"some music was meant to stay underground..."

Amaseffer - "Slaves For Life" (CD)

Amaseffer - "Slaves For Life" CD cover image

"Slaves For Life" track listing:

1. Sorrow (2:41)
2. Slaves For Life (8:28)
3. Birth of Deliverance (11:11)
4. Midian (11:48)
5. Zipporah (6:10)
6. The Burning Bush (6:31)
7. Wooden Staff (9:13)
8. Return To Egypt (3:26)
9. Ten Plagues (11:29)
10. Land of the Dead (6:54)

Reviewed by on March 7, 2009

"Unless you are violently opposed to concept albums or music of a religious ilk, “Slaves For Life” is a must-hear."

Never in the history of metal music has there been such a colossal undertaking as the Israeli band Amaseffer’s plan to release a trilogy of albums based on the Old Testament. Daunting and controversial, yes, but the results, at least for the first album, "Slaves For Life," are awe-inspiring.

To fully understand the endeavor, you first need a little history lesson. To start, the name Amaseffer is a translation of the Hebrew "AmHa Seffer," meaning "people of the Book," and was an ancient name given to Jews during Biblical times. Secondly, you have to realize that for Jews, the story of Exodus is the most important part of the Old Testament; it is in effect their creation story. This is why it makes perfect sense that Amaseffer’s first installment opens with Jews being held in slavery in Egypt.

The story, and the album truly is a story, not just a compilation of music, begins with imprisoned slaves, before introducing the birth of Moses in "Birth of Deliverance." Then it fast forwards to Moses’ escape to "Midian," after he has overthrown the overseer, where he becomes a shepherd and meets his future wife, "Zipporah." From there, "The Burning Bush," and Moses’ "Wooden Staff" are introduced, and then we see Moses’ "Return To Egypt," and the unleashing of "Ten Plagues." Finally, we see the triumph of the Jewish people, and the defeat of the evil Pharoah and the Ra-worshipping Egyptians in "Land of the Dead."

The film-score inspired album follows Exodus rather closely, though it leaves out commonly known stories like the covenant and the golden calf. Still, "Slaves For Life" is no Ten Commandments, thankfully. There is never a dull moment in this album, and in fact, there is not a single flaw until track seven. Though a mix of English and Hebrew is found throughout the album, the language barrier in "Wooden Staff" makes the hushed narration by frontman and drummer Erez Yohanan become tedious for western listeners. Also, because you’ve been spoiled thus far by actually hearing the intricate details of slaves wielding pick axes, horse hoofs galloping, and the flickering flames of the burning bush, the fact that you don’t hear water rushing and the Red Sea parting in "Wooden Staff" is disappointing.

With the exception of this one track, which still pulls off a masterfully wielded neoclassic guitar, the rest of the album is humbling in its composition. If there’s a high brow genre for metal, Amaseffer earns the title "Monsters of High-Brow." Though there isn’t a category to define their musical style, the whole album displays melodic metal, while combining with it snippets of power metal, neoclassic, progressive, symphonic, and world music.

While those who aren’t fans of foreign films may be taken aback by the rich Middle Eastern sounds and Hebrew prayers woven throughout, they are necessary and beautiful elements that bring authenticity to the story. The lead vocals, performed by ex-Yngwie Malmsteener Mats Leven are hauntingly incredible, and the guest appearance by Angela Gossow adds a touch of screamo to keep the album relevant.

Perhaps the only other flaw with "Slaves For Life" is that in many cases, there’s no distinct break between tracks, so it’s hard to listen to just one. Clocking in at over 75 minutes, it’s not an album you can just check out on your way to work. Besides, the heaviness of the album doesn’t exactly lend itself to rolling down the windows and blaring it for your neighboring commuters.

Every track on the album is quality work, and the highlights are probably dependent upon your musical tastes. Personally, I found the realism in "Birth of Deliverance," which opens with a James Horner (Dances With Wolves) inspired composition, to be one of the better pieces. The sound of a baby’s cries against the backdrop of Pharoah’s curses and a general sense of woe as the announcement that all first born sons are to be killed is powerful.

And though I was a bit surprised to see that an entire song was dedicated to "Zipporah," this Middle Eastern styled love ballad, with its vocal parry between Moses and his future wife, offers a necessary lightness to an otherwise decidedly somber album.

"Slaves For Life," despite its rare flaws, is enough to make anyone who hears it clamor for the release of its sequel. Unless you are violently opposed to concept albums or music of a religious ilk, "Slaves For Life" is a must-hear. Even then, I'd still recommend it.

Highs: Cinematic sound effects make it a visual masterpiece; Mats Leven’s vocals are hauntingly incredible.

Lows: Western listeners may feel they aren’t getting the whole story because of so much Hebrew narration.

Bottom line: Unfortunately there isn’t a rating between 4.5 and 5, because this one deserves a 4.8.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 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)