“Above” is SAMAEL’s highly anticipated return to darker, blacker pastures and considering they’ve spent almost a decade exploring less infernal forms of music it is a blistering return to form. Simply put: if you’re one of those who’ve been clamouring for a return to the sounds and ideas of “Ceremony Of Opposites” and “Passage” then this album will hit paydirt, and in no small way. Be warned though, the band has indicated that this stylistic cul de sac is merely meant as a one-off tribute to their early sound and influences and that future albums will probably pick up where “Solar Soul” left off. For now though we have a great album on our hands.
Most, if not all, of their recent Industrial/Goth tendencies have been scuttled in favour of a more straightforward Black Metal sound, with the tremolo-picked riffs and harsh vocals taking centre stage once again. Hell, even the production has been reined in quite a bit in order to further accentuate the old school-ness of the album. All this adds up to an exciting prospect and Vorph and co does not let us down; I’m actually tempted to call this their best and most vibrant album in years, and it’s a testament to their songwriting skills that they’ve manage to revert back to this ‘old’ sound without the whole thing coming off as ham-fisted in the least bit. “Under One Flag” immediately sets the stage for a great album and that main riff is just ace, as is the positively seething vocals of Vorph. “Black Hole” is another great number and the way they mix up Black Metal with space-y ambience and an almost anthem-like chorus is quite reminiscent of IHSAHN’s solo work and latter day NACHTMYSTIUM, in that it manages to sound both old and modern at once. Speaking of modern, they had the presence of mind to include a few swathes of electronics here and there and thankfully these are so well integrated into the music that it doesn’t detract from the overall quality. Case in point: the “Verso remix” of “Black Hole”, as well as “On Top Of It All”.
True, the album does lose a little bit of steam midway through (some of these songs like “In There” and “Dark Side” begin to drag a bit) but ultimately “Above” is a classy piece of work, one that will tide over older fans quite nicely. They’ve shown that they still have the black flame in them, so to speak, and it’s burning bright again. Take hold of it...
(Online March 30, 2009)