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Samael: Archangels who cannot fly

“Samael” denotes an arch angel in Talmudic and post-Talmudic lore. A figure who is accuser, seducer and destroyer all at once. Regarded as both good and evil. Thinking about that, Swiss Samael - who have just released their new album Solar Soul – display all those characteristics. Not in persona per se, but in music they play.

In the mid 90´s they emphasised electronic sound, with traces of Black Metal and other Metal genres, which fired them into another dimension – a combination of second wave Black Metal and Industrial. STALKER talked with Vorph, brother of XY, for it was time to reveal the secrets of a band with notorious nick names that remained shrouded in mystery, despite the fact that their career started in 1987. Among all their releases “Passage” (1996), “Eternal” (1999) and “Reign Of Light“ (2004) remain masterpieces in the eyes of many. Yet there’s a new day downing with “Solar Soul”…

You´ve changed record label and joined "Metal family" at Nuclear Blast. Did you decide to leave Century Media to step out on the sun, as we all know, NB is doing a lot to promote their bands?
There have been changes at the label. We had our differences and confrontations, so we came to the point where communication was no longer possible. When our contract came to an end we didn´t want to extend it and we decided to take the offer from Nuclear Blast.

But Era One was released by Century Media a year ago. Was the album completed before that and released afterwards?
There´s been confusion. We delivered that album in 2002 and they didn´t want to release it, saying it did not fit to their expectations. So we moved on, we did another album Reign of Blood which received good critics. So they rang us up saying they want to release The Era One again. More than two years have passed since we recorded it, so we wanted to refresh it, re-mix it and so on. But it was made before Reign of Light.

”Solar Soul” sounds esoteric. Judging by the title, people might think they´ll be taken to a parallel world.
(Laughs) You may interpret it like that as well. Every song has it´s own personality. I see them as couples talking to each other. Promise Land could be linked to Quasar Waves. Both talk about universe, the quest for the self, improvement.

What inspires you to write songs that are evidently influenced by very different worlds: Valkyres from the North, the song Olympus reminds us of old Greeks drinking and having fun, while Promised Land may lead to think about heaven...
You´re right. This is the first time I´ve written about stuff that are the gripe of the real world. In the past we’ve been writing mainly about abstract things. The first song Valkyries is about war. We cannot pretend that wars don´t happen. It´s not a song about particular war, but war in general, though I got inspired after all the news we heared and still hear about war in Iraq.

The Valkyries´ duty in Norse mythology was to choose the most heroic of those who had died in battle to carry them off to Valhalla. And Valhalla is a place where all warriors go to.
Well, it is definitely anti-war song. I tried to portray what kind of consequences the war will have in the end. But we all know that peoples view on war changes. I didn´t want to preach about it, but I want people to stop glorifying it.

Are you satisfied with this album?
Yes. I guess we´ve managed to get the essence of Samael quite well. We were supposed to be working on this album from 2005, but because of touring we left the writing process aside. As a band we’ve spent two years together, so I dare to say that this album is a group effort. It´s the most important album we did and the one I´m most proud of.

Since “Eternal” not many were satisfied with the work you´ve done. How do you generally feel when you read criticisms that the new album just didn´t fulfil expectations? Are you pissed off?
No, of course not. At least not with this album, because I know it´s a really good one. (laughs) And nothing will change my mind about it. I have enough arguments to prove it: it´s far more diverse album we´ve ever done, guitar wise is perfect; there are extraordinary melodies, it’s catchy, it had diverse rhythm... There´s everything. It is good, right?

Yes it is.

In my eyes you don´t completely fit into Industrial Metal, though many tend to label you as such.
I don´t care about labelling, though I agree with you. I think we´re still a Heavy Metal band, though labelling started when we stared to make different music, trying to make it more interesting, so we used industrial parts. I would like people to say ‘That´s Samael’, that´s why we are trying to make music people would recognise.

Do you think you’d be more successful if media wouldn’t label you as strictly one kind of music genre?
Hmm, I don’t think so. I think it takes more to succeed if you’re not labelled. If we’d do music, if we’d have that potential, that people would recognize us as unique band that would be great, but that’s impossible. Each band’s music reflects something from the “outside”, from other bands and you can’t be total outsider.

Many bands that come from countries where Heavy Metal scene is not big are complaining that is hard to succeed or even impossible. Switzerland doesn’t have many Heavy Metal bands, yet you managed to make living out music.
Yes, but we’ve been on German record labels that’s the difference. Our main market is Germany, hopefully eventually Europe as well and United States. In case Switzerland would be our main market, there’s no chance for broader success. We’d be nationally successful band, but that’s as far as it would go.

A tour follows each new album. And I guess it gets harder and harder to prepare a set list that would satisfy the majority: Some want to hear old song, the other new ones. What’s the process of decision making, which song is “in” and which “out”?
It’s always exciting to play new songs after the release of new album, but as you said, we have to play old ones as well. You get bored after playing old stuff so many years, so we usually rearrange old songs.

Is there a song you don’t like to play anymore?
Hmmm. Some songs from “Passage”, because we usually play the same ones, yet there are some like Moonskin we haven’t played for a long time. I liked that song, it was my connection to the past, though I left it behind.

Looking back, listening to the old albums, do you ever feel like re-record some, thinking you might have do it better this time?
No. Never. Well, at certain point we thought Passage could be re-recorded and re-arranged, because we thought, the keyboard should be louder. It sounded great during live performances, but you could barely hear the keyboards on the album. But if we’d change that, the album just wouldn’t be the same anymore. When you’re recording an album, you always try to do the best.

You’ve been on the scene for 20 years.
Yes, almost, but don’t remind me of that. (laughs)

But that’s good. It happens that after so many years bands release an extraordinary album. And all that is celebrated. Do you have any plans for anniversary?
Well, in this case I guess we’ve finally managed to release the best record. (laughs) And for anniversary: we’ve talked about it, but I’m not the kind of person who’d celebrate his own anniversary. I’m not saying we won’t do something, but we sure won’t do it this year.

Author: Simona Drevensek, transl. K. Weber, photos: Nuclear Blast
Date: 2007-07-07

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