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Samael

Het duurde maar liefst zes jaar voordat Samael weer een nieuw album uitbracht. De ‘Ceremony Of Opposites’ anniversary tour, een project van componist Xy voor de stad Sion, plus een wisseling van label kwamen er tussen. Daarnaast is bassist van het eerste uur Mas(miseîm) ook vertrokken vervangen voor Drop. Het nieuwe album is echter weer magisch als vanouds en Samael lijkt met de esoterische touch, aangevuld door meer agressie dan op werken als ‘Lux Mundi’, nu zijn definitieve vorm gevonden te hebben. Daarnaast was zanger Vorph actief op YouTube met zijn mening over tal van gewichtige onderwerpen, als de doodstraf, LBGT acceptatie, vegetarisme en zo nog een aantal. Niet dat er een directe aanleiding moet zijn om Vorph te gaan interviewen, maar dit alles en het verschijnen van het nieuwe album ‘Hegemony’ maakten het wel hoog tijd.

Door: Ramon | Archiveer onder death metal / grindcore

Welcome back to Lords of Metal. The first and obvious question: what took you so long?
Well, six years actually go by really fast. But one of the things, we had multiple songs already down in 2013. We recorded them on demo. And then Xy (keys, percussion and main composer in Samael) got an offer from the city of Sion. They have two castles and every year there is this spectacle with music. And they asked him to do that. For him that was the first time he could actually work with a real orchestra, because there was more budget. That was a dream for him and we supported him to do it. So that took over a year for him to compose, record and mix it. And then we went back to the album, but we broke the whole routine, which was a good thing. When we looked back at what we had, we could look at it from a distance and it was already older material to us. Plus now Xy had the experience with the real orchestra, and he was in the mood for mood key arrangements. And then we had a line-up change, because Mas decided to pursue his career as a light technician. We totally supported him. He was the first to call Drop, our new bass player, to fill in for some occasions, because at that point he thought he could do both. But it didn’t work and Drop became the official bass player in 2014. He was the guitarist and main composer in Sybreed and he is very rhythmical. He is like a machine with rhythm.

Well, your actual drummer doesn’t leave much room for improvisation.
That’s true. But to finish off your question, we also had the ‘Ceremony Of Opposites’ shows, when we played the whole album on festivals. And then we recorded the album last year. And now it’s six years already.

Off topic, I see it is full moon now, which reminds me of the song ‘Moonskin’…
Do you have a question about that?

Not necessarily, although it is an interesting song, because it is such a different song. And it represents a totally different phase in your life, doesn’t it?
It was. That song was about a personal break-up and I thought that song should not make it to the band, but it was too difficult to ignore it.

That was an important moment, where you changed the style of music and you changed your name from Vorphalack to Vorph and where you openly left your flirts with Satanism and your contact with Peter H. Gilmore behind you.
That’s true! Although I think that in life you never leave anything behind, it is just following you somehow. But yeah, I had the feeling after ‘Ceremony Of Opposites’ we had arrived at a dead end. It was… we had to take some altitude to move forward, and that is what we tried to do.

Yes, also lyrically. I mentioned ‘Moonskin’, but I think ‘Angel’s Decay’ is an even better example. I call that the exact opposite of ‘Crown’.
I don’t know, ‘Crown’ was more passive, it was not developing into anything, it was (laughs) waiting for the lightning, somehow. ‘Angel’s Decay’ is more like, well, moving.

Maybe I am overanalysing, but in ‘Crown’ it sounds like you chose a path and you are coming to terms with the fact there is no way out. Indeed that passiveness you talked about. Whereas in ‘Angel’s Decay’ you seem to reflect on a period in life that didn’t give you what you were looking for, but et you kept following.
I really like the way you look at that, good!

Since we mentioned the name Vorph, there is some debate about your own name. I assumed it is Michel Locher, but most websites insist on calling you Michael Locher, which one is it?
Hmmm, mmmm… My name is Vorph (laughs loud in a sinister way).

Yes, yes, I know it is. Were you pissed off that your name was outed? It was by the Ukrainian band Horricane, right?
That’s possible. We come from the French part of Switzerland and the name Michel is the common way to write that name. Okay, I give you this one. The thing is, I was baptized as Michel Locher and that is the exact reason why I wanted to change my name.

