DATE OF INTERVIEW:
27th April 2011
The roots of Swiss metallers Samael can be traced back almost a quarter of a century when vocalist/guitarist Vorph formed the band as a two-piece with drummer Pat Charvet. An ephemeral collaboration, Charvet departed a year later to be replaced by Xy, Vorph's brother, who assumed the role of both keyboardist and percussionist before bassist Mas came into the fold two years after that during the recording sessions for debut album 'Worship Him'. Wowing the metal scene with three notably seminal albums during the nineties, 'Ceremony of Opposites', 'Passage', and 'Eternal', by the end of that decade, Samael had earned themselves a reputation and aptitude for being able to produce some of the most innovatory, yet accessible, dark industrial metal with a strong dose of heavy groove. Into the noughties, Samael's progressive musical journey continued which also saw them part company with Century Media Records and present day member Makro replaced Kaos on lead guitar, but it was not until 2004 when they would return with a new full-length release in the form of 'Reign of Light' on Galactical Records. 2006 was marked by the release of 'Era One', a side-project of sorts featuring Vorph and Xy, albeit issued under the Samael banner which saw a brief return to Century Media. However, they found a new home a year later with Nuclear Blast which has, thus far, seen the release of 2007's 'Solar Soul', revisiting their quasi-black metal roots with 2009's 'Above' and, most recently, this year's 'Lux Mundi'. With the latter, they've forged a rich sonic tapestry flavoured with established Samael idioms but is also very fresh sounding, achieving a perfect fusion between groove, epic melodies and heavy guitar driven passages. Beyond that, they've also struck a fine balance between the innovatory songwriting for which they've become known and audible accessibility. Two days ahead of the new album's European release, Metal Discovery spent some time chatting with frontman Vorph about what is, arguably, Samael's best album to date in their varied canon of work...
VORPH: Very good. And you?
METAL DISCOVERY: How you doing?
(Vorph on Samael's creative approach with new album, 'Lux Mundi')
"...it was kind of the idea to start afresh…even though you’re not starting afresh after twenty years!"
Samael - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2011 [uncredited]
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: Yeah, great, thanks. ‘Lux Mundi’…an awesome new album…
V: Thank you very much.
MD: How pleased are you and the other guys in the band with how it turned out?
V: Oh, we’re very happy. I just got my copy actually, a couple of days ago. I like the way it looks as well! [laughs] So yeah, it’s full satisfaction.
MD: Do you listen to your own albums much after you’ve recorded them?
V: We had to for this one. We spent some time to find the right order for the tracks so we actually tried different things. We knew, very early on, which song would be the opener and we kind of knew which one would be the last one, but then it was kind of mixed. It took us some time to find a flow for the album. But, yeah, we had to listen to it in different settings and different track lists.
MD: For me, it epitomises everything that’s great about Samael because you’ve got genuine heaviness on there, a lot of groove and big, epic melodies as well, but I think I read you approached this one a little differently as if starting out afresh?
V: Well, that was the idea but, really, we didn’t have any idea what it would eventually become. We didn’t have any deadline so I think Xy started working on the new songs just after the release of ‘Solar Soul’ in 2007…and we let them grow. I mean, for every song we had a different version. You know, we did the first one and then we came back to the song, and changed little details. Last year, we went to Germany to recheck the whole album with Waldemar Sorychta. He’s been working with us for…ever almost…[laughs]…Yeah, I think there’s only three albums we haven’t done with him - there’s the first one, ‘Eternal’ and ‘Above’. Every time there was somebody from the outside involved in the creative process there was always Waldemar and, basically, he’d just give us some advice about the construction of the song. Some of them, there was too much material and he didn’t really get how the song eventually could sound or should sound. Sometimes it was just picking one part out or moving one part to another place to make it flow better and make it easier to understand what the song should be like.
MD: You’re quoted on the press sheet as saying that, with ‘Lux Mundi’, it feels like you’ve created a “black hole”. Is that meant in the sense that the new music kind of enshrouds everything else you’ve done creatively?
V: Yes, that’s a little bit my feeling at the moment, I have to say. I don’t know because, as I say, we didn’t have the idea to make this album the following of anything. Basically, two years ago, we released a side-project, ‘Above’, under the Samael catalogue so it was something different and we didn’t want to make it the following of that one. Neither of ‘Solar Soul’ or neither, for that matter, of anything we’d done before. But, of course, you’re gonna find elements that makes Samael what it is because we’ve been doing this for two decades…[laughs] So there are things which are quick, a little bit stronger than the rest to your taste, and those elements are there but that was not our intention to make a continuity somehow. Like you said before, it was kind of the idea to start afresh…even though you’re not starting afresh after twenty years!
MD: Of course, yeah!
V: So you can’t start at zero but you can find a sparkle that inspired you at the beginning. And there’s a lot of elements, lyric-wise as well. For example, the subject of religion, which was probably the main topic on the first two or three albums, kind of went away for some time because, personally, I’ve been over religion for some time now. But I got the feeling that it’s kind of coming back to our society; it’s more present today than it was ten years ago. You know, people I hear speaking in a pub or even in the newspaper, they’re talking about religion all of a sudden and you’re wondering what’s going on. I think, well, maybe it’s time again to say something about that subject. But, you know, the people we are now, it’s probably less provocative but a little bit more in depth somehow.
