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Album Review: Samael – Hegemony

Samael are a band that sadly gets overlooked fairly often when the topic of great 90s blackened metal comes up. This wasn’t always the case, though. 1991’s Worship Him and to a greater extent, 1994’s Ceremony of Opposites made huge splashes in the burgeoning underground death and black metal scenes alike. Their sinister, oppressive atmospheres earned them praise from black metallers, and their almost catchy approach to brutality endearing them to fans of death metal. Unfortunately, after three great albums, Samael saw fit to jump on board the train of 90s industrial metal, much to the disdain of fans. From 1996 onwards, the band put out several albums of symphonic industrialized blackened death metal, creating a few good albums, and a few that… weren’t so good.

However, all that is ancient history. Samael’s 10th album (and fourth with Nuclear Blast) is upon us, and if anyone was still holding out hope for a return to form this late in the band’s career, they’re in for some heartbreak as the industrial elements of Samael’s modern sound are as present a ever. But for the first time since 1994, they’ve created an album that’s all killer, no filler. Hegemony opens with the  title track, and it wastes no time setting the mood. Big, grandiose orchestral sweeps play overtop of harsh feedback before the band’s signature massive drums crack like thunder at the very front of the album’s mix. This is the very definition of a drum-led album. Yes, the elaborate orchestral arrangements are present, and yes, the band have some crunchy industrial riffs up the sleeve of their grease-stained chamber robes. But the real star here is Xytras, the mastermind behind the drums and keyboards. There’s nary a blastbeat to be found on Hegemony, but it hardly needs them. This is one of the most aggressive, assertive drum performances I’ve heard all year.

As the album progresses, the band constantly one-up themselves, and every couple tracks, the bar is raised another notch higher. A big part of this album’s success is its symphonic elements. While not quite as intricate or complex as the arrangements found on your typical Fleshgod Apocalypse album, they’re also far removed from the cheeseball theatrics of latter-day Dimmu Borgir [Ed. note – or anything A7X have done basically ever], for which I’m eternally grateful. There’s an evil swagger to the symphonic elements that’s simply delicious, and the balance between riffs and orchestral sweeps is something a lot of so-called symphonic bands would do well to take notice of. Neither overpowers the other, and there’s enough breathing room for each instrument to truly shine. The record would be a lesser beast if this weren’t the case.

After all these years, they’ve finally done it. Samael have crafted an industrial metal album that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Ceremony of Opposites. It’s heavy, grandiose, and includes the most metal cover of “Helter Skelter” I’ve ever heard, because why the fuck wouldn’t it? If you still hold any doubts about Samael’s place amongst extreme metal royalty, let Hegemony put your mind at ease. They’ve more than earned their seat on the throne.

You can order Hegemony from Nuclear Blast’s website.

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