Wow, thanks for that answer. Congratulations on your thirtieth anniversary! I am sorry to say I only follow you for the last 25 years and I can remember congratulating you with your twentieth anniversary. I will come to the album later on. But did you ever consider making this anniversary?
Not in that terms. Actually, I didn’t even consider making it to thirty myself when I started this band, to be honest. Thirty was already old and I had no intention to go further than that. Then you change with life and things happen, you deal with that, and here you are. Going strong at forty, reaching fifty soon… So I had no idea I would still be here thirty years after. But I did know, I just knew I would not be anything else. When we started to do this I knew I wouldn’t do something else. I decided very early one it would be lifetime, I just didn’t know how long that would be.

You have no plan B for a career?
I don’t have a plan B, no!

And still not?
Still not (laughs)

Do you have any other interests in what you could have been? I mean, I have seen you a lot. I have seen you fill big venues, play big festivals, but I have also seen you play at mid-week concerts for only eighteen paying visitors. You have had those highs, you have had those lows, have you never considered doing something on the side?
I never really thought about it. What else could I do? I never had an idea. In thirty years, of course you go through your highs and lows. There is no way around it.

And you need those lows to appreciate the highs more, right?
True! You know when it happens.

Someone, I can’t QUITE remember who, but someone wrote the line “Since only from below can one better see the heights”, a while ago.
Hmm, I remember that (laughs). That was a young boy.

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There was no internet when you started. Now social media is huge for bands. You personally are not that active on social media are you, is that because you appreciate actual contact more?
We had our website in 1999, just before we released ‘Eternal’. That was an early time for a band to have a website. Facebook was not around. Then what came? MySpace was there. I remember the early days of tape-trading, but I am not nostalgic, I have no interest to go or even look back in time to much. I enjoyed the time back then, I enjoy the time right now. You live with what you got and you try to live your way through it. That’s the idea. As for Facebook, I’ve got a Facebook page I do not use that often. I use it mainly to post on the Samael page.

Why is that, is it because you don’t consider that actual interaction?
No, it is just my personal point of view and I don’t judge others, but I think there is a just middle line to it. Once you passed this, you are being used by the media more than you use the media. And it is there to serve you, not the other way around. I do use computers and check my messages and stuff, every day of course, once in the morning, once in the evening, that’s it. I know people posting things on Facebook every two minutes, or at least check what’s going one. I think it is slavery somehow.

We do live in a Slavocracy now then, I guess.
(laughs) It is not what I want, but to a certain extent it is nothing new. I mean, just because I don’t react to things, does not mean I am insensible to it. But the war in Syria is not going to change in any way I say something about it. And there is coverage by the media of it, at the same shit happens in other parts of the world too and we are not even talking about it. Maybe even places I don’t know, because the media are not paying attention to it.

Exactly, like Myanmar, or in African countries we don’t even know about what happens there. Well, let’s leave that. Over the past thirty years, what comments have hurt you the most?
Comments? I am not going to tell you I am unsensitive to bad comments, because that is not the truth. But I try not to let them disturb me too much. I try to wash it away when it becomes too uncomfortable. I try to think of doing things before I do them. So if we have a song out, we have a thought behind it and if we get attacked, we are ready for it. We know what it’s about. But sometimes you just become a prey for frustrated people and I don’t let those kind of people destroy my life. There is this idea that it is very edgy for reviewers to have a point of view that is kind of radical. Of course, if you find the right joke as a reviewer, maybe it is hard to resist, but.. I myself have been radical on certain subjects. But after a while you change your mind and maybe you should think twice. Our mind is not always strong enough to have a full vision. Sometimes, if you get a bigger angle, you see things better. There is always a different story to everything.

I saw some videos of you, the quote that really got me was about gay rights, death penalty, vegetarianism and so on, right?
That was when Xy had this project for Sion and I didn’t have much to do, a few years ago. I did a few topics that were dear to my heart and important for me. I am NOT telling people how to think or act, I don’t like to preach, but when I say I am a vegetarian, maybe people have a different look on the concept of it.

You sort of did give a personal opinion in there, didn’t you?
The first video I did was on the death penalty. It is not really a topic in Europe, as long as Turkey is not a member. But extreme right people are calling for it here, that some people deserve that. And I think that would be a step backwards. What shocks me that in America people with lesser educations and lesser chances in life, are convicted more than any other groups.