MD: So what song on the album is about religion? Was it just one song?
V: There’s two on this album. There is ‘Antigod’ which we, basically, chose the title to be a little bit provocative but the song itself is where we stand on the religion topic. And then the song ‘The Shadow of the Sword’ which is inspired by the Muslim religion but, basically, it’s pretty much something which goes against any monotheist religion. I mean, religion, in general, bothers me a lot but monotheism is something more official somehow so I think we feel more entitled to criticise it.
MD: There’s a song on there, ‘In Gold We Trust’ – does that have any religious meaning to it as well?
V: Well, you can find it, definitely, but the idea was, more or less, to criticise the society we’re living in here in the western countries.
MD: It’s a much more materialistic society now.
V: Well, it’s nothing new under the sun, really, that’s true, but it seems like things are going down a little bit. I mean, it doesn’t look that bright anymore like it could have looked, I don’t know, twenty or thirty years ago where you will say, well, you could make more money and more money, and it will never end. I mean, there is an end to this and some places, they’ve already reached it. You know, the problem that America’s going to face very soon…they’re facing it now but they don’t really realise it yet. It’s part of this as well – you can worship money making as a goal in life but there’s a side-effect to it.
MD: Yeah, making money becomes certain people’s faith almost, I guess.
V: Definitely. And, of course, you’ve got the joke about ‘In Gold We Trust’…
MD: Yeah, that's a good play on words. So you said Xy started composing ideas for the album back in 2007 – would you say the material’s benefitted from having a longer gestation period?
V: I would say so. I would say so because, at no moment, we felt like we lost it. We did in the past but there’s always a time where you kind of rush it because you’re thinking, well, we have to finish this album somehow, and that was not the case here because we felt, well, we could take forever because there was no need for us to release an album at this point. I mean, we could have toured a little bit more…and it just happened now because we felt that was the right time. Maybe if you push it too far then it’s not better. I like to keep a little bit of spontaneity and that is what I like in ‘Above’ a lot – I’m not sure it’s the best album we did…actually, I know it isn’t, but there was something in this album, some kind of energy that we kind of lost for a time because we were spending too much time trying to make the songs sound nice, and too nice sometimes, and definitely not the case here. We wanted to have something a little bit more rough, especially with the mix. We mixed in England with Russ Russell, the first time we’ve worked with him, and we’re totally happy with the result. You can find some definition in the songs – you can still hear the guitar, the keyboard and everything…
MD: Yeah, considering there are so many layers, it’s great as you can hear everything clearly.
V: You can hear it but, still, there is this massive thing going on. I still like the way ‘Solar Soul’ was mixed but I think it’s maybe a little bit too crystal clear somehow. You can hear everything but you lose this kind of heaviness and people who discovered us at the time, they always said we sounded a lot heavier live. So we were trying to find the right balance there.
MD: Yeah, I was gonna say that one good quality of the production is it’s not overly sterilised or overly polished…it has a live kind of feel to it almost.
V: That was the idea. I mean, I’m happy you say that.
MD: So was it your intention from the beginning to do that or did it evolve in that way?
V: Well, once we had the songs then yeah. We thought, well, we can still do this kind of clinical type of mix but we were going to lose something in there, and especially after ‘Above’ because ‘Above’, as I mentioned, was like a side-project…and we mixed the whole album in four days which is a little bit too shorter time and definitely there’s something which has been sacrificed in the process. But, for ‘Lux Mundi’, we took our time…
MD: So Russ Russell mixed the album but did you have any involvement in that yourselves; did you come over to the UK?
V: Yeah, we came there twice. We had the first session for two weeks, I think. Basically, as we released an EP with the song ‘Antigod’ and a couple of other tracks, we had to mix this before anything else. We kind of mixed half of the album on the first session, then mixed the rest on the second.
MD: There are a lot of passages of music on the album that have a prominent film score kind of vibe to them, which is more pronounced than on anything you’ve done before . Was that your intention to give the songs that kind of feel?
V: I would not say it was my intention because, actually, we split the work like this – Xy’s doing all the music and I’m just writing the lyrics and finding my vocal line. We’ve worked like this since ‘Ceremony of Opposites’ which was a long time ago. And yeah, myself, I listen to a lot of classical music but Xy’s more, as you say, into movie scores so, definitely, it should have an influence. I don’t know exactly where it came from but, definitely, there’s something of that, yeah.
MD: Yeah, you can kind of imagine the music actually used in a film. Has it ever been your ambition to do any film soundtrack stuff at all, or perhaps Xy’s ambition?
V: We’ve talked about that…but the opportunity never really came across. We’ve had a few songs used in movie things but just a Samael song for a little part here or there, nothing that was really a challenge or anything. It’s not like you work for the movie. But that could be something very interesting to do one day. If the opportunity doesn’t come across then that’s alright as well but that would be something interesting, definitely, yeah.