SALEM is an Israel-based band with a considerable experience of being on the Metal scene. However, “Playing God And Other Short Stories” is only the 6th full-length in their over 20-years career. I have to admit that I have not been acquainted with the group prior to this release so I can not relate it to the previous deeds from the Israelis. Well, as the content of “Playing God...” is for me of mediocre character it isn’t perhaps a big music loss not to have heard the whole discography from SALEM, though who knows...
The things do not start that bad for the band, tough, as the two-part opener called “Drums Of The Dead” is built on structures that vary in the tempo and atmosphere. Thrash Metal aesthetics in the rhythm section and the riff department are suddenly transformed into a slow/mid-paced chorus, which at its best moments gains a pretty trance flavour especially in the final part. This is unfortunately also the moment where my doubts start gathering – the use of female vocals spoils actually the effect of the well-developed disturbing mood. Not that these vocal efforts are directly bad, quite on the contrary, they just do not fit here and that’s all. The same thing is actually relevant for certain other songs on the album like for instance “The Mark Of The Beast Pt.1” or the cover of Bob Marley’s song “Exodus”, which by the way irritates a bit with certain bass drums sequences that are exposed just too much in the mix. The drumming performance is on the other hand really good in the mentioned opening song’s chorus – very intense and imaginative. Another highlight in the same song is also made by drums but this time it is about their sound rather than the way these were played. Apparently some kind of a native drum instrument must have been used here for its sounds are of pretty oriental character, at least for a European listener I guess. That would also explain the title of the song.
Marching forward through the sound valleys of SALEM’s I become unfortunately more tired and tired. No grass, no milk, no honey and not many outlooks for good time here. The manna from heaven is sent only sporadically and even if that takes place, the supply is too little in relation to the exhausting around forty seven-minutes long journey. All the way through one can feel as if this experience consisted nearly only of barren mountain or stone desert landscapes. The riffs seem to be monotonous soulless choppy sawing and the thing that makes it even worse is their slow or mid pace. I can not feel any strength, any power in these elements of SALEM’s music even though one could think of some mixture of Death/Doom Metal as the style these represent. There are scarcely any intriguing guitar efforts and the rough wastelands that SALEM created simply beg for at least one decent solo, some rain or at least a couple of water drops, which could bring some life out there.
The male vocals do not make the things better. Admittedly they maintain the most important life functions of the one who decides to venture into the SALEM’s kingdom, yet this is not enough. The growling lacks in energy, something deep and the singer’s timbre is actually neither interesting. Perhaps one thing that suits the Israelis’ Doom/Death compositions is the sound – unpolished, pretty raw, though still not that dirty.
The extremely tired wanderer through these desolate lands find however some consolation in the final part of “Playing God And Other Short Stories”, which provides another bunch of some oriental sounds including the clean singing, this time coined by male throat(s). It is a pity that such refreshing ideas do not appear here more often. The band receives another plus from me for their approach towards the lyrical plane of the album. Perhaps next time they will come up with more interesting stuff, this one is not anything special.
(Online October 30, 2010)