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An Interview With Samael Frontman Vorph

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Swiss industrial/black metal band Samael just released their ninth full length album "Above" on March 6th. The band's front man Vorph chatted with Metalunderground about the musical direction of the new album, their upcoming U.S. tour alongside Carcass, and the band's influences throughout the years.

xFiruath: Hey Vorph how’s it going?

Vorph: It’s going great how about you?

xFiruath: Oh It’s great. Actually this is kind of a bit like a birthday present here because today is my birthday.

Vorph: Well happy birthday then!

xFiruath: Yeah you guys were actually the band that got me into metal. Your “Exodus” EP was the first metal album I ever heard, so thank you very much for that one.

Vorph: That’s quite a compliment, thank you.

xFiruath: Well onto the questions, I was wondering since you guys are quite established in the scene if you still do day jobs or if your band is your only profession right now?

Vorph: We’re only doing music. Mas (Masmiseim – Samael’s bassist) is actually doing light shows from time to time but that’s the only other thing. It’s something we really enjoy, and when we aren’t on tour we’ll go out with our other bands.

xFiruath: Your new album “Above” was originally the title of a virtual band that you guys put together. Was the plan all along to turn it into the next Samael album or will we be seeing any other material put out under the Above band name?

Vorph: The idea was pretty much to have it as a side project. We thought it was too radical and unbalanced to be a new Samael album. Then we did the mix with Frederik Nordstrom in Sweden and we came back and went to America in September with Amorphis. We listened to the album with fresh ears just before they were doing the mastering we said, “Wow, there’s stuff here that all’s very interesting to play live.” It would be really nice to have these songs in our set list to add in some kick. So we thought we’d get behind the project and do it as the next Samael album. We called Nuclear Blast and explained to them the story about the project. They were thrilled about the idea so we were like, “Let’s do it!” I think it surprised a lot of people, even us, we were a little surprised because now we have a lot of crazy stuff to play live and it will be like a weird meeting between the more atmospheric songs. We leave in four or five days to America for a tour with Carcass and we’re going to play one new song there which is “Black Hole.” This is a small set list since we don’t have much time to play, so I’m not sure how it will turn out. But you know in the long run people get kind of used to something and then you come out with something like this with more kick, so it should be interesting.

xFiruath: Tell me a bit more about the new album. What’s different about it from the last one “Solar Soul?”

Vorph: The approach mainly. When we think about doing a Samael album we think about what we’ve done before and we try to go somewhere else. You know to have a normal evolution somehow. But we basically didn’t care. It’s not following the last one in any way really. It’s a lot more rooted in the past. There are a lot of influences from when we started this band and is reminiscent of our first three or four albums. For instance there is this song called “Dark Side” which is actually a cover song of “The Black Face” from our first album. We just changed the title because I modified the lyrics a little bit. The arrangement of the guitar is slightly different but the song itself is basically the same. That’s kind of the link from the early years. When we were working on this we just wanted to do an album and have fun and that was it more or less. We didn’t have as many big plans to experiment or try to have a certain mood or create atmosphere. That wasn’t the idea, it was just to have something that kicks. That was basically the only mindset we had on those songs. We record the whole thing in a fairly short time and we mixed it in like four days. It’s more alive somehow. With “Solar Soul” we took three weeks to mix the album. Every day just one song and sometimes not even. But it’s kind of refreshing because it’s less thoughtful but it’s more instinctive. We didn’t think too much about it. That’s what makes the album interesting I think.

xFiruath: You guys did a music video for one of the “Solar Soul” tracks, so do you have any music video plans for “Above?”

Vorph: Not yet. We talked about it with Nuclear Blast but they think it’s too rough and too aggressive to be on T.V. They won’t pay for a video just for the internet at this point, so I don’t think that we will. They are pretty much more live songs, I think the most interesting thing will be to play them live. There’s not really a need for it. We might, but if we do it won’t be with the support of Nuclear Blast. It would be something very rough because it has to go with the music.

xFiruath: I noticed that on the new album you have a lot more of those shouted word segments like “Hey hey,” and “Hah!” whereas on the earlier albums you didn’t do that so much. Was there any particular reason for adding those in?

