Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Samael - Solar Soul (2007)

While Samael wouldn't ultimately jump back on the horse for me until the angrier, 2009 effort Above, their seventh full-length 'heavy' album (discounting the experimental contractual filler Era One/Lesson in Magick #1) Solar Soul at least pulled out a little damage control for the stunningly mediocre Reign of Light. In other words, it was clear by this point that they had hit their nadir, swirled around the bottom of whatever bottle was indulging their respective identity crises, and decided to swim back up to the surface and take a few breaths. Once again, I really, really enjoyed this when I first came across it, but was obviously listening through rose-colored...ear. After a few months or so, I came to the decision that this was not in fact some savior of a record to reaffirm they could attain the brilliant level they were at in the mid 90s.

However, the songwriting chops here seem to hearken to their glory days, and there are actually a few tunes on this one which I'd include with any career-wide highlight reel. It's still quite a bit cheesy in the lyrical department, recycling the 'let's all hold hands together' globalist hippie garbage promoted so heavily on the prior few albums, almost like this band of former Swiss occultists had suddenly discovered Krishna, or tantra, or universal unitarianism, or whatever. But at least the music here serves up a serious beating when matched against the electroid detritus of Reign of Light and Era One... The guitars still bounce back and forth between the inspirational hooks and chords of earlier works and the vapid dumbell chugging of the most LCD industrial metal you can fathom, but there is far more effort placed in the context of harmonies and other melodic structures. It's a busier album than Eternal, for example, and I really like that the guitars were reasserting themselves as a riffing force rather than passive accompaniment to the beats and synthesizers. Remarkably, it still adheres to that sense of Romantic escapism which defined that album as so unique at the end of the 90s...

...to the point that I really feel like, if you stripped off its production and just analyzed how the songs played out, it's like an amalgamation of tracks that were left on the cutting room floor during both the Eternal and Reign of Light sessions, but with a refined production that itself is stronger than either. There are a couple dragging, lame tracks where they err on the electronic side a little too much (like "Western Ground" or the Rammstein-in-the-Orient vibes of "Quasar Waves") but they also beat you over the head a few times, foreshadowing the aggression level of Above ("On the Rise", or the chorus to "Valkyries'"). The synthesized horns smack of Reign of Light and Passage both, the vocals are largely in the style they had been since 1994, but once awhile they'd surprise me with a tune that follows in the 'spirit' of a precursor, but adds a new twist in the keyboard pads used, or the direct construction of the rhythm guitars. For instance, "Olympus" seems like a callback to "Jupiterian Vibe", but the guitars are nearly as interesting, more so than something like "Ave!", which isn't so compelling, or the prior decade's "Tribes of Cain" which was obviously a less inspired rehash they didn't want on Passage itself due to the redundancy it would create for the listener.

In the end, though, Solar Soul just doesn't go far enough into either a new direction or back into the past to really have made much of a difference. It thankfully and deservedly avoided the dumping on that Reign of Light took, but after perhaps a half dozen listens I recall shelving it and rarely having the interest in hearing it again when Passage, Ceremony of Opposites or Eternal were available to me. A tight album, which fixes some of that awkwardness which stunted its predecessor, and confirms to the more confused corner of their audience that they weren't going vocal electronica full-time (which a few folks might have feared when hearing Era One); and not unpleasant to listen to. In 2007, I might have ranked this a point or so higher, but time hasn't been the kindest in terms of keeping this set of songs moored in my memory banks, so it remains among their least visited albums in my collection, excepting the two before it. If nothing else, Samael seemed to be gaining ground again, instead of losing it, and the gradual incline in quality it hastened has since continued through Above and Lux Mundi.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (push aside yesterday)


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