Reviewed: October 2007
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”
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