Swiss statesmen Samael have a long and illustrious career stretching back three decades. Things have been a bit on the quiet side for them following the release of Lux Mundi back in 2011 but now there is a flurry of activity, a belting new album Hegemony, a new label, and bass player. We spoke to guitarist, vocalist Vorph to find out what has been happening of late and get a bit more info on Hegemony.
AN: You must be relieved to finally get the new material out there. It’s been 6 long years since ‘Lux Mundi’ what caused such a delay, actually working on the material or was it more a case of the dreaded label situation, something you have been more than plagued with in the past?
Vorph: There has been a few causes for this delay but label wasn’t one of them. We had all the songs ready in 2013 already when Xy got an offer from the city of Sion in Switzerland to create music for a spectacle they’re doing every year. He accepted to give it a try and that whole project took him over a year to complete. It delayed the completion of our new album but it also gave him the chance to work with a full orchestra, something he wanted to do for a long time. That experience probably also benefited the new songs as there are more keyboards arrangements now than before. We also had a line-up change, Mas left the band and was replaced by Drop, we wanted to play a few shows together before recording the new album and decided to play “Ceremony of Opposites” entirely a few time but as the demand increased for that show we ended up playing over 40 times over the last two years. There were mainly festivals beside a couple of small tours in Canada, Russia or Poland. Last year we finally made a break and recorded the album, we mixed it during the summer and spent the rest of the year in negotiations with different labels to find the best option to release it… 6 years go fast but we’re proud of “Hegemony” and that’s the most important thing to us.
AN: It’s a new chapter all round really as far as that is concerned. How did signing up with Napalm come about, why did things not progress with Nuclear Blast and what attracted you to your new home?
Vorph: We’re been happy with the work of NB but as our agreement with them was over we thought we might as well start afresh with a new collaboration. Napalm were interested in the band for a long time and we thought the time was right to make this happen. Napalm are on the rise at the moment, they have new people working for them, a new office in Berlin and the general vibe is very positive.
AN: A lot of bands, even some more established ones, are going down the route of going it alone without label backing, what with crowd-funding etc. Did you ever consider this sort of direction?
Vorph: The album is fully auto-produced, we’ve been able to record and mix it without asking people to help us financially. But personally I have nothing against crowd-funding and I think it’s great that people could participate to a project that would not exist if it wasn’t for them. We might actually one day use crowd-funding for a special edition or something like this.
AN: Since the last album you also have a new bass player Drop replacing Mas. He had been around a long time since ‘Blood Ritual’ in 1992, was the parting amicable? Tell us a bit about the new player. I see he has been in some other groups such as Sybreed. Was he an obvious fit and what do you consider he has injected into the current line-up?
Vorph: Mas was working as light engineer for over a decade before he decided to focus on that job instead of the band. As he had less and less time for the band he asked Drop to replace him on some shows. When we started playing with Drop everything clicked immediately, he knew all our songs as he was a fan of the band and his enthusiasm was communicative. Originally he played guitar but his bass playing is extremely tight and he is very creative musically.
AN: Was he involved in the writing of the album, is this something you all contribute to or is it mainly something you work on with Xy?
Vorph: When Drop joined the band the songs were already finished even though they weren’t recorded yet. For “Hegemony” this is again Xy who did all the music and I wrote the lyrics and work on my vocal lines. It would be nice if Drop and Mak both participate on a couple of songs in the future as they’re both songwriters and producers.
AN: Sticking with line-ups Samael has achieved something most bands could only really dream of. 30 years of existence and (according to Metal Archives) only 4 ex band members. That really is quite impressive and kind of makes me think that Samael is a real commitment to join and you make choices very carefully. Do you strive for a long term working relationship and what do you consider to be your success in this regard?
Vorph: We never start working with somebody while thinking it will be only temporary but not everybody has the same expectations about what it means being in a band. For 4 years now we’ve the same line-up, music our main focus and we’re all on the same page. That’s what matters, to understand each other and have the same goal.
