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Samael - "Above" (CD)

Samael - "Above" CD cover image

"Above" track listing:

1. Under One Flag (3:43)
2. Virtual War (4:04)
3. Polygames (3:55)
4. Earth Country (3:55)
5. Illumination (3:31)
6. Black Hole (3:38)
7. In There (4:01)
8. Dark Side (3:30)
9. God's Snake (4:07)
10. On the Top of It All (4:42)
11. Black Hole (Verso Remix) (3:34)

Reviewed by on March 14, 2009

"The speed and volume of the guitars and drums have also been taken up to a whole new level, providing a much more visceral experience than the cerebral journeys that the band played with before."

For their ninth full-length studio album Samael has again reinvented their sound and produced an effort radically different from their earlier material. The songs on “Above” were recorded with the intention of release as a self-titled side project that was heavier than the standard Samael album and used more of the band’s early influences. At the 11th hour the members decided they liked them enough to put them under the Samael name and approached Nuclear Blast about the release. Although front man Vorph has stated that the album is a throwback to their early aggressive black metal sound, “Above” is much more a re-interpretation of their past than an actual return to their roots.

From beginning to end each song strikes a heavier and more furious note than anything heard on the last three albums. The speed and volume of the guitars and drums have also been taken up to a whole new level, providing a much more visceral experience than the cerebral journeys that the band played with before. Keyboardist Xy again programs all of the percussion parts, but they have changed from background rhythm to a front running driving force that contains plenty of rapid-fire beats. As an extra change all of Vorph’s screams have been filtered with a heavy dose of distortion for an electronic effect. While that had been flirted with on earlier albums, “Above” is the first time that absolutely all of the vocals have been distorted. The distortion limits the range of the screams, but the sound effect matches the tone of the music well enough that it isn’t a major problem.

The loud and fast-paced instruments create a massive, raucous sound. When coupled with the vocal distortion, the songs unfortunately all run together and sound almost the same on the first listen through. After closer inspection the distinctions between the tracks start to make themselves apparent and a strong melody becomes clearer, but unfortunately it does take some digging to get to the gold. The real goods on the album occur in those moments when the drums briefly slow down their assault and the guitars take a more dynamic approach. Those instances of strong contrast make it easier to appreciate the faster and heavier segments.

“Above” does have several throwbacks to the older sound that will please fans of the earlier works. In songs like “Under the Flag” and “Earth Country” the lyrics stick more closely to the themes on the upbeat album “Reign of Light.” The song “Dark Side” is also a blast from the past, as it’s a quasi-cover of the song “The Black Face” from their very first album. For those who really want to hear more of the keyboards and industrial sound effects the final song is a re-mix of the earlier track “Black Hole” and it absolutely exudes the sound and feel of the last album, “Solar Soul.”

While “Above” seems to lack the originality of the standard Samael album the first time through it quickly becomes apparent on subsequent listens why the album is every bit as good as any of the other titles in the band’s discography. With the new direction present on the album, it should appeal to people who enjoy their earlier work as well as those who were put off by the heavy emphasis on electronica.

Highs: Visceral feeling of heaviness and fast guitar work

Lows: Takes more than one run through to really sink in, some of the songs run together

Bottom line: "Above" shows a much faster and heavier version of Samael with less focus on keyboards and industrial sounds

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

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)