For nearly 30 years, Switzerland's Samael has stood at the forefront of black metal and industrial metal, pioneering and ever changing a continually morphing scene. The band has a message in both its music and its lyrics, taking on sociopolitical topics and the hypocrisy of religion.
On the new album "Hegemony" (out now via Napalm Records - buy it here) the band continues its domination in the industrial metal scene and CROM had a chance to check in with vocalist/guitarist Vorph to talk about the album, politics, religion, the death of Martin Ain (Celtic Frost) and more....
CROM: Are you pleased with the response the band has received with the release of “Hegemony”?
Vorph: We've got a very positive feedback from people who have listen to the album and the songs we already played live turn out to be instant classics. It took us time to complet the work on that album but it was worth it. We feel a strong connection to “Hegemony” and seeing the album so well received is the best we could ask for.
CROM: Politics is not a new topic in the lyrics of Samael, especially on previous albums with “Let My People Be!” “In Gold We Trust” and “Slaveocracy.” Was the idea for “Hegemony” as both a song and the album title to be a wake-up call in response to what is going on in the current political environments, especially the U.S. and EU?
Vorph: It was never something intentional, something that we conscientiously have decided, it happened naturally. We always try to make sense of our environment, in the early days of the band existence, that environment was mostly shaped by the things we were reading , which in my case involved mainly books on occultism and philosophical essays. Our personal experience became latter the central point of our lyrics, maybe we open ourselves more to the world or the constant flow of information makes it more difficult to ignore what's going on around us, but in any case we have more songs today that are more connected to the Zeitgeist than ever before.
CROM: When I first saw the track listing for the album, I actually had to go back in my collection to realize that you never had a song called “Samael.” That song is actually one of my favorites on the new album. Has that song become the defining song for Samael in terms of saying “this is who we are”?
Vorph: This is exactly it. We wanted to write a song called “Samael” for a long time but we never found the right angle before. This is a song about the link between us, within the band and with our audience and I think that link defined who we are.
CROM: Another song with a very strong message is “Against All Enemies.” In a brilliant form of lyrical irony are lines like “Against God there’s Science, Against Evil – common sense..etc” Is the only thing holding humanity back from evolving beyond its own bounds is itself and do you think there is any hope that people can finally realize that the boundaries are created by mankind? How much does this overwhelming fear of death and beyond play right into the religious establishment’s plan?
Vorph: We all have at least two lives, the one we live and the one we dream and one of our goal is often to reconcile those two lives. Those who stop dreaming will be more inclined to let religion take the lead in their life as one of the most common things in religions is to say that the life we live isn't what matter, there is something bigger and better waiting for us after death... I'm pretty sure that if we were immortals, religion would disappear.
CROM: When the video for “Black Supremacy” was released, it caused a bit of controversy when people didn’t grasp the meaning of the song. Even though you prefaced the release with quotes talking about how this song is merely about the color black, social justice warriors were quick to decry the band for “going black face” in the clip. Did you even feel the need to defend yourselves and has the world become too overly sensitive in this age of social media?
Vorph: Our intentions were clear and we never felt the need to justify ourselves beyond the explanation we gave for that song. As everybody is entitle to express his/her opinion on social media it is very likely that one will often come across opinion that are radically opposed to what one think but that is the price to pay for freedom of expression and that's OK by me.
CROM: I consider Samael one of the pioneers of the industrial metal sound. As you morphed that sound from the early black metal days into adding electronic and techno elements, it seemed that there were a host of bands that made a similar type change, especially black metal bands. Is it so natural to transition from black metal into something that seems so drastically different?
Vorph: Black metal is the most extreme form of metal around but in order to stay that way it has to reinvent itself, and meshing with other extreme form of music is a good way to do it. We're open to a lot of different music and we don't shy away from incorporating it to our sound. It just has to feel natural to us.
CROM: While most of those black metal bands drifted into an atmospheric/Avant-garde style, Samael always remembered the power of the guitar riff. When you compose new material, do you normally center it on a catchy guitar riff, or does that come later and how important is it that the band retain that metal crunch?
Vorph: We come from the metal scene, this is our background. I was listening to Maiden, Priest, Motorhead before hearing Venom, I loved their mix of metal and punk with that dark twist which made them all the more interesting to me. Latter on when I got into industrial music that was band who had distorted guitars that had the biggest impact on me. Guitar is definitely a central element of
S A M A E L's music.
CROM: I know that Celtic Frost was a big inspiration and friends with the band and the recent loss of Martin Ain was a big one. Can you describe what Martin has meant to Samael on both a personal and influential level?
Vorph: Hellhammer and later Celtic Frost were a big influence for us in the early days, I was and still is a fan of their work. I didn't know Martin so well but we met on a few occasions. He accepted to meet with us before the recording of our debut album and gave us some advise on the business side. We originally thought about having him to produce the album, he decline as he never did that before but he agree to have a look at the lyrics, his mother was from America and English was his second language. Years latter he booked a show for us at the Lucifer convention in Zurich, that was the first show for “Ceremony of Opposites” run.
CROM: You have another appearance at 70,000 Tons of Metal coming up in February 2018. How does that experience compare to other performances the band?
Vorph: It is a full metal experience! When we're not playing we're watching other band play, and as it is a closed space we're more likely to meet the same people and got to know them better. This will be our 3rd time on that cruise, we enjoyed our past experiences and we're looking forward to this one.
Thank you for your time! Looking forward to seeing you perform again on the boat.