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Medieval Prophecy (1988)
 

Samael was founded in April 1987 by Vorphalack. In 1988 at the beginning of the summer, Pat (the first drummer) left Samael to form another band. He was replaced by Xytraguptor, from the same blood as Vorphalack. Their first demos presented a slow, doomy style of thrash metal with raw vocals, similar to that of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. In October they recorded their 7" E.P. Medieval Prophecy.

The E.P. begins with "Into the Pentagram". The sound is about as raw and necro as it gets, with a slow, doom-filled pace and an inhuman voice screaming in the distance. The production is pretty horrible, being quite reminiscent of the Hellhammer demos. Of course, this only adds to the dark feeling created by this Swiss Black Metal band. The tempo picks up a bit, going into more of a mid-paced thrash riff, but never exceeding this. The atmosphere is evil and dark, with a somber touch. Several minutes into the song, everything fades out and the haunting melodies are replaced by hellish and tormented sounds. These create a very uneasy feeling. Slowly, a dark harmony bleeds through and takes hold of your mind. All goes quiet again as you hear a demonic voice cry out.

"Into the pentagram!"

The Hellhammer influences are obvious, yet Samael manages to surpass what they had accomplished, for the most part, creating a much darker aura than the majority of the songs on Satanic Rites or Apocalyptic Raids.

The next song is "The Dark". This instrumental maintains the hauntingly dark and bleak atmosphere of the previous song. The intro features only an acoustic guitar and the bass, working together to create something truly sinister. As the guitars rise up and rage forward, another influence becomes apparent in the guitar harmonies. It seems to have some influence from the NWOBHM bands. The song isn't entirely bereft of any vocals, but they seem to take on the form of background screams and whispers, appearing for but a few brief moments. Though the approach is different from the previous song, it shares the same dark and epic feeling.

The E.P. concludes with a cover of Hellhammer's "The Third of the Storms". The execution isn't as tight as the versions on Satanic Rites or Apocalyptic Raids (as difficult as that is to comprehend), but the vocals are much more fitting for the song. For one reason or another, Samael opted to skip the lead solo, taking something away from the song. It is alright, but not as good as the original. The only improvement would be the harsher vocal style.

Medieval Prophecy is an impressive E.P. At a time when Black Metal still dwelled farther beneath the surface than it would a few years later, this cemented Samael as a band to contend with and lead them on the path to releasing a full-length album. Pick this up if possible, as it is a highly recommended piece of 80s Black Metal history.
 
(4 May 2009)

 
Worship Him (1991)
 
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Samael are from Switzerland, the same country that spawned Hellhammer. Worship Him displays the inevitable influence that this band had on Samael, as well as other early bands, such as Venom and Sodom. This obscure and occult band rose in between the first and second wave of Black Metal. This possesses a very dark atmosphere, as if in a deep dungeon illuminated by torches, preparing for black rituals.

I discovered Samael in high school, through my best friend. I recall recording this album from him and listening to it for the first time while taking a long drive, through the winter night. That memory has never faded, nor has the impression this dark album made on me that night.

After a short horror intro, the album begins with "Sleep of Death" which is one of the faster songs on here, while not being excessively fast. The bass drum work gives the impression that it's faster than it is. Despite this, the guitars maintain a dark and occult tune, inspired by Hellhammer. The vocals are similar to what Abbath would use, a couple years later, on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. The lyrics on this album keep to esoteric and occult themes. At certain times, such as on the epic masterpiece "Into the Pentagram" there is a bit of a shriek to the vocals, but nothing too extreme.

"Worship Him" alternates between, somewhat, faster parts and slow, crawls. The guitars really dominate this album and often play open chords to give more of this doomy feeling. This is pure Black Metal. While Darkthrone was still a Death Metal band, Samael had already taken the spirit of Hellhammer and carried it to its logical conclusion, as heard with "Knowledge of the Ancient Kingdom". This song bludgeons the listener with its sheer power. The assault continues with "Morbid Metal", which speeds up the attack. This song is reminiscent of "The Third of the Storms". This song crushes your body under the weight of old tombstones and then hacks off your limbs with a rusty axe. The thrash riff, near the middle, wouldn't be out of place on a Sodom or Kreator album. Immediately following this, the song begins to descend into the pits of Hell. The atmosphere changes to one of dread and demonic voices surround.

