Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ten of the best metal albums of all time - Part VII: Samael - Worship Him

There's a very small, perhaps very, very slowly growing movement within the extreme community which seems to promote the idea that for an expression within extreme metal to be valid, it must be some sort of "true art" or whatever, on par with the great composers or painters or writers of the 18th or 19th century. There is considerable effort put into creating a narrative in which bands like Incantation are supposedly on the same level as Beethoven or Mozart in compositional skill, creativity, vision and impact, and for some reason these people are able to take themselves seriously and do not seem to feel ridiculous about their claims at all. It seems to function on a footing similar to those of people who in all seriousness discuss what type of reptile hybrid Barack Obama's secret service agent transformed into in that video that was briefly popular on the internet some time ago. People can believe just about anything, in any artificially created reality they just need to tell themselves as truth often enough.

What leads me to the previous particular opening paragraph for this particular album I'm reviewing is a desire to return to the roots of what drew people into extreme metal in the first place, and being honest to oneself and others about what the extreme forms of metal's core appeals are. Shall we exhibit this required level of honesty and simply admit to ourselves that, whatever artistic depth we have discovered in the style subsequently aside, what pulled us in originally, what we were looking for originally, was how vile, how disgusting, how nihilistic, how morbid, and how evil everything in extreme metal was? This overwhelming quality of overstepping all boundaries to create a force so dark and destructive, so unlike everything created before. An unholy union of qualities you wouldn't have found in any other extreme genre at the time. Sure, extreme grindcore like Anal Cunt or extreme noise like Masonna will have sounded vile and disgusting back around the time most of us discovered extreme metal, but metal didn't stop at vile and disgusting and added a lot more extreme qualities, like extremely dark atmosphere, extremely dense structure and extremely morbid riffing.

There are a number of albums from around the late 80s to early 90s that symbolised this amalgamation of extreme qualities quite perfectly, some have been or will be covered in other parts of this series. One that stands out in particular, though, when thinking of vile, disgusting, nihilistic, morbid, evil, and so forth, is Samael's debut album Worship Him. It has a sound of such pure, unadulterated darkness and such primitive brutality that only the beginnings of extreme metal (if you still count the late 80s as such) are capable of. Suffocating riffing meets an atmosphere from the depths of hell, played with such irreverence for pleasantness and mass compatibility that it was truly shocking for the context of the time of its release.

The riff writing at the core of this album sounds sort of like a cross between what would happen if you sucked any and all trace of NWOBHM out of early Venom and left only the morbidly antagonistic audial devil worship, and the life-drenching doom and gloom of Samael's unforgettable compatriots Hellhammer (and traces of early Celtic Frost.) Both Venom and Hellhammer are similarly defined by a "bulldozing" quality of their assaults on the senses, though accomplishing that sound by greatly different approaches. One relying more of the power of its riffs, the other more on sound and rhythm. Samael have decided to continue that quality and combine both approaches, while at the same time removing anything remotely positivistic or upbeat. Worship Him is not an album to have fun to. Any and all "party music" qualities of its progenitors have been mercilessly extinguished. What's left is a core of riffs that definitely harkens back to the earliest days of extreme metal, but is unforgivingly dark and evil. Exactly the type of stuff anyone who can relate to this review's first two paragraphs was looking for when first getting into extreme metal.

It isn't just the core of riffs that is so brutal and morbid in its primitivity. Both the whole songwriting process and the production process seem to follow the singular goal of sucking anything life-affirming and beautiful out of what had been in extreme metal before. Riffs are arranged in a very simple fashion, but one efficient at its destructiveness. The percussion at the same time reminds of ancient war drums and whips the listener into a frenzy of worship of the dark and evil. It helps create a certain passion that the music otherwise might have lacked, even if the lack of passion would be minimal considering the unhinged brutality of the riffs. The vocals themselves add a charme of irreverence few extreme metal vocalists could provide. The combination of all instruments drips of blasphemy, and it is irresistable to succumb to it. The rough but sharp nature of the production puts it on perfect footing to do its deed. Cutting the air like a razorblade, but foul enough to simultanously drench the atmosphere in utter darkness, it puts the extreme nature of the performance in the perfect frame to achieve its maximum efficiency. Simply perfect for this album.

As we all know, the band only maintained its level of brilliance briefly, releasing one more album that while being slightly weaker by nature of experimenting with higher levels of accessibility, still maintained many of the enduring qualities of this debut, before quickly deteriorating into some sort of circus act through the inclusion of one ill-advised idea after another, eventually packing entire albums to the brim with them. It is always a shame to see such a magnificent band lose its relevance in such a short time, but what remains is a debut album that personifies extreme metal like few others, and is an absolute masterpiece in the field.

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