Review Summary: Samael take a dip into their history to show us where they are in 2017.
It’s been a long 6 years since Samael last released an album, 2011’s impressive Lux Mundi. Things have changed a bit since then. Along with a move from Nuclear Blast to Napalm Records, they’ve also celebrated 20 years since their breakout album Ceremony of Opposites and started their own side project, W.A.R, to perform songs from their first two albums (Worship Him and Blood Ritual). Along with this, there’s been a change on bass duty. Mas left the band in 2015 to focus on family, so former Sybreed bassist Drop has entered the fray. This would all inevitably lead to a lot of ideas for a new album, and now, at long last, we have Hegemony to show us where the industrial black metallers are at in 2017.
Considering all I’ve just said about the 6 years between this album and the last, it’s interesting to note how the opening title track to Hegemony feels more like it could have come from the Reign of Light era of Samael, with a similar style of riffing and Xy’s synths evoking the same sort of industrial centric approach that they were taking over the turn of the century. Contrast this with the more brutal cuts “Angel of Wrath” and “Black Supremacy” which seem to have taken influence from their mid-90s output, or the Solar Soul-esque approach of the self-titled track “Samael”, and it’s perhaps fairer to say that on Hegemony, Samael are looking back throughout their past and giving it a modern take, to create the ultimate summary of their sound.
There is definitely a lot more aggression overall on Hegemony compared to a lot of their modern output (Above aside). While the pace rarely steps outside of their normal mid-tempo range, there seems to be more energy and focus on the overall impact of the song now, with multiple layers that you may miss on your first listen but can provide something new on repeat listens, completely altering the dimensions of the tracks. The way that “Rite of Renewal” contains all these subtle layered guitars, and shifts between simple-yet-heavy riffs and energetic grooves, is a good example of just how much thought Vorph and Xy have put into how they structured and textured each track on this album, and that they’ve set out to reward repeat listeners. “Black Supremacy”, a track about how beneath everything at the end, darkness will always reign supreme (so leave your politics out of it), sits as another standout track on the album too, containing all the speed and rage of Above with a huge and catchy chorus that sounds like it was purpose built for their 1996 opus Passage.
Everything on Hegemony has had a ridiculous amount of thought put into it by the guys in Samael. The lyrics all seem to recur around themes of the state of humanity in the 21st century, without delving into political lyrics. The songwriting is more nuanced than before, containing all kinds of layers and subtle twists and turns which you may not notice first time around, but will pick up on over time. And the track order makes sure every track is perfectly placed to have an impact. While the first half of the album built up to the energy of “Black Supremacy”, the second half focuses more on drama and intensity of a different kind, with “Land of the Living” being one of the most intense tracks on Hegemony despite being nowhere near the heaviest or fastest. And closing track “Helter Skelter” is perhaps the oddest track on the album, being a cover of none other than The Beatles, which comes completely out of the left field. However, unless you really pay attention, you may not necessarily notice that it is a hit single penned by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, as Samael have completely deconstructed and rebuilt the song in their own image, making it almost unrecognisable from the original, but in a good way. It’s a truly unique interpretation of the song which makes it slot in seamlessly with the rest of the album, and into Samael’s overall discography.
The only real issue here, is that Hegemony feels somewhat like a retrospective, not really throwing in too many curveballs or offering anything truly new to the patented Samael sound. It’s still diverse, as different parts of the album seem to cover a different era of the band, but that’s about all they do, giving a modern approach to classic eras. It would have been nice to see them provide something truly new and unexpected for listeners, but it still remains that on this album, Vorph and Xy have created an album that’s perfect for long time fans and new listeners alike.