I must admit, right off the bat, that I’m quite the SALEM fan. For over 20 years these Israeli veterans have churned out quality Metal yet they’ve remained, by and large, absent from the Metal ‘spotlight’. The fact that they hail from a part of the world where violence and turmoil is the order of the day also lends more credence to their message, as opposed to some band in LA that feels like the world owes them something. Anyway, I hold in my hands a copy of their brand new album “Necessary Evil”, and as I had hoped it is another fine release from Ze’ev Tananboim and his not-so-merry bunch.
While not as popular and as expansive in their sound as fellow countrymen MELECHESH or ORPHANED LAND, SALEM can certainly not be called a boring band – from their raw beginnings as a Black-ish Death Metal band on “Creating Our Sins” from way back in ’92, to the more Doom-based “Kaddish” (1994), the slightly more commercial Doom/Goth “A Moment Of Silence” (1998), to the orchestral “With Strings Attached” (2005), these guys have constantly pushed their sound, seemingly never content to regurgitate the same album twice. Oh yes, they have also received a mail bomb from everybody’s favorite Aryan Varg Vikernes during the early part of their career. Well, here we are in 2007 and with “Necessary Evil” they have presented us with their most brutal AND progressive album of their career. You get pretty much everything on here: from trademark Middle-Eastern/Oriental melodies, to Thrash, Death Metal and all out experimentation on the 5-part, 27 minute long opus “Once In A Lifetime”. It’s not always an easy listen but ultimately it is a rewarding listen.
The opener (“Blood”) is a mid-paced Groove-Thrash track that benefits from the aforementioned Middle-Eastern vibe, and even though it initially comes off as a bit pedestrian it soon develops into a fine stomper. “Amona” is heavier still, while “Idol Worship” pounds the skull with some vibrant soloing, Thrash aggression and haunting closing melodies. The first real surprise of the album comes in the form of “Mindless”, another groovy track that just reeks of IRON BUTTERFLY’s classic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. Four tracks in and every track just seems to better the one that preceded it. It is unfortunate then that both “Hypathia” and “Strife” takes the wind a bit out of the album’s sails, with neither the experimental nature of the former nor the mid-paced Thrash of the latter really amounting to anything worthwhile. “Resentment” regains a bit of ground with yet more ferocious Thrash with a melodic bent blaring through the speakers.
The center piece of the album is undoubtedly the epic “Once Upon A Lifetime”. Throughout its 27 minute duration the band goes all Prog on my ass – think an unholy union of old-school PARADISE LOST, DREAM THEATER, and MORBID ANGEL and you’re about halfway there. It’s not perfect though, with not all the parts/chapters segueing naturally into one another, but on the whole this is a great piece of musical adventurism. Vocal effects show up here and there but they actually add to the heaviness since they’re done right. In addition to that some ethereal female vocals and weird BLIND GUARDIAN-esque acoustic guitars pop up during Parts II and III. The juxtaposition of slow and heavy parts during Part III is awesome, I might add! Part IV is basically an interlude while Part V closes off the saga and album with such unrelenting heaviness that I almost fell off my bed.
At times the production sounded a bit static but as the albums wears on it imbues the songs with a warm, crunchy feeling. Save for a few spoken lines and some strange chanting here and there they have completely dispensed with clean vocals, opting instead for harsh growls and throaty sneers to supplement the heavy whack of the riffs. I’m really digging the sound of this album, and there is some real rage bubbling underneath the surface here. Curiously, many of these songs end off better than they start, so don’t fret if the songs don’t all grab you immediately. Great cover art too.
The few filler tracks halfway through and the pointless interlude here and there keep me from rating this album higher, but at the end of the day it is still my new favorite album of theirs.
Jesus, I’m increasingly prone to writing long-ass reviews lately, but what I’m getting at is this: these guys are an Israeli Metal institution and one of the great unsung bands out there. “Necessary Evil” shows, in no uncertain terms, that they are still a vital act and as such this one should be picked up without hesitation.
PS: Season Of Mist’s promo blurb on the back of the promo states that this album will scare the bejesus out of jihadists, but they mucked up the spelling so that it reads “…scare the bejeus out of jihadists…”. I thought that sounded quite funny and ironic since I think they rather need to have the beallah scared out of them instead…
OK that’s it. I’m out. Now go take a breather…
(Online July 21, 2007)