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Samael

Samael heeft sinds de oprichting in 1988 vele gedaantes gekend. Op hun lange reis hebben ze alle kanten van het metal spectrum verkend. Op een bepaald punt was het misschien wel de meest duistere band ter wereld, om vervolgens via de EP 'Rebellion' en daarna met het album 'Passage' volledig door verlichting omarmd te worden. Muzikaal gezien baarde ze sinds die tijd ook opzien, vooral doordat drummer Xytras nu plaats had genomen achter de toetsen en de drumcomputer en daarnaast nog wat percussiewerk deed, maar het gewone drumstel was weg. De reis duurde voort en vele muzikale invloeden werden verkend. Kort geleden, in maart 2009, brengt Samaël 'Above' uit, waarmee ze vroegere invloeden willen eren en stil staan bij waar ze nou eigenlijk vandaan komen. Wat is er in die tussentijd gebeurd? Dat wilde ik ook wel eens weten. Met gezonde spanning wacht ik een telefoontje van zanger Vorph af, die door zijn broer overigens ook zo genoemd wordt, en kijk wat hij te zeggen heeft. Precies op tijd, als een Zwitsers klokwerk. Het gesprek vond twee weken voor de release of 'Above' plaats.

Door: Ramon | Archiveer onder black metal

Welcome to Lords of Metal once more. I've listened to 'Above' and it seems to be an album full of retrospective. So if you don't mind I would like to do a little bit of retrospective in the interview as well.
Okay.

Did you receive any objective reflections in it, yet?
Well, it's gonna be released in one week. So far I just has some comments of journalists and people from the promotions. I haven't heard so much complaining about it, I mean there were people wondering if it was a very smart move to do, but the fact is, I haven't heard any bad comments so far.

Have you played any of the songs live yet?
Not yet, but in two weeks we go to America with Carcass and we're gonna play 'Black Hole' there. The album won't be released there, because there is one month delay. But still we're gonna try it. I am fully excited about it.

I am sure it offers you lot of opportunity to make your setlist a little bit more diverse, doesn't it?
Definitely! I mean, that was the idea. We were doing it as a project before. It was just last year and we were about to do the mastering. And we were listening to the stuff together we were talking about when we were in America before and when we were on tour, we were talking about certain things we wanted in the set. The thing was that for the next album, we should do something more kinky, we wanted to have two or three songs that are really in your face. And we were listening to this and, you know, “here it is, we got it here we don't need to redo it”. So we called Nuclear Blast about the project and they were thrilled about it, so, let's go.

Initially it was never the intention to make it a Samael album, was it?
No, it wasn't and I don't think it would have been that way if we had in mind that it was for a Samael album. Xy, he's doing all the music, and for him this was something very different. We all agreed to use this as a Samael album. And he said “maybe I should rework the songs a little bit” and we said “well, that's the point. If you rework it, it will lose its life and edgy thing that we thought was cool” and it was hard for him to let it go. He takes it very seriously when he works on the Samael stuff. It was a matter of letting go a little bit. This was pretty much whatever came to his mind. The melodies were a little bit intriguing for him, but you know…

As you kind of mention it's got an old vibe, an eighties-nineties vibe, you started back in 19988, am I right?..
Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's right.

You name your big inspirations of that time, which are about the same as my favorite bands (I'm sure we aren't the only ones, R). Which one would you say has influenced you the most for this album?
Oh that's difficult.

Yes it is!
Hahaha. The melody, probably Iron Maiden or early Sentenced, because it was a guitar version of Iron Maiden in the guitar lines. The second song for example, the beginning is pretty much in that direction. Motörhead and Impaled Nazarene a little bit, with its kind of punk thing. Bathory. There is a song called 'Illumination', which is one of my favorites on the album, it is a more middle tempo song and it really sounds like a Bathory song to me, somehow. You know, it is kind of very heavy and has an almost marching beat, which I like so much in Bathory.

