Leadership and dominance, well that is something Samael know all about having been worshipped from the early days with their unique and devout take on blackened metal. Forerunners of the scene they have been around since way back in 1987 and their journey has been a bit of a precarious one not without trials and tribulations. They threw curveballs along the way bolstering the electronic impetus of their sound circa the fantastic 1996 release Passage which along with Eternal remain firm favourites of mine but then kind of got caught in the mire of label contracts which took them ages to severe ties with and truly get back on track. They jumped to Nuclear Blast for a couple of albums brothers Vorph and Xy along with stalwart guitarist Makro soldiering on and then another long period of silence. We knew Hegemony was coming catching an annoyingly technical glitch of a show at Incineration Festival earlier this year and now at last the album lands on new label Napalm Records. Several singles and video tracks have been aired and things looked good, have Samael got their form back here? Yes is the answer and a resounding one, the first album in 6 years is one hell of a powerful one without an ounce of fat despite having 11 tracks and a cover, it simply doesn’t let up in the slightest and takes you on one hell of a giddy ride. Time to buckle up and press play once more.
The title track booms in and takes off with an austere majesty about it, forceful and in command with Vorph’s dictatorial vocals driving it along. Yep the synthesized parts are not going anywhere and Xy magnanimously has his parts symphonically exuberant and out on display. The song like much of the album stomps! That is definitely the best description as it marches imperiously away swaggering and bristling in a fashion that will grip you by second or third listen. It would seem the band have a new bassist in the ranks and Drop gives plenty of power as we “drop” into the statement that is the bands self-titled number ‘Samael.’ When a band does this you kind of know that they must totally believe in what they are doing and when they put the spring like bounce on this one you are going to be wanting to pogo up and down to it at a gig. ‘Angel of Wrath’ was the first taste we got of this and with the rasped out near spoken parts I can’t help thinking of Laibach, it’s something that has always followed me round with Samael as I am sure other (younger fans) make comparisons to Rammstein especially with the “fiery” lyrics on this one. Truth be told Laibach keep going off on annoyingly frustrating self-absorbed trips of their own and on the back of their latest near unlistenable album ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, ‘Hegemony’ comes at the best possible time and provides everything I am missing in them.
I could easily write about each and every song here, they all have their own identity and a huge sense of individuality so it’s near impossible not to. Make no mistake there’s a lot of material to take in but the band never get bogged down in anything too long, hitting the mark right between the eyes and moving on to the next target. It is near impossible to choose a favourite track, that’s for sure and I find new things on each and every listen to compel me. ‘Red Planet’ hits a leaden groove and has a massive anthem etched feel to it as it powers away and chokes in a stranglehold not akin to running out of atmosphere. Xy really is in his element and goes into mass overdrive on ‘Black Supremacy’ a title as in the face as the burgeoning industrialised frenzy. It’s the fastest and most savage song on the album the BPM count and the spiralling tumult one of the fiercest songs heard from the band in many a year but one with portraying a sense of overriding grace in the process.
I guess any narrative is for the listener to determine, one gets the feeling there are no right or wrong answers. I get a futuristic, post-apocalyptic vibe from both the music and song titles themselves. ‘This World’ however could be a message of the impending doom and spiralling out of control chaos we are living through and the more funereal feel of ‘Against All Enemies’ our inevitable demise as we tear each other apart. ‘Land Of The Living’ is another catchy number that travels right from the head to the boots and makes you want to pound away with it and one gets the feeling that Samael are feeling totally energetic and rejuvenated here. As for the final cover, Helter-Skelter fits in nicely and whilst it is unnecessary explaining how the original ideas behind The Beatles song seem to tie in perfectly with the rest of the albums perceived themes they certainly put their own indelible stamp on it much like Siouxsie And The Banshees did all those years ago.
With the vigour and verve constantly flowing through ‘Hegemony’ all I can say in summing up is that this is an album that’s very much a triumph and a glorious return. It’s pretty much an essential purchase and guaranteed for those rapidly approaching end of year lists. I just hope a full tour is in the offing.
(9/10 Pete Woods)