Death SS have been around since 1977, with a couple of breaks, though they haven't crossed my radar often since then. With this tenth album behind me, I'm eager to hear their early work, not that there is much of that. Their debut, ...in Death of Steve Sylvester (the SS of the title, which does not appear to have any Nazi connection), didn't show up until 1988 and they only managed three more before the year 2000. Given that they split up for four years a decade or so ago, they've clearly been busier in the 21st century than previously.
I heard that they had moved over time from heavy metal to doom metal to industrial metal but, even if that's true, it's not the whole story. This album starts out as traditional heavy metal, reminding me of Mercyful Fate but with Alice Cooper at the mike rather than the falsetto of King Diamond. It's hard not to see this as "horror music" too, the organ and effects at the outset of Zora guaranteeing that if the chanting monks in The Black Plague didn't trigger that thinking a song earlier. The industrial side manifests in Under Satan's Sun, effectively so without ever taking over.
Just as I wouldn't call this an industrial metal album, even though there's industrial in it, there's one other influence I kept hearing that doesn't take over and that's gothic rock. This is not a gothic rock album either, but there's often a driving anthemic groove that reminds me of gothic rock, especially the Sisters of Mercy. It's here on The Temple of the Rain and The World is Doomed but it's most overt on The Rebel God, which nails its groove so well that it's impossible to ignore it once it gets going. It's initially just a good song but, by the time it gets past its first chorus, it's the sort of good song that'll have you looking up from the bar and suddenly finding yourself on the dancefloor.
So far into their career, I have a feeling that Death SS wrote this with all their different styles in mind, but the shifts can be a little jarring. It's not so bad in the first half, as we move from heavy metal into overt horror rock, then though the gothic industrial drive back to the most emphatically heavy metal song, Ride the Dragon. After that point, it's a bit more awkward.
Suspiria (Queen of the Dead) is clearly horror rock, with characterful bookends—a harpsichord and an accordion at one end and more accordion, female voice and violin at the other—but it's slower, much slower, and more textured. It's notably gothic, drenched in velvet and fog, and it feels like the texture is the point, far more than the music itself. It's less a song and more a backing track to whatever Steve Sylvester will be doing on stage at the time. Heretics continues that and, like Suspiria, it sounds great but doesn't stay with me past the end of the album, unlike The Rebel God and The Temple of the Rain, which carry on playing in my head.
The World is Doomed hearkens back to those two, but with a little less effect. It's a lesser version but still a step up at this point of the album. And then we return to the most obvious Alice Cooper number on offer, which is Lucifer. It doesn't take any stretch of the imagination to picture the godfather of the genre covering it and making it his own. And so this ends decently enough but in a way that I struggle to see as anything but a doomed attempt to bring the album back to its early levels. The first half is a 7/10 for sure but the second half is more like a 5/10, so I'll split the difference and give this a 6/10.