AN: Working with a brother must come with some perils, do you always find yourself in harmony and agreement. Perhaps you could give the brothers Gallagher and Oasis some mentoring and help them out (on second thoughts please don’t haha).
Vorph: With Xy we’re complementary so we’re not fighting, we help each other to get the best out of ourselves we’re not in competition, we work in collaboration. I don’t have tips to give but to the question what is the more important you or the music if you’re answer is the music then you can pretty much work with anybody.
AN: I imagine that these new songs have been gestating for quite some time, just waiting to be heard. I’m also guessing that after a long time out you had no shortage of material waiting in the wings as such. How did the development of Hegemony come together and was working on the material done differently in any way from earlier albums?
Vorph: The work on “Hegemony” was more or less similar to our previous albums, we just spent more time on every songs. As I said before we had the songs at the demo stage already in 2013 we went back to them few times, first Xy added new arrangements, then we checked all the songs with the rest of the band and finally Waldemar Sorychta came for the recording.
AN: Obviously you are a band who uses technology at the forefront of your sound and this is something that moves so fast. The way of making music has radically changed over the years and you must always be learning how to best use new methods. Was this the case even between now and the last album, are you quick to embrace new tech and is it something that you are always experimenting with?
Vorph: Xy is not spending all his time keeping up with the technology but since “Lux Mundi” samples of acoustic instrument sound more real than ever before to the point where it becomes difficult to know if something has been played by a real instrument or if it’s a plugin. He also used a few plugins that essentially made noises… they’re not on the forefront in the mix but you can hear them every time there’s a break in the music.
AN: Of course it doesn’t come without difficulty and can go wrong especially in the live arena. We got a stonking set from you at Incineration Festival in the UK earlier this year but it seemed like you had problems with things at first there, what happened? It must be particularly difficult when you are faced with a quick turn-around to get on stage?
Vorph: I don’t remember exactly what was the problem there but it might have to do with the drum machine which is quite old by now. Xy is currently investing in new gear so part of the problems we encounter that night should be resolved.
AN: Another disadvantage is the way that music is obviously leaked, sure it took effort in the old days to put things on cassette and tape trading is something we are all guilty of (yeah I bought all your stuff on CD eventually honest). Now it just takes a second and its there in cyberspace for everyone to leech. This is something your label has been particularly damaged with recently. What are your opinions on this and how would you say it has affected you as a band?
Vorph: Of course there’s a downside to this, concert ticket price went up, labels aren’t ready to invest as much money in bands as they used to and recording studios have a difficult time staying alive. But I rather see the good things, more people have access to our music, the quality of the physical product has increased, there are more special editions and vinyl is making a come-back. We all have to adapt to changes if we want to survive.
AN: One thing I have not seen any mention of is themes with the new album. Is there any particular narrative running through the songs or is it something that you perhaps leave the listener to make their own conclusion about?
Vorph: I like to leave the listener free to have their own interpretation of the lyrics just as they have all their own way to connect to the music. There’s a few themes that I tackle on “Hegemony” one of them being the idea of new beginning, of rebirth with song as “Rite of Renewal” or “Land of the Living” but beside those two songs that have a similarities, the rest of the album is pretty diverse.
AN: Hegemony for example, it’s a very strong word suggesting leadership or dominance. I think it’s’ fair to say that as a band Samael stylistically are leaders within their field and innovators too. Is the album title and the fact that you have chosen to call a song ‘Samael’ itself perhaps making a statement? ‘Rite Of Renewal’ kind of strikes as self-evident too.
Vorph: I don’t think this album could easily be assumed. The song Samael deals with the link that united us within the band and the link that united us with our audience. The link between people, the link with our inner self or with the outside world is something that comes in a few songs. We gave that link the name of our band and that is, I think, a strong statement.
AN: As far as other tracks are concerned there’s a bit of a vibe of futuristic dystopia about things or perhaps not quite so futuristic what with the chaotic times of the present? Is there perhaps something reflective of the state of the world at the moment here or am I just reading too much into things?