I can imagine. I couldn't help but hearing some contemporary, some more modern influences. You mentioned Impaled Nazerene. You toured as a headliner with Strapping Young Lad as support in the past. Would you say they have influenced you too?
No, I don't think so. I mean, I love Strapping definitely, but as you mention we are working a bit in the past. Strapping came with a more modern thing. And besides the sound, which is a little bit more of today, I think the whole melody and everything of ´Above´ is all a little bit old, it´s pretty much all in the past. And Strapping, they are more like a futuristic band. I am not having any problems with them, ´cause I love Strapping.

Who doesn't?
Well, I've met some people that don't, not everybody is compliant.

I agree that has to do with their futuristic approach and I assume that was something you had to deal with when you started using the drumming machine.
Exactly, yeah. That was funny enough, because we toured with them before, the first time they came to Europe, I think it was in 1997 (1996 and 1997, R), with the Full Of Hate Festival back then. We knew their previous album (´SYL´), but this was for 'City'. And we were so happy, we shared the same tourbus. And we had a drum machine but we finally found ourselves playing with Gene Hoglan at the drums, which is one of my favorite death metal players for the drum by far. Or Nick from Entombed, who's got a more sturdy or rock 'n roll type of drumming. So, we were in the middle of these great drummers and we had a drum machine. (laughs) But that was great anyway.

band imageBut Xy, your brother, isn't a too bad drummer either, is he?
I think he is quite a good drummer, actually. The funny thing is Waldemar (Sorychta) says it to him all the time. Because he had to fight a little bit on 'Blood Ritual', where the drums weren't that good, actually. I think 'Ceremony' was better and he was very happy with the drumming on 'Rebellion'. But when he was good enough, he took a drumming machine. He always thought it was kind of amusing. Of course there's always people that have a mindset like you have to do like the others, but we are not like that.

No, definitely not. It's kind of funny to hear you call him Xy, as he is your brother, of course. Do you realize that your life are now a longer part of your life in Samael than the part before and so are your nicknames?
Actually, we call ourselves that way, I mean, everybody calls me Vorph, nobody calls me Vorphalack, really. But Vorph, yeah, that's pretty common. I kind of like it, it sounds strange and dirty.

What does it mean, actually
It doesn't mean anything. I was trying to find a nickname that sounded cool to me. It's pretty much the sounding of it that I liked. I just combined different sounds that I liked. I think it was kind of aggressive, but at the same time a little bit, I don't know, black, dark mysterious and sick sounding…

It is funny you should mention that, would you mind talking about your blacker period, or is that something you say about “well, I've put that behind me”?
No, we can talk about anything.

Ok! Are you even aware of the image and role you had in the early days? In Norwegian black metal, people we're killing eachother and firing up churches and saying which band was true and which wasn't, but they hardly even dared saying anything about you guys. Are you aware of that?
Uhm, I don't know what they were saying, but I never cared about it, really. We're gonna play the Inferno Festival and somebody told that we were going to meet up with my black metal old school friends again, but we didn't have any. I mean, the only band I was writing with was Mayhem and that was it. I mean, the others, they weren't around. I was writing with people like Nick from Paradise Lost or Jeff from Carcass and to Immolation. Mainly death metal bands, or I don't know what you call them, but we didn't have anything with the black metal bands, besides Mayhem and of course Bathory and Venom, the ones that actually started the whole thing.

You have recently toured with Deïcide. Your worlds used to be quite the same, but have grown apart obviously. Is it a point for Glen Benton, that you chose a different way in lyric writing?
Actually, we already toured with Deïcide before we released this album. That wasn't really playing. Maybe you should check with them.

About the darker lyrics a little more: every artist exaggerates his emotions a little, in order to make them more interesting, but I can't help but feeling a lot of yours come straight from your heart, don't they?
Well, I think I have been some sort of inspiration for myself. I suppose on the two first albums, mainly the thing I was writing about, were things I read in books. I was reading a lot of books about occultism and sorcery and stuff like that, that was attractive. At the change some things had become a bit uncommon and almost forbidden. And it was a part of the scene. It was just something that I was attracted to and it's probably when I was writing 'Ceremony Of Opposites' when I tried to write more personal and about the emotions I was feeling back then. They were very dark, but actually, that was actually a very dark period in my life. I mean, I am not writing the same thing today and I am not the same… well, I am still the same person, but not in the same state of mind.

