2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
First of all, Samael's "Eternal" album was the 2nd album I ever reviewed on amazon.com almost 9 years ago, so Samael is a band I've been listening to for a long time. Also, I know the story that this album was originally going to be a side-project, but upon sharing the material with the rest of Samael, the guys wanted to turn it into the follow-up to 2007's Solar Soul album. Heck, I have a picture taken by one of the band members while holding a Subway standing next to other band members outside B.B. King Bar & Grill in Times Square when I saw them open for Amorphis a few days after ProgPower USA IX.
Needless to say, after both seeing the band live for my first time (after having watched the Black Trip DVD over and over again) and listening to Black Hole on their myspace.com page, I was excited to hear this album.
On my first listen, the album wasn't much of a let-down; Under One Flag, Virtual War, and Black Hole are top-quality songs that could stand on a best-of album alongside Worship Him, The Ones Who Came Before, Rain, The Cross, and Solar Soul. But the rest of the songs (more or less) serve a similar purpose as the filler tracks on a mainstream rock CD. You know those CDs, right? The ones people go to BestBuy and buy just for the one song they heard on the radio, then hate every song BUT that one song? Well, Above has 3 of those songs, and the other 7 are total bleagh. At least the other electronic-era (Passage - Solar Soul) Samael albums were full of songs each featuring a unique catch (take the intro from Us on the Eternal album). I knew I was in for a let-down when I heard the first full-minute of track 3 here, Polygames, having lyrics (and it is literally printed in the booklet this way) "F**k, F**k, F**k... Hey! Hi hey! Hey, hey, mph, mph, ha, ha!" When I saw this, I said to myself, "You gotta be kidding me." If the song was a goof, like when Helloween writes a line "There's something growing in my pants" for Just a Little Sign on the Rabbit Don't Come Easy album, something like this is taken as an amusing joke. But Polygames is a pathetic joke that just leaves me fighting the urge to hit fast forward 3 times to get to Black Hole (track 6).
Samael was once an innovative band. They revamped the doom/groove side of black metal begun by Hellhammer in 1983 when they released their debut album, Worship him, back in 1991. The Norwegian black metal scene hadn't caught on yet, so Samael was doing not only original material, but truly innovative. Then they released Passage in 1996 and more-or-less invented "symphonic electronic black metal" (the only other noteworthy band in this style being ...and Oceans). I have no idea what this is. It's not true black metal, it's not progressive black metal, it's not depressive black metal, it's not symphonic black metal, and it's not even electronic black metal - because there are so fewer keyboards on this album than ever before. This album has almost no atmosphere. You'd think a song titled "Black Hole" would revisit the extreme atmosphere of the stellar Infra Galaxia, but not even this, the single, accomplished anything close to that feat. The only thing left is some sort of modern/melodic black metal, but I'd prefer Agathodaimon, Thulcandra, Shining, and older Samael over this.
While I'm on the subject of other black metal, one thing caught my ear when listening to this earlier today. The first 0:06 of Dark Side (track 8) nearly identically mirrors a song by the name of "Crushing the Scepter (Regaining a Lost Dominion)" found on the 1994 album, Pentagram, by Norway's Gorgoroth - yes, that band involved in the Kraków show controversy in 2004 and the one featuring the man Terrorizer magazine asks "'is this the most evil man in metal?" If Xy did this knowingly/on purpose, I'm shocked. COULD this just be the missing link we've been looking for that can finally verify that this somehow IS a return to Samael's roots (that being some degree of "true" black metal), and not just a happenstance black metal album?
It pains me to say these things. But I'll look on the bright side - Samael blended this not-so-return-to-their-roots with the electronic era to produce one of their best-ever songs in Antigod, then released the Lux Mundi album last year. I streamed it once while it was on their facebook.com page and I enjoyed it, but I still am not ready to make another Samael purchase for a while.
