REVIEW: SAMAEL – “Hegemony”
Consistency — if you had to use one word to describe Samael’s output over the past three decades it would be consistency. Never one to disappoint, the Swiss quartet has been forging ahead with their industrial/symphonic black metal sound for longer than this writer has been alive, and in that time have continued to be front runners in the genre. It is through their dedication to their craft that the band has toured the world, and experienced a longevity that is only afforded to a specific calibre of artist. It seems only fitting that as a way of beckoning in their third decade of existence that the band release another album; and following a six year absence, Samael have done just that and returned to release their 11th album –Hegemony– upon the world.
Those that are familiar with Samael will know exactly what they are getting musically with Hegemony. Frontman Vorph’s grizzled vocals still form an integral piece of the Samael puzzle, but it’s the interplay between Vorph and Makro on guitar that provide the real brunt of the musical delivery, and this pairing is a true testament to the statement that ‘if it isn’t broke, then don’t fix it’. While the guitar work plays on some interesting ideas, particularly in tracks like Red Planet and Dictate of Transparency, it’s the band’s use of symphonic elements which really make Hegemony stand as a firm piece of their discography. As someone that discovered the band through their Reign of Light album in 2004, it is still good to see that the symphonic elements are used as an understated enhancement to the band’s overall sound, and never encroaching the point that they would over-saturate the music.
The drumming in the album continues the very primitive, almost tribalistic sound that the band has used for years now, and the enormity of the guitars wouldn’t be anything without the drumming of Xytros, or Drop’s tremendous bass-line. As with any industrial band these two instruments make or break the good from the great — and these two do a tremendous job on Hegemony.
The album feels more polished than any of the previous Samael offerings in the overall sound and mix department, even though the band teeters a very delicate line between having their music being truly innovative, and being formulaic in it’s approach. It is this delicate balance that makes the album feel as inviting as meeting an old friend, but mysterious at the same time.
Instruments aside, perhaps the greatest strength on this album lies in the bands lyrics, which paint a very inclusive motif of their world. While the band’s lyrical themes have generally focused on spirituality and self-reflection, Hegemony itself paints an underlying tale of world domination, unity and inclusiveness, with lyrics like “The world is our country” occurring with some frequency throughout the earlier tracks. Songs like Red Planet and Rite of Renewal feel like your standard Samael fare, but hold on to this message of rebirth and unity and use it to great effect. Throughout the course of Hegemony, these ideological lyrics help to further this message of inclusiveness and rebirth, and it is through this lyrical flair that the band is able to create songs such as Black Supremacy. While the title may seem confronting in the current state of the world, the lyrics on this track alone paint a very bleak picture of the current state of the world, and whether intended or not serves as an observatory commentary about the nature of mankind’, and it’s constant destruction of all things that provide vibrancy and colour.
Overall this is a good album, but it does fall just short of becoming a great album. While it initially seemed that it was going to be more of the same on subsequent listens, there was enough to discover each time that kept it engaging over multiple listens. While older fans of the band might find this to be very similar to previous releases, Hegemony is still a great step forward for Samael and is definitely an album that is deserving of heralding in the third decade of the band’s existence.