Samael - _Eternal_
(Century Media, 1999)
by: Paul Schwarz (
_Eternal_ proved to be one of those albums which initially (as in up to about the sixth listen) left me with a very bitter, unsatisfying taste in my mouth. To be honest, if I'd written this review only having absorbed _Eternal_ a few times, it would probably have been negative not only from the point of view of my personal taste, but also in assessing the progression of Samael since their last album, 1996's _Passage_ [CoC #14]. Why am I bothering to tell you my defunct, discarded opinions on _Eternal_, you may ask? So that you yourself don't make the mistake of discarding this record after only a few listens. _Eternal_ doesn't grab you on the first few listens; it may never grab some of you: Samael's chosen progression is certain not to be unequivocally pleasing either amongst long-time followers or those to whom _Eternal_ will act as an introduction. What is certain, however, is that _Eternal_ has had hard work and thought put into it, and deserves a fair hearing before judgement on it can be accurately passed. There is a sense in which _Eternal_ is a natural progression from _Passage_. Samael continue to use and experiment with programmed drums and the constant, somewhat avantgarde and near over-the-top symphonic and choral augmentation is, if anything, heightened rather than reduced on _Eternal_. The central and key difference between the Samael of _Passage_ and that of _Eternal_ seems to be that now the music is, for the most part, led by piano or keyboard and not guitar riffing. However, two other important differences are that the vocals are less harsh, though still avoiding the melodic, and the percussive backbone has a bouncy, technotronic feel which infuses the record with a distinctly non-metal air. With these key alterations to Samael's song structures comes a slew of new or more fully utilised sounds and techniques which give _Eternal_ its complex and absorbing texture. Vinyl scratching, electronic sound loops and an increase in leading keyboard melodies, as already mentioned, mean that _Eternal_ breaks away from not only the sound of past Samael records, but also their feel. This new opus is distinctly more catchy, and though avoiding poppiness, is certainly far from being something the death or black metal scene could take sole credit for creating. There is, all the same, a serious downside to this expansion. _Eternal_ lacks the dark atmosphere which imbued _Passage_ and its predecessor _Ceremony of Opposites_ with the power to emotionally affect and infect listeners with a slight feeling of uneasiness. _Eternal_ exudes a vague malevolence well concealed behind the catchy symphonics and sombre, proclamatory vocals, but it doesn't compare in impact to the dark atmospheres the band have previously created, particularly on _CoO_. This seeming shortcoming accepted, however, _Eternal_ does possess its own character and is convincing and consistent thematically, without lacking variation. Samael's new direction is a considerable amount to take in. You may not like all the changes and progressions, I know I don't, but it certainly is complex and inventive, and I think you have to give Samael credit for that in a period for music where tribute records are a dime a dozen, and rip-offs and rehashes pass quite unnoticed as "new" albums.
(article published 12/10/1999)
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