Quite a lot more happy then those days
Well you know, I had the feeling at a certain point, I was just at a dead end. I couldn't see how I could go any further than this. That's when I wrote a song on 'Ceremony Of Opposites', like 'Till We Meet Again' or something, I felt really dark, with no real hope for a better future or a future itself. You know, sometimes thing just get lost a and then you find that you can actually have a life.

A songs like 'Crown', that goes really far, for instance the part in which you say you have “a great ditch around the heart which rejects and estranges” you. It gets a lot more meaning when you hear later songs like 'Shining Kingdom' and especially 'Angel's Decay', in which you kind of say goodbye to that era
Yeah. Well, actually 'Angel's Decay' is darker than it might sound. It just refers to certain things I went through I didn't really like. We all have sometimes very down periods in life and it happened to me for a very long time, so maybe it's all behind me now. You have to become aware of it to try to do the right thing to come back. But I am not really looking to be miserable in order to create things. That's not really my way to look at creation. But at that time, it was the only thing on my mind, so there was no possibility to write about anything else.

No, please don't. You made some great music at that time, but I wouldn't dare to ask anyone to go as deep as you ever went. You use some eastern philosophy in later songs. Are they about pure interest or is that something that really has gotten a hold on you?
I suppose when you start to think for yourself a little bit, you got to make your own philosophy. I mean, sure, I've been fired up by a lot of things I read. But at some point you got to decide for yourself what seems to be closest to the eventual truth. Because I don't believe there's something that's true. But if it's true for you at least, I mean whenever I feel something I can really relate to I can put it into a song or at least use some of it to express myself. You live with not only with your feelings, but with ideas as well.

it is interesting to explore it in that way, I agree. But have you made a final settlement about what you do and don't believe, or is it more like “as long as the feeling's right, it's ok with me?
There is a seizure with people that have a final statement, because then they will not be open to any new ideas. That's where you're dead wrong. It's all floating. You can see the direction which is more inspiring to you or more close to what you feel or what you think. But there is nothing which is safe in life, you know. We're just passing through it. So, no I never really had the quality that I didn't have to move, “this is forever”. 'Cause as soon as I say that, there is something else coming. Really, you know (laughs). It is the best way to contradict yourself and be ridiculous and make fun of your whole life.

I guess that's the best way to look at it. Yet, how does it feel nowadays to play the darker songs, as I remember you were withdrawing a little bit from the lyrics of the songs from 'Ceremony Of Opposites' at life performances. And the song 'Into The Pentagram' too for instance mass a massive hit among fans.
We put it back in the set. We played at the twenty fifth anniversary of Vader in Holland last year. We were invited there and we were going to try to do something special. And we said “well, that would be nice to try and play that one again”. And we were not too excited about it at first. But then we played it and we said “why did we stop playing that one?” It felt strange first and then we were playing it and it was amazing. So now we put it back in the set. It feels great, It feels great. We're rediscovering it and it's interesting again. We probably will be playing it for a while. We're excited about it now. It was kind of boring at a certain point, it is a very simple song to play, so. If you don't really find a way to grow into it, you're gonna get bored very soon. But I think we're all at the same stage about it, right now and we're probably going to keep it for some time.

But wouldn't you ask your money back if Motörhead wouldn't play 'Ace Of Spades'?
(laughs) That wasn't exactly my favorite song by Motörhead. I like their slower songs too.

band imageI just used is as an example for a song that your audience, I'm talking about 'Into The Pentagram' now again, really wants to hear.
Yeah, so it's good that at this moment we're on the same stage, then. Of course we know sometimes people are expecting us to play some things, but I rather not do it than just do it for the sake of doing it. If you cannot really enjoy what you're playing, what you're delivering is fake. People will feel it, you know.

I agree the audience would notice instantly. Especially with you. You put a lot of your personal side into your performance, a lot of your personal feelings, don't you?
When the song is kind of personal or it means something strong to you, this is where you find the connection. The song is already done, you just have to deliver it. So you have to find the connection to where you were when you wrote it, somehow.

