Released: 2009, Nuclear Blast Records
The ever-changing Swiss chameleons known as Samael are a tough band to love. Still, I’ve loved everything the band has done, and having been a major fan since 1994’s lauded CEREMONY OF OPPOSITES, it’s been an interesting ride for me (and many others no doubt!) to watch the band morph from mean black metal beast into a trance-influenced industrial metal act. Personally, my favourite Samael era is the PASSAGE – ETERNAL years, but everyone seems to have a different opinion. One thing that most agree on is that 2007’s SOLAR SOUL was a bit of a career-staller for the band. It didn’t really break any new ground and seemed to just tread water. A re-think was needed.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the band originally meant ABOVE to be a side-project. See, for those used to the more melodic, dance-happy Samael, the opening black assault of “Under One Flag” will come as a massive shock. From the first seconds of this album, it’s clear that ABOVE is more visceral and blackened than anything the band has done in about 15 years. Vorph’s vocals are a throat-ripping howl (although mixed a bit too far back, and filtered WAY too much), and hark! Is that real, live drums that I hear? It’s actually tough to tell where Xy the human drummer begins and Xy the programmer ends, but the mixture is a pleasing one. Happily, the guitars are front and centre, standing alone where keyboards have dominated for many a year.
Thankfully, “Under One Flag” is not a fluke! The rest of the album continues the attack, right up through “On The Top Of It All”. This isn’t to say that the traditional, melodic sensibilities of the band have been shed – they are certainly still there (check out the melodic guitars of “Earth Country”), but they have been subdued in favour of increased aggression.
In the end, ABOVE will probably be as polarizing an album as every other Samael release. It’s certainly not flawless, and it doesn’t reach the heights of PASSAGE, but it’s easily the best, most enjoyable album the band has done in almost 10 years.