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Next review: » Samael - Solar Soul
Released: 2007, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Besides implementing one of the most seismic shifts in musical direction in the history of metal a decade ago, Switzerland’s Samael is also one of its most enduring acts. The unholy black metal triumvirate of WORSHIP HIM (1990), BLOOD RITUAL (1992) and CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES (1994) that launched the band’s career was abruptly replaced on 1996’s PASSAGE with a more electronic approach that would influence bands as diverse as Rammstein and Dimmu Borgir but also split Samael’s fanbase. 1999’s ETERNAL and 2004’s REIGN OF LIGHT saw Samael abandon its metal roots almost entirely and the metal community considered the Swiss veterans a lost cause. REIGN OF LIGHT was a dance-floor disaster that did nothing for Samael’s former or current fans but the band’s latest offering, SOLAR SOUL, is a step back in the right direction. Certainly the heaviest Samael has sounded since PASSAGE, these eleven tracks do not abstain from the electronic flourishes of the last few albums but the fact that the guitars have returned as a key component of the band’s music will please many fans. SOLAR SOUL is no PASSAGE, mind you, but it is close enough that it may just win many of those fans back who have strayed from the flock.
Vorph’s vocals vary between a caustic, rasp and a cold, droning monotone throughout SOLAR SOUL. On “Western Ground,” he does both to maximum effect and on “Suspended Time,” Tristania’s Vibeke Stene adds some powerful operatic vocals that play off Vorph’s brashness excellently. When they don’t work, though, such as on the Middle Eastern-flavored “Quasar Waves,” Samael comes across as the poor-man’s Rammstein. Xy’s music takes on a flair of its own with the bouncy charm of the title track, the infectious “Promised Land” and driving groove of “Slavocracy.” “Valkyries’ New Ride” is driven by Xy’s solid, albeit programmed, percussion and the keyboards really add a rich texture to the song. Likewise, the regal march and dense riffs of “Ave!” is compounded by Vorph’s heavily-processed vocals that bring out a much-welcomed heaviness. The slow, brooding “Olympus” finds Samael at their heaviest as the guitars of Vorph and Makro take centre stage. Even Masmiseim’ bass is featured prominently here and fans of PASSAGE will simply devour this track.
I’ll admit that I approached SOLAR SOUL with an extremely jaded and critical preface. REIGN OF LIGHT was unlistenable and to see Samael jump back from that debacle with an album that basically sums up their sound over the last ten-plus years is a major accomplishment. Fans screaming for a return to CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES should have given up years ago as Samael has clearly closed that chapter of their career but for those like myself whose first taste of the band was PASSAGE, SOLAR SOUL is a satisfying and welcome return to what made Samael so amazing on their mid-period material.
KILLER KUTS: “Solar Soul,” “Promised Land,” “Slavocracy,” “Western Ground,” “Suspended Time,” “Valkyries’ New Ride,” “Ave!,” “Olympus”
1. Solar Soul
2. Promised Land
4. Western Ground
5. On The Rise
7. Suspended Time
8. Valkyries' New Ride
10. Quasar Waves
Released: 2007, Nuclear Blast Records
Fact: I`ve been a huge fan of Samael ever since CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES` blackened fury knocked me on my ass in 1994. Unlike most, I began an even BIGGER fan when they left Earth to explore the cosmos with 1996`s PASSAGE album, beginning the process of leaving their blackened past behind. It seemed like Samael would completely move into spacey techno-metal on ETERNAL, and even more so with REIGN OF LIGHT (an unfairly maligned album, actually). The keyboards and effects were coming to the fore, and the guitars were moving further and further into the background. Still, we always had Vorph`s distinctive, menacing vocals to get us by. Needless to say – the fans were justifiably divided. However, for me it was different. I found that by REIGN OF LIGHT I was getting tired of Samael`s schtick. Maybe the long layoff between ETERNAL and that album caused them to try too hard, but found I was kinda bored by the album.
Thus, with the release of SOLAR SOUL, for the first time, I wasn`t excited about hearing a new Samael album. Now, after hearing it over and over for months now, I guess I still don`t have a handle on it. Undoubtedly, it`s the heavier than their last couple of albums, more towards the controlled vehemence of PASSAGE in places, but I`m just not fully on board. Vorph is still abusing the mic with his vocals, Xy is still washing the tracks with cosmic keyboards, and the pounding industrial vibe is as powerful as ever, but something is missing. Don`t get me wrong though: Samael is still better than most bands, even on their most average day. To wit, songs like the title track, `Promised Land` and `Suspended Time` are classic vicious Samael.
It`s obvious from the flurry of activity (yes, two albums in three years counts as that for Samael) that the band have a new lease on life, away from their Century Media woes. Hopefully SOLAR SOUL is a stepping stone to greater things – I for one will be looking forward to it.
1) Solar Soul
2) Promised Land
4) Western Ground
5) On the Rise
7) Suspended Time
8) Valkyries` New Ride
10) Quasar Waves
Vorph: Vocals & Guitars
Xy: Programming & Keyboards