Do you think that is important, to go back to that feeling?
Well actually, for me it is not only important, it is essential. Because it is the only way I will enjoy doing it. I think it is important. You get a whole life every night, again and again. Especially when you got a setlist which covers twenty years of your life, there's plenty of different things that happened during that time and you just get a chance to relive that every night you play. It's just a great experience.

Well, with your experiences I am sure they are. But how come that you are able to put so much emotions into a death metal type of voice? I couldn't tell anyone else that can do that, not in the way you do it at least.
I don't think I'm growling, really. My interests were, besides Lemmy who was the first one to have a kind of dirty voice, that was pretty much Quorton, from Bathory. It was more a matter of pushing the vocals to the extreme. Well, he wasn't playing live, so maybe it's easier. I think once you succeed in doing it right, you can do it over and over again. And well, that's something I've learned with the experience. So there's a way to modulate it. If you just push it, you don't need to growl, 'cause growling is pretty much monotone.

We were talking about the black period before. Is it really blunt of me to ask if you ever had any connection to the people around Anthon LaVey?
Well, you know, I've never been into anything, but I was interested, into a lot of things. Yeah, I was writing with Peter Gilmore back then, because he had a magazine called 'The Black Flame'. He took over the flame of LaVey when he was dead. At that time he was just a member of the church and he had the magazine. I had a connection for one year, I wrote to him a couple of times, but I just didn't find the connection. For me it was just his rule (NOTHING NEW), really. Whatever LaVey wrote I read before. Maybe not be from Crowley or from other people, like the French guy, Richard Remy, or stuff like that. It was really nothing new. I had fun with it, I don't need to be a part of it.

This topic seemed to be obligatory, but things have changed a little bit in the last, say fifteen years, within metal. What you do think of Gaahl, from Gorgoroth, who recently came out?
Oh yeah, I heard that one. I don't really care about Gorgoroth, neither about his life, or sexual life. It's all good to me, you know. Good that he has fun.

But don't you think it is kind of brave for him to come out of the closet?
Yeah, I don't know. This is a topic that we have lost, you know. I remember when Rob Halford came out. I mean, we all knew before, but for some reason there were still people who were surprised. I think it is more a promo thing than anything else, but you know, maybe he has a need to say it and good for him.

In perspective, when I read the lyrics of 'Above' there seems to be a slight touch of hatred coming back. Did you just go along with the music or..
Yeah, I pretty much go along with the music. Usually for Samael, I always have something lying on the side. Sometimes I almost have a song finished with the lyrics and then I see if I can use the whole song to wade in with the music, or I try to make it move to make it fit in. And I see which lyrics goes with which song, eventually. But with 'Above' I had nothing ready. I just wrote whatever came to my mind. And then I worked on the form to make it fit into the song. And that's funny, because working like that way, I didn't dig any deeper than where I was. So it's pretty much the same lyrics I wrote on the last three albums, but with different words. The music is different, it's more crude, more frontal, you know. Less metaphorical. I guess it's another way to say the same thing.

And the song 'Polygames' for instance, is about the most erotic thing you've done since “copulate the fresh made wounds” of 'Flagellation', isn't it?
(laughs) Well, there is another song called 'God's Snake', which is pretty much explicit as well. We had some songs that were sexually explicit on the other albums too, for example 'High Above', from 'Reign Of Light'. But that was probably more metaphoric than it is on 'Above'. But Above' is crude music, so you make it rough.

Well, you did a good job there
(laughs)

The song 'Black Hole' made me realize that you don't live that far away from the particle enhancer, do you?
You know, we really had a good laugh on that one. I read things, even in journals here they were speaking about what could happen eventually and I thought to myself “what arrogance people can have”. They're thinking they COULD do something that big (creating a black hole). I mean, if that would be possible, let's go, let's do it. That's so grant to say we might do something and then the whole universe is gonna disappear. Right, sure, get on with it. That's so silly, It was just one guy who was worried a little bit. But yeah, that was a good laugh. But the song doesn't have anything to do with that, if that was your question.

