SAMAEL – Above (2009)

Samael - Above Samael’s foray into industrial metal was initially a successful one; sure Passage and Eternal might seem a little dated if you look back on them now, but at the time, the band’s transition was a welcome change of pace – they had pretty much pushed their black metal template as far as the possibly could without becoming redundant, and 1994’s Ceremony of Opposites was the perfect transitional album from their old style to their new one. But after a five year hiatus, the band returned with Reign of Light, an album which continued in much the same vein as its predecessors, save for the fact that it was remarkably lackluster. More albums followed, and my interest in the group waned considerably with each one.

The band’s newest album, Above, was one which I approached cautiously, but I am grateful to report that such an mindset was not necessary. Musically, Above is easily the best thing the band have done since changing directions with Passage, and a strong case could be made that it is, in fact, their best album to date. One thing that is certain, however, is that Above is the smoothest mix of black metal and industrial that the band have ever achieved. And by that I mean, it’s not a mixture of the two genres.

That might sound a bit paradoxical, so allow me to explain: this is a black metal album through and through. The constantly pounding drums, Vorph’s menacing wails and the riff structure are all straight from the genre’s textbook. But there’s something about the sound of the album that’s different. It’s not that it sounds clean, like recent efforts by Absu or Blut Aus Nord. No, it sounds modern. And therein in lies the difference. The guitars are weightier and slightly more melodic, tone-wise, than they have been in the past, and the production of the album is incredibly thick, as if Devin Townsend was secretly turning knobs and layering sound upon sound after the other personnel had left the studio. This huge production (coupled with the natural tenacity of the songs) makes for a great listening experience

Above is not a terribly original album, but it’s an incredibly satisfying one. Most metal fans will appreciate the band’s new-found reconnection with their roots (even if they did say fit to trim them up a bit). I know did. The question to ask now is: what will their next album sound like? Answer: I don’t know, but I hope that whatever it is, it’s as good as this.

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