Vorph: Well it gives more of a live feeling to it. As I said there wasn’t too much thought behind it. Sometimes it didn’t need lyrics it just needed to kick a little bit, just a scream or something.

xFiruath: I was reading through some of the lyrics from your past albums and it seems like a lot of the Satanic and occult themes have kind of been dropped in favor of other lyrics. Would you still consider yourselves a Satanic style band?

Vorph: I don’t think we ever really did. Even with the first album, which was very much impressed with occultism and the dark things, but that was the normal thing. You know you were a teenager and you learned all the things that were cool and then you want to learn for yourself and find something that they say isn’t worth checking into or should not be checked into. You try to go into the sideway a little bit and find out the dark side of life. But then when you grow up a little bit you know what the dark side of life is because you’ve lived it. We all have it in ourselves and you can explore it without having to have references to books that you’ve read or anything. I’ve really tried to distance myself from my readings and think more about my experiences and how I connect with certain things.

xFiruath: You’ve been doing your growling now for over 20 years. How do you keep your voice intact after all that time?

Vorph: Well I’m not smoking any more. That’s probably helped. I’m not actually growling, I’m more screaming. I try on tour to not talk too much after the show. Especially if I’ve had a couple of drinks, I never know how to stop talking to people. That’s something that you learn with time. I’m doing alright, you learn a little bit of technique by yourself as well.

xFiruath: Looking back at your whole discography do you have a favorite album or song that you feel is your best work?

Vorph: Definitely not one song. There are albums that are more important than others. I think “Passage” was a very important album for us because that’s when we switched from a drummer to the drum machine. We kind of found our style a bit more. It could be that one or “Solar Soul” as well. I’m very happy with the result of that one. There’s a lot of influences in there from the last 10 years. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for “Above” as well because it’s kind of exciting. It’s probably the kind of album that I was dreaming to hear when I was a teen. I’m sure if I was like 16 all over again, especially at that time because now there is so much more choice in music, that this would be my favorite album. All the influences from the bands that meant a lot to me they are inside this album. Slayer, Bathory, even the guitar things with a lot of melodies like Iron Maiden, it’s a bit like a sped up version of Iron Maiden. All those bands that were important to me are in it so I’m happy about it.

xFiruath: On the flip side of that do you look back now and have any songs that you don’t like as much as when you first wrote them?

Vorph: Yeah there are a few. When you try to experiment you never really know if it’s good or not and time will tell. There are a few songs on “Eternal.” We didn’t use a producer for that album and that’s probably one of the mistakes we made. We did it by ourselves and somebody from the outside could have helped and made the songs more interesting. I think there are two songs on the album that I’m not so proud of. I won’t name them because I don’t want to throw them in the mud but we don’t play them live, we just left them on the record.

xFiruath: You guys went through a pretty drastic transformation in the “Passage” and “Exodus” era and I think it would be safe to say that there were quite a few fans who liked the older stuff better. Has the fan’s reaction ever been a motivator in the kind of music you make, and how would you respond to those fans who didn’t like the newer sound as much?

Vorph: Well you’re not really doing it to please people. It’s always nice when people come to you and say that what you did meant something to them or they liked it, but if you have that in mind it freezes your creativity. I think for us it’s important that we feel the connection with the music. If it works out for other people it’s just a plus, that’s a great thing. If we ever tried to do something just to please the people and then they don’t like it then you lose on both sides. But at least if we like it we’re on the safe side, there is at least something good about it.

xFiruath: After all the touring you guys have done do you have a favorite show or tour memory?