No, I was asking about your living area. You kind of love Switzerland don't you? (the song 'The Cross' is dedicated to Switzerland)
It is a very nice country. I am always happy to leave, because it is not very exciting, you know? It is nice, but there are places in the world I like better. I cannot live everywhere at the same time. I always thought I'd move from Switzerland, but I'm still here. It doesn't mean I won't move. But it's all more complicated now, because I got a house here. So, if I move, I probably need to find something else and I cannot afford it at this moment.

I assume it is a big step to leave a country, isn't it?
I suppose so, but why not?

I couldn't really tell, actually. Is Samael enough to support yourself with financially, or do you have something on the side?
I don't have anything on the side. But I don't live that crazy, so it's ok. I take care with my money. I'm all right. You never know what your future is like in life. Especially when you're doing music. There's some years your doing great and some others it's hard. So you better not be like crazy, so you won't get big surprises.

It is a really big compliment, that you have managed to cope with it (lots of people will envy the courage). I mean, I saw you seven times in ten months on the Passage-tour. I saw you headlining for a thousand people one time, but some gigs you had about fifteen paying visitors. How do you still get motivated for that?
The motivation is the same, that doesn't change. I remember when we did a tour for 'Eternal', just a short one in Germany, that was when Makro left the band and that was difficult. We went to America once with him as well and then he left the band. And the whole vibe within the band was not so great. I kind of lost, not the excitement, but, it's about the vibe. You're four people and if the vibe is not good, there is always a time when you have to adapt to the moment. And back on the tour I enjoyed myself so much again, in 2002, when we were in Mass his room actually, because he has a small studio, that wasn't ready to use yet, so we were like shoulder to shoulder almost, rehearsing there. We said “well, that's a great. If there's a little bit more space it would even be better and if there are some people, that would be fantastic. If you can't enjoy it that way, I suppose you can't enjoy it in any way

So, now you took a long trip, and no you're back again, to the point where you begun?
(laughs) That funny, you know. There's some quotes in certain songs that have a very strong moment sometimes. You don't know why. I mean, I remember in 2002 we did a festival, that was when Makro just joined the band again, we hadn't played one single show. So, to be back on stage, and having this lyrics, then that has a special meaning, today. There's also another thing in 2002, I remember when we were playing in Israel, there were a few quotes that I never noticed how strong they were. But there, in that environment, it was a lot stronger than usual.

Ok, let's close it up. One direction I haven't asked you about is your guitar. You always used to have a Jackson, the Kelly model, right?
At the very beginning I had a B.C. Rich, because everybody had one. And then I had a Randy Roads Jackson and then I had a Kelly. Then I moved to Gibson, I had an SG. And now I am so happy. We are endorsed by ESP and my guitar (Viper) is kind of the crossover between the Jackson and the Gibson. It is more aggressive, but it has kind of the same shape as the SG. I couldn't be more happy.

Isn't it about time to get your own signature model?
I'm happy like this. I can have the guitar I want. I don't even know what I would change on this one, besides the colour eventually, or some little things. The guitar itself is just perfect like this.

Well, there goes my next question, then. A lot of guys, especially with Dean and ESP, have their own signature model, have you noticed?
Yeah, but I'm not like a guitar hero. I'm really more like playing my rhythm guitar. All the complicated things Makro is doing… So I'm pretty much playing the basics, you know, cause that's easier with the vocals. I don't think I am so much an influence in the guitar world, you know, I don't really mean shit, so…

…maybe not as a solo guitar player, but I think you and your band influenced quite a lot more people than you might be aware of
Well, okay. Maybe, but I bring nothing special. There's not much into the technical stuff. Ok, you can say Tom Warrior from Celtic Frost was an influence for people and he's not a great guitar player either. So okay, that could happen sometimes.

So you don't feel like having your own model, then?
Well, I supposed when it would come to the table one day, we could discuss it, but I'm fine with it.

Well, that was about everything I wanted to ask. I'm sure more questions will pop up as soon as we disconnect…
Yeah, the moment you hang up the phone “I should have asked this or that”.

For now, I wish you all the good luck with 'Above' and the touring. I hope the album will hit on with your fans. Is there anything you would like to say?
Only that it was such a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much. Have a nice evening.

And now I know I should have asked if he was ever about to move to The Netherlands…

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