Vorph: It’s true that “Hegemony” is the album that has the strongest connection to the Zeitgeist, it is partly due to the nonstop flow of information that comes to us as any given time. Back in the days, we used to isolate ourselves from the outside world while working on an album, we were almost living in a hermetic world that has little to no connection to our surrounding. Now we can’t do that anymore, I don’t know if it’s good or bad but that’s a fact and “Hegemony” is a parasite and almost impregnated with the reality of our time.
AN: If I am even slightly in the right direction here Helter-Skelter is a definition of chaos itself as far as the origins of The Beatles song is concerned. Is that why you chose it as a cover or was it just simply that you loved the song? Out of interest have you ever heard the Siouxsie and The Banshees version and did you know that by pure coincidence retro doomsters Kadaver have just released a new album with a cover of the song on it?
Vorph: We wanted to cover “Helter-Skelter” because we thought it was somehow the prototype of most of the music that inspires us, metal, punk, industrial… we knew some versions, the one from U2, from Mötley Crüe and we heard a few other but we thought we could do it our own way and turn it into a S A M A E L song. It is as much a homage as an appropriation.
AN: You have done a Depeche Mode song in the past too I guess you would never really go for an obvious “metal” song, any others that you would love to tackle?
Vorph: We have a few but we don’t know if we’ll do it, Helter-Skelter wasn’t a new idea but sometime it takes a while until an idea materialise.
AN: Staying on that subject the one band I do sometimes find comparable to Samael is Laibach, not sure you would agree or not but probably a dream idea is something along the lines of what they did with Morbid Angel and you both collaborating on each other’s songs. Well I’m just putting that notion out there…..
Vorph: Laibach is a band we’ve lot of respect for but I don’t know if a collaboration would bring something interesting to the table we’re both influenced by classical and industrial music so we might have too much in common for a collaboration to be fruitful.
AN: On reviewing the album I did think each and every song was strong enough to release as a single and indeed you have chosen no less than 3 and with their digital release there have also been some videos. With so much new music coming out at the moment (Oct and Nov seem absolutely crazy) did you feel you had to make a real impact and project things from all angles to be noticed? For the record I think you succeeded.
Vorph: We wanted to present “Angel of Wrath” first as we thought it was a typical S A M A E L song but with a fresh angle. I agree that any song could have been a single that’s why we let the people at Napalm choose the second one, they picked “Red Planet” which was also a mid tempo song so we decided to release “Black Supremacy” after that so it would show that the album had a bit of variety.
AN: The Black Supremacy video looked a bit messy; tell us a bit about the making of that. I bet the clean-up operation can’t have been fun?
Vorph: Cleaning was indeed quite a process… It is a friend of ours doing documentaries for a research centre who shot the video, a long time friend of Mak and they made the editing together. It took us one night for the shooting and many other nights for them to put it together.
AN: You have been doing some festival dates and have a few select ones scheduled (the idea of a metal festival on a ship still seems somewhat crazy to me). Have you any plans to take Hegemony on the road as a more conventional tour? If you did it would seem wrong to me you going out on one of these package jobs after all these years and not headlining yourself but this must be very difficult the way the whole industry is?
Vorph: We’ll mainly play festivals next year, we don’t know yet when we’ll tour for the album but it would be nice to do something before the summer…
AN: So 30 years quite some achievement I guess the album marks that occasion perfectly. Looking back did you ever expect to reach this landmark occasion and what would you say are the biggest lessons you have learned along the way?
Vorph: When we started to play together with Xy, we didn’t thought about an end but at that time I didn’t think I would live that long. If I learned something along the way it is that things rarely happen the way you planed them.
AN: Anything else you would like to add for the readers of the site?
Thanks for taking the time reading this. If you’ve some time on your hands, check our album “Hegemony” it is probably the best thing we’ve done so far.
Thank you Pete for your insightful questions and nice compliments about our work!