Vorph: There are quite a few. When we play somewhere for the first time there is always this excitement that you won’t find again. It’s always different the second time. If it worked fine you already have something in mind for how it should be. There is an excitement which is impossible to match. But about one specific show we played Dynamo open air in ’97. It was after a long tour so we were pretty much dead but a lot of people are still talking about it today so I suppose it was something important. You know it was this big festival and that was in the “Passage” era. When you’re playing in front of 20,000 people that makes a difference. Something happened that night because people still talk to me about it so it must have been something special.

xFiruath: Is there anything about metal or the music industry that you’d like to see changed?

Vorph: I think that the rules have changed. To know what they are and play around with them. I don’t know what I would change though. It implies so much other change when you have a change like that. You can’t really calculate the consequences. Maybe you end up with something even worse than what you have now. The internet was a fantastic thing and it really helped to spread the music and now it’s a double edged sword, you know you might cut yourself with it.

xFiruath: There’s something I’ve been wondering about since “Reign of Light.” I saw that you did the photo shoot at the H.R. Giger museum and I was wondering how that came about and what your interest in his art is?

Vorph: I’ve never hidden that I’m a big Giger fan. I never had the chance to meet him before we did the listening session for “Reign of Light” at the Giger museum. We met him and discussed how we could do it and he agreed to let us use one room of the museum to play our record. We had the chance to do some pictures in front of his paintings. I’ve had a Giger tattoo for almost twenty years now. He has been an influence, definitely. The song “Black Trip” on our “Ceremony of Opposites” album was influenced by his paintings. Back then my room was all black and I had only reproductions of his paintings on my walls, they were there all the time, always Giger stuff around, it definitely had an influence on me.

xFiruath: A lot of people who are into Giger ‘s art are also big Lovecraft and Cthulhu mythos fans. Has Lovecraft had an influence on you?

Vorph: I don’t really think so. I’ve just read a little bit of Lovecraft, maybe one novel and then the Necronomicon, and yes I think he made it up, but besides that not really. I read a lot of occult books but it wasn’t really like novels, it was more like Crowley or Eliphas Levi, the guy who drew the Baphomet thing.

xFiruath: When it comes to European bands who have been around since the beginning of the whole extreme metal start there are four main bands that had big changes in sound. There was Emperor, Moonspell, Opeth, and then you guys. How do you feel about the transformation those other bands went through and which era of their music do you like the best?

Vorph: Emperor, I’ll have to tell you the truth, I really liked the one main album they did but I never really went further than that. Moonspell is different though because I knew them from before they even had a record out. I liked the demo more than the record they did. The album before the last one they did, “Memorial,” I really loved that one. They found the feeling they had in the demo period and then there was all the experience they had with years of playing. It was a great album. Opeth, I didn’t know them at the beginning, I just knew them later. I think they’re two last albums are just brilliant, I love it. I think they are one of my favorite bands of that type of music.

xFiruath: So you guys are about to head off to the U.S. alongside Carcass, which must be quite an honor. Other than that tour do you have any other plans for shows this year?

Vorph: That’s the next thing, we leave next week. Then we’ve got two shows in Switzerland just when we come back and then we’ll have festivals in Europe this summer. Then I don’t know, maybe we’ll have a tour but it’s not booked yet. If something comes our way we’ll do that. It would be nice to do a whole tour for “Above” though in Europe and America as well. If that’s not the case we’ll probably start writing new material.

xFiruath: When you aren’t playing music what are you personally listening to these days?

Vorph: Like I mentioned there’s Opeth. I got the new album and just put it in my car today and that’s what I’m listening to mainly now.

xFiruath: Well that’s all my questions, is there anything else you wanted to bring up?

Vorph: Actually we talked about everything on my mind right now, the album, the tour, yeah I think you covered it all.

xFiruath: Thanks for your time Vorph!

Vorph: Yeah, and you have a nice birthday!

xFiruath's avatar

Ty Arthur splits his time between writing dark fiction, spreading the word about underground metal bands, and bringing you the latest gaming news. His sci-fi, grimdark fantasy, and horror novels can be found at Amazon.

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