"Rite of Cthulhu" is a brief instrumental piece, featuring a doom atmosphere created with open chord notes, followed by a bit of thrash. This serves as a half-way point in the album and lulls the listener into a sense of calm before "The Black Face" is unleashed. This song begins slowly, before speeding up and assaulting the listener. The vocals here contain a sense of desperation. Following this is the highlight of the album, "Into the Pentagram". This is the epitome of darkness and evil and is the successor of "Triumph of Death". Slow, doomy and dirty, there is nothing beautiful about this song. The flames have been extinguished. There is no light here. The air is thin and it is difficult to breathe. This atmosphere is carried on into "Messenger of the Light". Still slow-paced, the desperation in the vocals has grown.

"Last Benediction" sounds like score music from a Full Moon release, such as Subspecies or The Puppet Master. It is brief yet it does well to maintain the atmosphere of darkness and horror. This leads into the final song, "The Dark". Faster than the previous song, this instrumental features many more riffs and it quite dynamic.

Worship Him possesses the true essence of Black Metal and is essential for anyone's collection. If you haven't heard this, seek it out or kill yourself.

(2 Nov. 2008)

 
Blood Ritual (1992)
 

In the grim year following the release of Worship Him, the musical landscape had changed, greatly. In particular, Black Metal was seeing some sort of rebirth, in the frozen land of Norway. Darkthrone, Burzum and Immortal had all released their debut albums, and the underground had taken notice. At a time when many musicians were jumping on the bandwagon, Samael simply continued down the darkened path that they had set out on, long before. They went to Germany to record their second album, Blood Ritual, which was produced by Waldemar Sorychta (already becoming known for his work with Unleashed and Tiamat). With Worship Him, Samael established themselves as the darkest band to ever come from Switzerland, earning their place in Black Metal history. Released in December 1992, Blood Ritual did well to solidify this.

Discovering this around the same time as Worship Him, I remember recording them both to an old 90-minute Sony cassette and wearing that thing out. Initially, this was my favorite of the two albums, and it accompanied me on many cold nights. This one joined Endless Pain, Persecution Mania and The Somberlain in marking this particular period. This album is just as dark, though a bit slower, than the first one. There are less fast songs / sections to be found, here. This is all about the murky atmosphere. It has its moments, but the overall impression is that it is more methodical and calculated in its assault.

The album begins with "Epilogue". It is quite brief, consisting of screams coming from some darkened dungeon, a horror-inspired keyboard theme and a brief spoken piece. Like any good intro, it sets the tone. In this case, the tone is much like that of an old Universal horror film, except that you are living this nightmare rather than watching in safety.

"Beyond the Nothingness" opens with a lethal, yet subdued, thrash riff. There is no urgency required here, as there is no escape. It is not necessary to go for the throat, right away, as you are trapped in the deepest dungeons, set to be tortured and slowly drained of all blood. The opening riff is similar to something from Slayer or Kreator, in a way. The vocals still retain the same obscure quality from before, with also some tortured qualities. Most of the rhythms are in the old school manner of things, having little to do with contemporary sounds. The pace never quickens, nor should it, remaining consistent throughout the duration of the song.

Next is "Poison Infiltration", which is also mid-paced and threatening. The raspy, torn-throat screams suit this sound, perfectly. The production is clear, but not overdone in any way. It still retains a dismal sound. There is an epic quality to some of the riffs, truly adding to the atmosphere.

"After the Sepulture" is one of the most memorable songs on the record. Introduced by a brief keyboard melody, you are soon crushed by the heavy guitar riffs, like pieces of a glacier crashing into your skull. The pace gets even slower, near the middle, as some might anticipate a burst of speed to follow. However, this never happens. The main riff returns, along with the increasingly-agonized vocals.

"The sun will turn in black
You will see the dark...
After the sepulture"

A sorrowful acoustic passage begins "Macabre Operetta". Slowly, miserable guitar riffs move in to extinguish all hope from your feeble heart. Tortured screams emanate from the distance, almost wailing in anguish. After a few minutes, a mid-paced thrash riff takes over and the first verse begins. For the first time on this album, the pace appears to pick up a little bit, though never quite breaking into a full run. It's more like the pathetic stumbling of someone who has been mortally wounded.

"Life can't be infinite
Only pain is eternal"

The song ends with another acoustic passage, accompanied by the sound of cold winds blowing over a frozen landscape, littered with the deceased. The aura here is that of complete desolation.

"Blood Ritual" sees the pace increase, and you now realize the brilliance in its placement. This one brings a much-needed energy, to sustain the listener through the rest of this grim ordeal. It can be likened to taking a break from torturing someone, giving them a bit of food or water, so they can survive to suffer even more. Samael's intention is to make this a long and slow process, and it would do no good for the listener to give out too early. The contrast between the previous track and this one only adds greater dimension to the overall atmosphere. This is the art of creating a great album, rather than simply throwing together a collection of songs in any random order.

