Samael - _Above_
(Nuclear Blast, 2009)
by: Jackie Smit (
That _Above_ was originally destined to see the light of day as a side-project should be enough of an indication as to the level of reinvention apparent on Samael's ninth full-length. Truthfully, many would argue that this make-over has been a long time coming. After delivering back-to-back classics in _Ceremony of Opposites_ and _Passage_, the group once referred to by many as the hottest commodity in extreme music hit something of a wall -- creatively speaking. None of their post-_Passage_ output has been terrible by any means, but as much as they had their moments, a huge question-mark hung over their longevity. Even their last studio outing, _Solar Soul_, which garnered mostly positive reviews, now appears to have aged rather more badly than many had anticipated.As if only to stamp down the fact then that _Above_ represents a new chapter in Samael's career, "Under One Flag" becomes the first track in aeons to feature a blastbeat, and not only has the tempo been upped significantly, but the first fruits of the band's most recent trip to the recording studio has far more in common with mid-Nineties Scandinavian black metal than it does any manner of industrial. Despite this marked change in direction, the band's resident synth guru, Xy, continues to rely on programmed drums to supply the pulse, but in an age of Pro Tools and triggered drums, you'd be hard pressed to spot the difference.What does grate on you very quickly however is Vorph's decision to deliver his vocals through perma-distortion. That someone possessing one of extreme music's most unique and powerful voices would do this is beyond me, particularly when it tethers itself to the album from start to finish. Once you have come to terms with this you may also begin to notice just how bush league some of the riffs are. _Above_ was said to be inspired by the band's early influences, and that's certainly made abundantly clear by the extent to which Samael have lifted ideas wholesale off their favourite records. Sadly however, they manage to capture none of the early black metal greats' malice or misanthropic attitude, and so while they may have succeeded in putting together a tribute of sorts, the sum of their efforts never amounts to more than goggle-eyed kowtowing.
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