Now that I have that out of the way, I can elaborate on my review title and discuss the sound quality. It's overdone. I'm not surprised; that's what Nuclear Blast does. They just have to have the best sound quality around, and I usually don't object to this. (It works with bands like Hammerfall, Nightwish, Immortal, Dimmu Borgir, Mnemic, Scar Symmetry, Darkane, etc.) Samael just has too much dependency on the unique combination of melody, atmosphere, and catchiness to charm its audience. If it's there on this album, it's drowned out by the overproduced drum machine and guitars. Blastbeats thunder/drone on without inviting me along for the ride; they're just "there," like the ones on Graveworm's song, "I, the Machine" (the only ones found on that entire Graveworm album, mind you, and that's when I stopped listening to Graveworm - a band who became non-unique melodic/modern black metal, which I fear is the path Samael headed down on this release).
I've already given my readers a lot to chew on. As I am, after all, writing this review after having heard the album that followed Above, I can say with relief that this album served as a building block to get to that album, and we can always remember this album as having that set-up position, like the second hit in volleyball before the lethal spike.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Samael's previous two albums, Solar Soul and Reign of Light, are marked with heavily industrial elements, and the songs are highly atmospheric and predominantly based on the foundation of drums and synths. Those expecting a follow-up to these albums had better be prepared, as new album proves to be a shift in focus.
Above severs the band's ties with these discs completely, as it is centred around guitar-based compositions from start to finish. Keyboards are minimally applied, and thus only serve as a parameter to give extra dimension to the songs. Actually, with the exception of "Black Hole," building from a majestic hook, the synths are almost inaudible as is the bass. What we are presented with here is the heavy use of Xy's drumming, which is loud and crushing, and the intense riff work of Vorph, who continuously churns out tremelo-picked riffs while providing his feral, venomous Black Metal shrieks on all of the tracks. Above is a total return-to-roots record, disregarding the band's recent synth-driven industrial noisecapes, and drawing heavily on their past whilst also borrowing some elements from Scandinavia.
This was originally intended to be a side project, as Xy obviously wanted to busy himself with more aggressive, fast, and punishing material after having put out the heavily atmospheric and synthesized Era One, but once the band's songwriting duo were convinced with the quality of the compositions, they decided to run with the idea. This is the reason why the songs differ vastly from Samael's recent material. They were composed with a totally different mindset. The songwriting is more direct than it has been for years; the compositions are considerably more simple, containing fewer experimental ideas and fewer metaphorical lyrics, but they are more powerful for a live setting. To complement this, Fredrik Nordstrom's mix, done in only four days, gives the album a somewhat live feel, which fits the atmosphere and flow greatly.
Unless given many, many listens, the songs will blend into each other, giving the initial impression that the album sounds uninspired and bland. This is not the case at all. Careful listens become utterly rewarding, as one gets to uncover the band's aesthetic sensibilities and threads of melodies planted in each track. The riffing on songs like the album opener "Under One Flag" and "Earth Country" take on an almost ritualistic vibe, performed with utter conviction. Vorph's scream that opens "God's Snake" is frightening and face-rippingly brutal, while Xy provides ever-present blast beats and double bass drums without making it a one-man's show.
There are points that can be criticised though. One may not be too fond of the fact that they seem to draw on Scandinavian-oriented death/black metal idioms in places, perhaps a la Amon Amarth and Dimmu Borgir, with all those distorted vocal effects and production aesthetics. That they have reduced the keyboards and recorded ten fast, brutal tracks, at times boasting sub-standard production values, begs the question why Samael want to go back to pure nordic Black Metal when they haven't dabbled with the genre in more than a decade.
The booklet lists numerous influences of Samael, from Slayer to Bathory to Venom to Black Sabbath and Motorhead, but there is also Sentenced and KISS who found their way into the band's sources of inspiration. Who would have thought?
Definitely worth checking out. Hopefully this disc will help some fans discover their earlier material, stuff like Passage, Eternal, and their creative zenith Ceremony of Opposites.