"Death is the only way to escape the misery of life
Death is the only way to reach the supreme power"

This intensity is followed by a somber piano piece, called "Since the Creation". There are only a few lines spoken, but the message comes through quite clear. Lasting for only half a minute, this one is more like an intro for the next track.

"With the Gleam of the Torches" begins with melodies possessing some epic feeling. Even when it speeds up, this effect is not lost. A heavier thrash riff comes from the murky fog, like a scythe, slicing through your torso. This seems to be one of the more complex compositions on the record. While the Hellhammer influence is still present, it isn't very obvious this time. Samael have truly come into their own, by this point. It is at this point that one might contemplate the possibility that the aforementioned band was only so influential because they came close, but failed, to creating something special. It was left to others to pick up the pieces and continue what was started, so long ago, and to see it through. Despite some faster moments, the overall tempo is mid-paced, making for a cohesive atmosphere throughout the album.

"Total Consecration" is another piano piece, creating a sense of dread and hopelessness. It is like going down a twisted staircase into some unknown pit, deep beneath a ruined castle. From the distance, you hear the raspy voice summoning evil spirits. Inexplicably, you are drawn forth, though in your heart you wish only to seek some sanctuary from the horrors that await you. Like a moth to the flame, you descend into the darkness.

Starting with some of the most lethal and forceful riffs on the whole album, "Bestial Devotion" assaults you from the shadows, like a nocturnal predator. There is an added sense of malevolence in this song. It creeps at a slow pace, though remaining as deadly as ever. It becomes, somewhat oppressive, as the pressure begins to squeeze the air from your lungs and to prevent your heart from beating properly.

The ritual is complete with "...Until the Chaos". Vorphalack's vocals are at their most miserable here, hearkening back to "Into the Pentagram". The lyrics are sparse, yet the feeling put forth in these screams is undeniable. About midway through, the tempo changes a bit and there's a brief section that includes and old school galloping riff. This is like the final spasms, as the body is in the throes of death. The soul-crushing riffs return, along with the tormented screams, leaving you cold and dead. The final seconds of the album see a quick tease of the title track, though it fades away...

Though the band means nothing today, Samael was once a group capable of brilliance. Blood Ritual shall forever remain as a testament to this genius of songcraft. If it is absent from your collection, hang your head in shame (or simply hang yourself) and seek this out.
 
(21 July 2009)

 
 

By 1994, Black Metal had undergone many changes, and it had become more acceptable than ever to experiment and to mix in elements that did not necessarily belong. An increasing number of bands infused their music with synth and other undesirable characteristics. Unfortunately, the mighty Samael succumbed to this temptation as well and their third full-length album, Ceremony of Opposites, was a travesty. While it did not represent a complete departure from their previous material, it was enough to cause many to lose interest in the band's output. It was at this point that they embarked upon a path that would lead them quite far from their primitive Black Metal roots.

Their third studio effort still retains some of the elements that they were known for, yet mixed in with many alien sounds that simply did not belong. However, even if one was to eliminate the horrid samples and the overdone keyboard usage, the result would still be awful. Despite using producer Waldemar Sorychta, yet again, the sound is far too modern and clean for an underground Black Metal band. Of course, this hardly seems like Black Metal anymore, anyway, and this record certainly was not made for the underground. The music consists of a lot of catchy riffs that seem designed to appeal to a broad range of listeners, going for instant gratification rather than attempting to create any sort of atmosphere. Actually, the primary vibe given off by this album is that of some sort of haphazard goth nonsense, instead of sounding dark or evil. There are brief hints of the band that created classics such as Worship Him and Blood Ritual, but those days were long gone by this point.

As for the positive comments, there aren't many. The vocals are still excellent, though too bad that they are accompanied by such horrendous music. Occasionally, they let a decent riff slip in for a few seconds, before it is overpowered by synth or just plain disgusting songwriting. The title track may be the most enjoyable song on the whole album, just for the more doom-laden feeling that is conveyed. Being signed to a label like Century Media and having the resources that they did, one has to wonder why Samael didn't choose to make a really killer Black Metal album and try to spread truly dark music as far as possible. Instead, they took the easy road and opted to incorporate so much synth and just overall horrible songwriting in a hideous attempt to make the band more accessible.

The main reason this CD is still in my collection is for the simple fact that a close friend gave it to me as a gift and I figured to hold on to it out of some idiotic sentimental obligation. Ceremony of Opposites is a miserable album, for the fact that so much talent went to waste in the creation of this abomination. Avoid this and pretend that the band died in a car fire, after their second L.P. All of their fans would have been better off, had that been the case.
 
(6 Sept. 2011)

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