Review Summary: Samael pay tribute to their black metal roots.
This album wasn’t even supposed to be released under the Samael moniker. It started out as a side project for the band to pay tribute to their roots and remind themselves why they got into music in the first place. For reasons unknown (to me), the band eventually decided to make this a Samael release after all. In order to create a connection between this and their previous outputs, they began to tell people that the music found on Above
was like an “enhanced version” of their first three or four albums or the missing link between Ceremony of Opposites
. It should be noted, however, that none of those statements are true and this actually doesn’t sound like anything Samael have ever done. This needs to be stated so that fans don’t end up disappointed and also so that non-fans might give it a chance.
I don’t mean to imply that fans will be disappointed due to any lack of quality, only that false expectations can create disappointment where there otherwise wouldn’t be any. First and foremost this album is unlike anything Samael have ever done because of the unrelenting speed and aggression. The last time Samael played anything this fast was on their debut album over eighteen years ago, but even that can’t be compared. On their debut they played raw, basic black metal that only occasionally reached any kind of fast tempos. This, on the other hand, is slick and polished industrial black metal that only knows one speed; fast. It also can’t be compared to their later industrialized outputs because those are all mid-paced affairs that rely on keyboards and big grooving beats whereas this is entirely riff-oriented with an unrelenting barrage of high-speed percussion.
Now that the reasons why both fans and non-fans should go into this with an open mind have been made known, we can delve into the actual content. Even though the plan was always to pay homage to the bands that inspired them, the album does not sound dated at all. The main reason obviously comes from the programmed percussion which is simply huge and thunderous. Some might be disappointed by Xy’s decision to not go back to organic percussion for this album, but one listen should quell that feeling. The percussion creates a wall-of-sound that, despite the speed, drives forward the kind of mammoth rhythms the band has always been known for. This wall-of-sound is further expanded by the massive riffs that dominate every song. Every riff is loosely based around a melodic black metal blueprint, but they’re much heavier and with much more bottom-end.
In order to accommodate this heavy and unrelenting style Vorph brought back the black metal growls that were the signature of the band’s first four albums, but with a bit of added distortion. Unfortunately, this distortion was probably unnecessary and actually detracts from the powerful vocals that he was capable of. It also makes them all blur together and is a main factor behind the only real problem with this album; redundancy. Between Vorph’s distorted vocals and the lack of any dynamics, the album has the potential to sound repetitive after just a few songs. When passively listening, the speedy tempos shared by every song combined with the similar riffs can easily make this become redundant very quick. It is only after repeated plays (it took me listening to it with headphones) that the nuances become more apparent, but until everything clicks listening to this can be an exercise in endurance.
While this isn’t exactly the band returning to the style of their early albums, it is still more “metal” than anything they’ve done in the past decade. In fact, this is easily the heaviest, most unrelenting album the band has ever released. Those that have been turned-off by Samael’s foray into industrial metal can be assured that the inclusion of programmed percussion in no way means that this album has any relation to their previous industrial releases. This is slick industrial black metal that never breaks from its singular focus of paying homage to the band’s roots while not forgetting what year it is now. This modern take on the band’s black metal roots is so focused on that sound that it almost ends up being their downfall, but with repeated listens that concern slowly fades away.