Other videos were about racism, vegetarianism and drugs. I agreed with all of them, which is quite rare. On all of these videos you share your personal experiences. But not on the gay rights issue. Why not?
I have gay friends, so of course it is shocking that that even here in Switzerland, in Catholic places, people don’t have the freedom to be themselves. Sexuality is something that belongs to yourself, you have your body, you can do what you want with it. As long as you are not touching children, I am fine with it. The idea behind the video was that if people come out, I won’t judge them.

You said a great thing about it, “The less freedom there is for others, the less there is for you”, I thought that was very strong. Another thing was about the right of women to choose to have or not have a child. How does that reflect your own lyrics, like ‘Cursed be she who gave me birth”, which of course was written with a completely different state of mind?
My idea is that when a child is not wanted and is forced into this world, it will not have a good life. Is every life worth living? I don’t know. This is not for me to answer. I am lucky I didn’t have to face parents that regretted what they did. It is a very bad start if you have a mother that doesn’t want you. A woman near where I live killed her baby of a couple of months. She was forced to have a child she didn’t want, but she couldn’t get to the clinic. It should have taken care of before.


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You also didn’t mention euthanasia or suicide, was that because of the psychological complexity of the matter, when you influence people on that topic?
I did mention euthanasia, but that was more about people who get to the end of their life and go down step by little step. Sometimes they want to take the big leap and don’t go through the humiliation of the final phase. Euthanasia that is related to depression, I cannot condemn that too, but you can only hope people find something that can change their mind and something that lights up their life. But I don’t have any experiences with assisted suicide. But the decision lies with the person.

Hey, we are promoting an album here. And it is a fantastic, bombastic piece. Congratulations and thank you. Could you tell something about the writing process?
Oh, thank you on that.

What influence did the departure of Mas have on the writing for instance?
It didn’t have anything to do with it. Most of the songs were ready before he left and Xy writes everything anyway. The major influence that Drop had, was on the mix, because he is also a producer, with great ears. Xy went to Sweden for the first songs, to mix them. We did that with Stefan Glaumann, who already worked on ‘Reign Of Light’ and ‘Solar Soul’. After that, all went through internet. We wanted to have the sound three dimensional. Maybe the guitars are less in-your-face, which I sometimes regret, but he finds the right balance for the songs.

I wasn’t shocked about it. Would you say that this sound is definitive for Samael, as is the logo, or will that ominous message of another shift of style contain more truth than we now all think?
I think this is the shape we belong to, I have that feeling. But, I did have that feeling before (laughs). I think this is the thing, but we cannot do this album over and over again, that is not the idea.

As long as you promise the next one will not take as long as this one, alright?
(laughs) Hopefully not. I don’t want that either, so we try to be more prolific. We had more songs, we don’t know if we will be using them or start writing new ones. We just enjoy this now.

Will there be special stuff coming up for the promotion of the record?
Pretty much doing interviews for the album, we will be doing some shows. Not much big, we play in California next week for it.

I hear you casually say you play in California next week. Bit how cool is it you have a life that you get to travel all these places, meet all these crazy people?
Of course it is cool, we are blessed for this. We don’t think we just deserve this, we are very thankful. We know we are lucky.

You don’t look back much, but if there is one moment in the thirty years that will stick with you forever, what would it be? Apart from this interview of course.
Well, I was going to say that (laughs), that was the one I had in mind. There are quite a few. The first time you do something, it has the deeper impact on me. The first time we had our first album in our hands, we thought “WE MADE IT! Finally”. Then the first tour, first festivals, first time in America, first time in a new country. The first time we played at the Dynamo Open Air festival THAT was something important. Do you remember that one? It was the biggest thing in the world at that time, all the other festivals weren’t there, or not as big

If I was there? You started with the song ‘Rain’ and it actually started to rain outside the tent. You entered the stage with an S&M mask on, which you took off after one song and you had devil’s horns shaved on your head.
I’d say you were there, then. That was an important concert, I remember it to this day. Very well.

I know you have another interview coming up, so I won’t take you much longer.
No, but we need to continue this on some other occasion, then. You have all these sharp memories of that important time.

We will! As a fan, I say thank for another very intense album, as a host, give you the honour of closing the interview down.
Well, thank you for spending a little time to check out our stuff and asking me these questions. I hope there are other people who will find the time to check this album too and hopefully they like it, that’s all I could ask for.

I am sure they will, in your own language I would like to say: au revoir!
Hahaha, dankjewel. Take care!

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