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Samael: Above

If you've been waiting for years for Swiss legends Samael to return to their black metal roots, then Above is going to put a big 'ol smile on your face. After many years experimenting with a more electronic, industrial tinged sound, the band slowly started returning to a style more reminiscent to their earlier works with 2007's Solar Soul, but here on Above the transition is complete.

Above features ten songs, mostly in the 3-4 minute range, totalling about 42-minutes of music. From start to finish, it's quality symphonic black metal, Vorph (vocals/guitars), Makro (guitars), Mas (bass), and Xy (drums/keyboards/programming) steamrolling at full speed and delivering the goods. As such, Above is a fast paced and brisk listen, perfectly taken as a whole, tunes such as "Virtual War", "On Top of it All", and "Earth Country" just a few examples of the bands newfound energy. Vorph is in fine form here, his black metal rasps, screams, and screeches perfectly executed, and you can expect plenty of jackhammer blast beats from Xy, who also contributes layers of keyboards and fluttering electronics. Usually in this genre of metal, the make or break point are the guitar riffs, and Samael have really put together some solid riffery here, waves of tremelo picked action going on from track to track (when done successfully, this style of playing gives off a real symphonic sound, and Samael have hit the jackpot here), as well as some stellar solos on occasion. The band really captures some moments of savage grandeur, like on opening cut "Under One Flag" or the bludgeoning "Polygames", the latter a brutal piece with thunderous blast beats and layers of melodic guitars and keyboards.

Much like the recent release from Moonspell, Samael have successfully brought back elements of their past on Above. It's a thrilling and brutal slice of symphonic black metal that you'll certainly want to add to your collection.

Track Listing
01. Under One Flag
02. Virtual War
03. Polygames
04. Earth Country
05. Illumination
06. Black Hole
07. In There
08. Dark Side
09. God's Snake
10. On The Top Of It All
11. Black Hole (bonus verso mix)

Added: April 7th 2009
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 4214
Language: english

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Samael: Above
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-04-07 08:58:58
My Score:

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.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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