Album Title: Hegemony
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 13 October 2017
Those that are familiar with my ramblings will already be aware of some of my odd music-related foibles. For example, my irrational dislike of brass in rock/metal, especially when it gets in the way of more conventional genre instruments, has been well-documented. I mean, why have a saxophone solo when it could be a guitar? Many won’t agree, but that’s how I feel.
But here’s another one to add to the list, about which I have remained relatively silent up until now: I really don’t like synthetic drums. More descriptively, I dislike any substitute for a human being playing a conventional drum kit. Samples, electronic sounds and drum machines are a definite no-no for me. There are exceptions to this self-imposed rule of course, with Native construct being the most immediate example. But then again, much of this has to do with the fact that the band went to great lengths to make the drum sounds as realistic and organic-sounding as possible. In this day and age, with equipment becoming ever-more sophisticated, there may be a time when the electronic effects will be almost imperceptibly different from an organic delivery. But this conversation must be parked for another day.
Right here, right now, I’m not a fan. So by rights, I should have discarded this band and album from my review pile for this very reason. The band in question are Samael, the Swiss industrial symphonic black metal band who have been delivering their brand of extreme metal for nearly three decades.
Samael, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Vorph, keyboardist/programmer Xy, guitarist Makro and bassist Drop, have always employed programmed drums. And, in spite of this, I find myself liking much of the band’s output over the years. ‘Eternal’ is a good example, an album which I have nestled within my collection and to which I listen from time to time with genuine enjoyment. Unlike bands like Native Construct however, Samael don’t attempt to disguise the ‘fake’ drums. Quite the opposite in fact, as they use this ingredient as an important facet of their sound. The juxtaposition between the heavy guitars, extreme vocals, big melodies and the electronic beat just seems to work with Samael. It plays well to their ‘industrial’ tag, and over the years has seen them gain a true cult following and a reasonable amount of success.
‘Hegemony’ is Samael’s tenth full-length studio release and it is quite uncanny how the band has managed to tweak their sound over time and yet appear so immediately recognisable. When they started out, bold symphonic black metal was their weapon of choice, but have since moved into a realm, beginning with ‘Ceremony of Opposites’ (1994) where their black metal has become blended with striking industrial overtones.
What you get with this latest album is something quite familiar; vibrant and upbeat extreme metal with venom but also strong melodic intent and a catchiness that can become quite infectious. But more than that, it demonstrates that there is still plenty of fire in the belly of this group of musicians – you simply can’t pen songs like these if you’re getting tired or lack enthusiasm.
The opening title track proves my point immediately. Catchy, bombastic, filthy, heavy as you like, it ticks all the boxes, coming out of the speakers like a hungry, possessed beast. My head is nodding along vigorously from the outset, as the enormous groove gets to me instantly. Vorph has always sounded pretty menacing but here he sounds savage, albeit delivering a positive message. And yet this dichotomy works.
Speaking of positive lyrics, this is certainly a theme that rather surprisingly runs through ‘Hegemony’. Within the overt darkness and the bleak landscape that Samael so effortlessly portray is a thread of positivity which, in many ways, is as infectious and uplifting as the music that surrounds it.
Returning to the music and there’s an unwritten rule that says that you only name your very best material after yourselves and this must indeed be the case with ‘Samael’. It is an energetic track that maintains the strong start to this record. The chorus that then bursts out from the melee is just marvellous, bristling with melodic intensity and anthemic grandiosity. By this point, I have completely forgotten about the synthetic drums and instead, I’m headbanging away and grinning like a loon.
‘Angel of Wrath’ showcases the industrial, vaguely Gothic side of Samael very nicely indeed. It moves inexorably at a bruising mid-tempo, crushing all in its path. Bathed in a hugely symphonic, theatrical sheen, it is both grandiose and bludgeoning at the same time.
Elsewhere, the quality music keeps coming. ‘Black Supremacy’ explodes into life at a speed and with an attitude that is pure black metal, before opening up into another gloriously melodic chorus. The ‘drums’ are programmed at warp speed whilst the remainder of the band busts a collective gut to keep up, but it works really well, making it a personal favourite, even when the tumult threatens to get out of control near the close.
Then there’s ‘This World’, which juxtaposes a memorable chorus with an unsettling dystopian-esque and disquieting soundscape to satisfying effect. Meanwhile, ‘Land Of The Living’ is pure cinematic territory with yet more powerful melodies whilst ‘Dictate of Transparency’ is the kind of song for which the phrase ‘choooon’ was coined. The energy is fantastic, but the enormous chorus is even better.
The bottom line is that ‘Hegemony’ is definitely one of the surprises of 2017 for me. I can’t remember the last time I heard Samael sounding this enjoyable and irresistible. And when they are in this kind of form, Samael are extremely hard to ignore. So do yourselves a favour and don’t ignore ‘Hegemony’. It is most definitely your loss if you do.
Score of Much Metal: 8.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities
Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise
Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome
White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day