Review Summary: While it isn’t enough to restore Samael’s previous lofty position, Hegemony is definitely their best since Passage.
Samael could have been recognized as one of the revered 90s black metal acts. Their name could have been grouped together with such classic acts as Mayhem, Emperor, and Enslaved. Each band took the black metal foundation and found a way to create their own unique version of the genre. Samael did this by slowing the tempos and emphasizing a rhythmic percussive attack. Their third album, Ceremony of Opposites
is widely considered a staple of the 90s black metal movement, and is a near-perfect culmination of the band’s original sound. Instead of being satisfied, though, Samael decided to take their rhythmic black metal formula and push it even further. They accomplished this by adding a huge layer of synths and replacing live percussion with programmed drums. This change definitely confused fans, but Passage
quickly became known as a pinnacle of Samael’s discography. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. On the next three releases, the band stripped their sound of all black metal influence and entrenched themselves in industrial. None of Samael’s industrial releases were inherently bad, but they definitely lacked the intangibles that had originally made the band great.
As if realizing this, Samael came roaring back with the ferocious industrialized black metal of Above
, followed shortly thereafter by the Passage
-lite of Lux Mundi
. Although Lux Mundi
was a step in the right direction, as it did attempt to return some of the classic flair, it still felt a little neutered and by-the-numbers; basically, Passage
without the passion. Hegemony
doesn’t have those problems and it certainly doesn’t lack in passion. From the opening moments of the title track to the final moments of “Storm of Fire”, the guitars dominate with huge aggressive riffs, and the percussion is powerful and varied moving between metal and industrialized rhythms at will. Perhaps the most surprising improvement, though, are the vocals of long-time vocalist Vorph. Beginning with Eternal
, Vorph started to transition towards a vocal style that was spoken-word driven and effects reliant. Even when Vorph brought back the growls on Lux Mundi
, they still felt weak compared to what they once were. That’s definitely not the case this time around. On Hegemony
Vorph has fully embraced the visceral black/death growls that were so powerful around the time of Passage
It’s hard to talk about Hegemony
without constant comparisons to Passage
because the two albums are firmly rooted in the same formula. They both feature an industrialized percussive rhythm, fat power chords, vicious growls and the spirit of black metal (if not occasionally the sound). Within the framework of Samael’s discography, Hegemony
is the natural progression of everything that made Passage
a classic with only minor nods to anything that happened between the two releases. As it is, 15 years late, Hegemony
is a great release that finally embraces the nostalgia of the band’s long-time fans. If Samael truly want to experience a musical renaissance, though, they need to do more than simply rehash a sound they should have kept nearly two decades ago. I believe they still have the talent to do so, and Hegemony
proves they still have the drive.