonati,” by Alessandro Manzoni, and a suggestion from the Mage of Orciano, a mystical mentor of sorts to Sylvester, who decreed in their final meeting that “Every magical work of yours will be done in death of Stefano Silvestri.” Thus, the band name is an abbreviation of this sage proclamation. At first, Catena was not convinced of the merits of the band name, in part due to the fact that it emphasized Silvestri’s role in it. However, he soon came to see his inclusion in the title, given that his stage name was to become “Death.” It was also decided that both Silvestri and Catena would be known thenceforth by the English translations of their Italian birth names – Steve Sylvester and Paul Chain.
On the night of July 7, 1977 (’777′), Sylvester committed himself to the band for life with a dedicated ceremony of self-consecration that had been several days in the making. Death SS then existed as a two-piece unit for two years, during which time Sylvester and Chain wrote classics such as “Zombie,” “Terror,” and “Horrible Eyes” with only vocals and acoustic guitar. Throughout this creative process and the magical rituals that they practiced together in the same aforementioned attic, Sylvester and Chain formed an impenetrable bond. Due to their peculiarities, the duo became ostracized in the community, and this isolation, combined with a feeling of invincibility derived from their rituals, led them to commit a number of transgressions. They would wander cemeteries desecrating graves, stealing and transplanting bones, and even killing small animals (which, to this day, is the one true regret Sylvester has about this period).
Along with occasional other friends, the two would also conduct seances and even organize “satanic orgies.” As a result of their recruitment efforts for such events, Sylvester and Chain made the acquaintance of Miriam, who would become one of the band’s first “scarlet women.” The two traded turns having consensual sexual encounters with Miriam in a closet under the stairs of a church in a local cemetery. These spiritual and erotic experiences became a foundational element of Death SS, to the point that they were almost inseparable from the music. This prerequisite made it more difficult than usual to find willing band members.
By consequence, Death SS remained primarily a duo which was augmented by temporary members, who fulfilled both musical roles and served in character as other “monsters.” Of course, Sylvester had reserved the role of Vampire for himself, given that it was his favorite of these character types, and Chain had also already been designated as Death. Eventually, Claud Galley (rhythm guitars, bass) served as Zombie, Thomas Hand Chaste as Werewolf, and Danny Hughes as Mummy. Once suitable individuals had been found to fulfill these roles, Sylvester worked in earnest to execute his vision for their costumes.
After months of rehearsals, the band secured its first live gig on July 12, 1980 at Gabicce’s Aleph Club, a performance which had been set to begin at midnight and lasted a whole six minutes after a full day of preparations. As it turned out, the band emerged from its tent, played “Zombie,” and was overtaken by the moment to the point of destroying and/or throwing everything in sight at the horrified audience. The result of the event was Death SS’ banishment from any local mainstream clubs. As such, the band resorted to playing gay clubs and other unpermitted establishments where seedy behavior reigned.
The band’s first real concert by any definition was then set for April 24, 1981 at Pesaro’s Palasport. Without intention to disavow themselves of the antics that ended the first show so abruptly, the Palasport gig included hooded on-stage executioners, and it ended with a concoction of animal blood, waste, and bowels being thrown on the audience and a cat’s carcass being flung through the air to land on an unsuspecting patron. This sort of mischief became the rule rather than the exception at future Death SS shows, earning the band a very deserved level of notoriety.
The recordings that took place during this era occurred in the band’s rehearsal room or at live shows. Two of these, “Terror” and “Murder Angels,” were released on a demo cassette entitled “The Horned God of the Witches,” which is said to be limited to two copies. This was succeeded by “Demo II,” which contained rehearsal recordings of “Horrible Eyes,” “Cursed Mama,” and “Kings of Evil,” along with a live recording of “Zombie.” The current compilation contains all of these tracks except “Kings of Evil,” and includes six additional rehearsal and live recordings from the same period of 1977-1984.
“The First Seal” of Death SS’ existence came to an end following an unfortunate series of events that included Sylvester’s contraction of a rare form of mononucleosis from drinking animals’ blood and an accident in which Paul Chain lost sight in one eye. Sylvester ended up leaving for Florence, seeking a new beginning in a different location, and Paul Chain found a new vocalist in Sanctis Ghoram to continue Death SS in Sylvester’s absence. However, the creative force that defined this era has since manifested itself in many forms and among many different actors in the ensuing years and decades, as the band’s influence has infiltrated many domains of the musical world. Thus the story of Death SS is one that promises to live undead indefinitely.
ETA: April 2023