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Samael - "Solar Soul" (CD)

Samael - "Solar Soul" CD cover image

"Solar Soul" track listing:

1. Solar Soul (3:44)
2. Promised Land (3:57)
3. Slavocracy (3:30)
4. Western Ground (4:06)
5. On The Rise (3:51)
6. Alliance (3:40)
7. Suspended Time (3:44)
8. Valkyries' New Ride (3:53)
9. Ave! (4:15)
10. Quasar Waves (3:36)
11. Architect Bonus Track (3:52)
12. Olympus (4:39)

Reviewed by on June 28, 2008

"Samael remains true to their established form of evolving their sound in a new direction while paying homage to their past....but there are a few missteps on Solar Soul that were not found on earlier albums"

Few bands have managed to stay together with their core line-up as long as Samael and still continue to consistently produce material that always improves on their past efforts. This trend is broken with "Solar Soul," which doesn’t quite match the near perfection of its predecessor, "Reign of Light." Samael remains true to their established form of evolving their sound in a new direction while paying homage to their past and keeping the same basic concepts present in their music, but there are a few missteps on "Solar Soul" that were not found on earlier albums. The opening track is the biggest culprit, starting out with almost poppy electronic programming that seems completely out of place on an extreme metal album, and then moving into growling vocals that are more subdued than anything heard before by lead singer Vorph. Each song also opens in nearly the same manner, beginning with keyboards or sound effects and then shifting into heavy guitars. This technique works well when used sparingly to create a strong contrast, but when it is repeated with every song it quickly loses its effectiveness.

Despite these issues, "Solar Soul" has enough musical tricks up its sleeve to keep its audience hooked and eager to hear more. Keyboardist Xystras adds incredible effects that transform songs from being simply mediocre into truly compelling tracks by not only emphasizing the sound of the guitars, but also taking the lead and forcing the guitar into the background when necessary. As an unexpected treat, former Tristania front woman Vibeke Stene lends her distinctive voice for back-up vocals on the track "Suspended Time," a rarity for a band that uses almost entirely male growling vocals. The sitar player from "Reign of Light" also returns on the track "Quasar Waves," flawlessly following the fast guitar parts with his exotic and rarely heard instrument.

"Solar Soul" marks the first time Samael has directly commented on current events through their lyrics, which is another step even further away from their black metal roots. About half of the album follows the same lyrical style as "Reign of Light," in which they focused on individuals reaching greatness through self-examination, introspection, and understanding opposing points of view. The other half of the songs will likely be highly polarizing of their audience, as they deal with current political issues and make reference to specific political figures. Although no names are actually dropped, the "Caesar" mentioned in the track "Slavocracy" is clearly supposed to be American president George W. Bush, which becomes apparent when Vorph shortly after sings about fear being used as a tool to demand security. Similarly, the lyrics regarding a "September sun" leading to a "new Rome" reflect the idea that the attack on the twin towers on September 11th was used by the United States as an excuse for creating a new empire by invading a Middle Eastern nation. Regardless of any particular fan’s individual political affiliation or beliefs about the morality of the United States’ presence in Iraq, the simple fact that Samael has actually positioned their beliefs about the situation directly into their lyrics may alienate even more of their long time fans who weren’t expecting another abrupt change in style.

"Solar Soul" shouldn’t be considered the last nail in the coffin of old school Samael, however. The track "Ave!" has very obviously drawn its influence from the ancient pages of Samael’s history, inducing the menacing and claustrophobic mood of the song "Static Journey" from the "Rebellion" EP. Frequent snippets of the "Passage" album are noticeable, especially when keyboard-heavy segments suddenly shift into heavy guitar parts or particularly angry growls.

"Solar Soul" stands on its own as a successful addition to the band’s discography, but when compared as a follow up to the masterpiece "Reign of Light," it falls short of the perfection that Samael has proven they can achieve.

Highs: Amazing keyboard work punctuating headbanging guitar riffs and exotic additions like the sitar

Lows: Vocals are more subdued than in past albums and there is a lot of repitition between songs

Bottom line: Solar Soul stands on its own as a successful addition to the band’s discography, but when compared as a follow up to the masterpiece Reign of Light it falls short of the perfection that Samael have proven they can achieve

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)