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Samael’s career abyss - 49%

MaDTransilvanian, March 27th, 2010

One of the first metal bands to which I’ve been exposed, Samael have led quite a special career. The band started out as a classic, necro mix of black and death metal during the late 80s and early 90s. At that stage they began evolving towards a slightly more industrial sound in the mid 90s, albeit one which was still heavily rooted in metal and gave off a huge space vibe, as exemplified by the high quality Passage album. They kept on going in that direction, adding industrial elements, shortening their stage names and making the music catchier each time which losing a bit of their metal past. Eternal was still quite good but then came this… Reign of Light.

This album is the point in their career where the metal elements reached an all-time low. This honestly sounds more at home at the Eurovision contest than on Metal-Archives. The guys’ songwriting skills are still prevalent and, much like Peter Tägtgren’s side project Pain, what might be a complete trainwreck had it been written by some nobody is turned into a catchy, almost decently done industrial album. For the most part. That’s because, like many similar efforts, the amount of filler and of songs which get hideously irritating is quite high.

Analysed individually, none of the album’s various elements contain what one usually associates with metal, let alone extreme metal. The vocals would be right at home on any number of industrial bands’ albums, although they’re still the evident result of the gradual evolution from mid-era Samael. Vorph performs a kind of semi-clean vocals in his usual recognizable voice, with a slight, greatly reduced rasp, reminiscent of the band’s glory days. The vocals aren’t really the problematic part; in fact they’re what make the highlights (the good songs’ choruses) actually enjoyable. The music is driven by a keyboard-guitar combination which, instead of featuring the latter instrument in prominence, reduces it to a few buried riffs here and a supporting role for the keyboards, which are by the most important part of the music. Melodies which pop stars wouldn’t shy away from putting into their albums are prevalent here and they’re sometimes used with good taste but more often than not become annoying and seem out of place. Additionally, the drumming is insanely repetitive and slow, with a sound which is extremely distant from what anyone expects from a metal album. This sounds more like a shitty club beat than like actual drumming, which is what the overall production seems to favor as well.

Looking back at that paragraph, a part-by-part analysis of this album makes it sound horrible. Fortunately the aforementioned songwriting skills these guys possess come in to save a certain portion of this album. When they succeed, they create insanely memorable songs which are catchy enough to be hits, preferably to an audience used to a good amount of industrial elements into their music (dance music kiddies will probably still dislike this), and the (good) songs actually have a high replayability value, which is what such an album should strive for. The opener, Moongate, is relatively good (the vocals are well-done) but both the structure and the keys are a bit off and annoying, respectively. Inch’Allah is, however, a masterpiece of industrial/electronic, mostly due to the perfectly arranged chorus where the vocals and keyboards create a soaring, epic atmosphere. The exact same thing can be said of the title track but perhaps even more so (better, catchier), with some good guitar work thrown in as well. The other primary highlight is Further, basically the only really good song on the latter half of the album and a more slow-paced, somehow relaxed song compared to the previous great ones.

The rest of Reign of Light basically goes from either decent but slightly unremarkable industrial songs (Telepath, Heliopolis), some of which were pitiful attempts at commercial success, to a large amount of filler and even a couple of really gay songs, namely As The Sun and the catchy but laughably cheesy On Earth, a single which, once you realize that half the world’s capitals are mentioned and that lines such as these exist, just make you wonder what the fuck happened to the guys who released albums like Blood Ritual :

Touching the sky with our hands
Longing to love to understand

Reign of Light is a very strange and inconsistent album. One the one side it contains great songwriting and a few stellar moments yet on the other it fails are being anything remarkable or important. Luckily Samael have moved a bit closer to metal since this album, although they’re still a bit too close to this whole post-modern industrial image/sound for my tastes. Anyone interested in the band should definitely check out every single album preceding this and might even want to just stop there, perhaps get the good songs from this album. Purchasing Reign of Light is only recommended to those wishing to complete their Samael collection or to people who desire an industrial album without balls.