Swiss Industrial Black-Metallers SAMAEL return with their long-awaited new album and a reinvigorated line-up consisting of ex-Sybreed musicians Makro (Guitars) & Drop (Bass).
Typically, Samael seem to have a polarising effect on the Metal community – like musical marmite of sorts. It’s no secret that for as many fans that truly appreciate their musical creativity they draw criticism from Metal purists who remain upset about their change of musical direction many years ago. Hopefully, those willing to ignore those preconceptions and instead decide for themselves how they feel about Samael’s signature sound, by absorbing themselves into the psyche of Samael’s work, will likely enjoy a much deeper, richer and definitely darker experience. Beyond the music, the messages conveyed within the lyrics are very deliberate, powerful and purposeful. The subject matter can be challenging on occasions, but give it time and a number of listens to sink in and it should feel rewarding.
If the opener is anything to go by we’re in store for a much darker release than the past few albums. ‘Hegemony’ features harmonic choral synths that add an ethereal atmosphere, whilst the following track ‘Samael’ is pacy, with a driving tempo and defiant, aggressive vocals. Simple four-to-the-floor marching rhythms compliment the Industrial style, boosted by suspenseful, horror-esque vibrato strings. One of the highlights of the track is its dramatic, grandiose chorus, whilst providing thunderous double-kicks in the closing moments, adding extra aggression towards its crescendo.
Switching the mood slightly, ’Angel of Wrath’ is a down-tempo stomper featuring classic synth sounds, subtle Middle-Eastern melodies that pepper the chorus and interspersed with dark, atmospheric moments. This a track that you could rally get lost in, being enveloped by the powerful yet brooding atmosphere.
Next up is ‘Rite of Renewal’, beginning with an orchestral intro before making way for frantic drums and guitar riffs, which lead into the opening verse. Unfortunately the song slightly loses focus on dominant instruments from a production standpoint. Personally I would like the orchestral/synth sections to have been a little more prominent in the mix within some sections and it sounds a little too raw and demo-like at times, especially when compared to other songs on this album. It’s redeeming quality is its aggressive edge which fans of the ‘Above’ album will no doubt find appealing.
One of the album’s first feature tracks is ’Red Planet’ with its atmospheric intro and extremely hooky riffs, catchy melodies and rhythmic vocal refrains. A great choice of song to feature as one of the band’s latest promo videos and one of the key tracks that I will likely return to a number of times.
Another of the songs to have a video produced for it is ’Black Supremacy’, which is aggressive, relentless and gnarly from the beginning to the very end. Stylistically sitting somewhere between the raw emotion of Samael’s early albums and the more recent ‘Above’ release, with a small dose of the sinister tone of ‘Lux Mundi’, yet without fitting firmly into any of them. Black Supremacy is a complete hybridisation of what has come before, producing an altogether new monster track. There’s no denying that with this title alone, Samael intend on making musical statements that will turn heads. It’s cleverly constructed, especially from a lyrical point of view and is one of those tracks that will get people talking.
‘Murder or Suicide’ has a different feel to most other Samael songs to date, although the trademarks are still very much present. I particularly enjoy the epic chorus with their choral synths, whilst the addition of piano chord progressions lend themselves well to emphasise dramatic urgency.
‘This World’ introduces some new, heavyweight percussive samples for use in each verse. Unfortunately it’s one of the more lacklustre songs on the album. Melodically it remains largely monotone, except for the odd arpeggiated flurries and chord sequences, sadly lacking exciting, imaginative moments to rescue it from being that forgettable song in the midst of a sea of stand-out tracks.
The album picks up again with mid-tempo ’Against All Enemies’, which is partly reflective in nature and at other times switches to an aggressive, vitriolic sound. Vocally the verses are largely brooding and foreboding with a complimentary musical soundscape, offset against fiery bridge sections and choruses.
‘Land of the Living’ has one of the most dramatic, melodic refrains of the album. It has an intense symphonic quality accompanied by thunderous drums, crashing cymbals and synth samples and combined with frequent flurries of arpeggiated guitar riffs. It features bright, exciting yet intense moments offset against sections of slow, drudging rhythms that serve to emphasise the darker moments. A well-balanced mix of the two adds interest and keeps me coming back for multiple listens.
On ‘Dictate of Transparency’ it’s clear to hear that Samael have mastered the art of tempo and have plenty of experience producing a rhythmic ebb & flow for maximum dramatic effect. It’s other outstanding qualities are the moments of high-octane, relentless energy positioned against a powerful down-tempo, ethereal chorus.
Closing the album is ‘Helter Skelter’ … yes, that Helter Skelter, originally written by Lennon & McCartney (The Beatles).
I do like the original and at first was rather hesitant about whether this would be a good choice, as well as being slightly bemused by the idea of Samael deciding to produce their own interpretation of it. That hesitation soon dissolved as I quickly grew fond of it. Certainly no straight cover, this is clearly Samael putting their own stamp on the original, whilst retaining a sense of meaning and relevance within the words. Musically its bombastic and has a modern Black Metal feel. I enjoy the cosmic vibe, which is something Samael are very comfortable with and The Beatles were also known for in their later, experimental years.
Hegemony is a strong outing and I’m certainly glad to see them back after what seems like an age of inactivity – 6 years since their last album to be exact!
There are a couple of tracks I would skip after a couple of listens but hardly detracts from the number of highly enjoyable songs on offer, packaged with what could be their best cover-song effort to date and I’m definitely wanting to return for more. A great effort from an experienced band that appears rejuvenated and focussed – if we can expect more material like this, let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 6 years for their next release.
SAMAEL – Black Supremacy (Official Video)
SAMAEL – Red Planet (Official Lyric Video)