Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Samael - Blood Ritual (1992)

In the grim year following the release of Worship Him, the musical landscape had changed, greatly. In particular, Black Metal was seeing some sort of rebirth, in the frozen land of Norway. Darkthrone, Burzum and Immortal had all released their debut albums, and the underground had taken notice. At a time when many musicians were jumping on the bandwagon, Samael simply continued down the darkened path that they had set out on, long before. They went to Germany to record their second album, Blood Ritual, which was produced by Waldemar Sorychta (already becoming known for his work with Unleashed and Tiamat). With Worship Him, Samael established themselves as the darkest band to ever come from Switzerland, earning their place in Black Metal history. Released in December 1992, Blood Ritual did well to solidify this.

Discovering this around the same time as Worship Him, I remember recording them both to an old 90-minute Sony cassette and wearing that thing out. Initially, this was my favorite of the two albums, and it accompanied me on many cold nights. This one joined Endless Pain, Persecution Mania and The Somberlain in marking this particular period. This album is just as dark, though a bit slower, than the first one. There are less fast songs / sections to be found, here. This is all about the murky atmosphere. It has its moments, but the overall impression is that it is more methodical and calculated in its assault.

The album begins with "Epilogue". It is quite brief, consisting of screams coming from some darkened dungeon, a horror-inspired keyboard theme and a brief spoken piece. Like any good intro, it sets the tone. In this case, the tone is much like that of an old Universal horror film, except that you are living this nightmare rather than watching in safety.

"Beyond the Nothingness" opens with a lethal, yet subdued, thrash riff. There is no urgency required here, as there is no escape. It is not necessary to go for the throat, right away, as you are trapped in the deepest dungeons, set to be tortured and slowly drained of all blood. The opening riff is similar to something from Slayer or Kreator, in a way. The vocals still retain the same obscure quality from before, with also some tortured qualities. Most of the rhythms are in the old school manner of things, having little to do with contemporary sounds. The pace never quickens, nor should it, remaining consistent throughout the duration of the song.

Next is "Poison Infiltration", which is also mid-paced and threatening. The raspy, torn-throat screams suit this sound, perfectly. The production is clear, but not overdone in any way. It still retains a dismal sound. There is an epic quality to some of the riffs, truly adding to the atmosphere.

"After the Sepulture" is one of the most memorable songs on the record. Introduced by a brief keyboard melody, you are soon crushed by the heavy guitar riffs, like pieces of a glacier crashing into your skull. The pace gets even slower, near the middle, as some might anticipate a burst of speed to follow. However, this never happens. The main riff returns, along with the increasingly-agonized vocals.

"The sun will turn in black
You will see the dark...
After the sepulture"

A sorrowful acoustic passage begins "Macabre Operetta". Slowly, miserable guitar riffs move in to extinguish all hope from your feeble heart. Tortured screams emanate from the distance, almost wailing in anguish. After a few minutes, a mid-paced thrash riff takes over and the first verse begins. For the first time on this album, the pace appears to pick up a little bit, though never quite breaking into a full run. It's more like the pathetic stumbling of someone who has been mortally wounded.

"Life can't be infinite
Only pain is eternal"

The song ends with another acoustic passage, accompanied by the sound of cold winds blowing over a frozen landscape, littered with the deceased. The aura here is that of complete desolation.

"Blood Ritual" sees the pace increase, and you now realize the brilliance in its placement. This one brings a much-needed energy, to sustain the listener through the rest of this grim ordeal. It can be likened to taking a break from torturing someone, giving them a bit of food or water, so they can survive to suffer even more. Samael's intention is to make this a long and slow process, and it would do no good for the listener to give out too early. The contrast between the previous track and this one only adds greater dimension to the overall atmosphere. This is the art of creating a great album, rather than simply throwing together a collection of songs in any random order.

"Death is the only way to escape the misery of life
Death is the only way to reach the supreme power"

This intensity is followed by a somber piano piece, called "Since the Creation". There are only a few lines spoken, but the message comes through quite clear. Lasting for only half a minute, this one is more like an intro for the next track.

"With the Gleam of the Torches" begins with melodies possessing some epic feeling. Even when it speeds up, this effect is not lost. A heavier thrash riff comes from the murky fog, like a scythe, slicing through your torso. This seems to be one of the more complex compositions on the record. While the Hellhammer influence is still present, it isn't very obvious this time. Samael have truly come into their own, by this point. It is at this point that one might contemplate the possibility that the aforementioned band was only so influential because they came close, but failed, to creating something special. It was left to others to pick up the pieces and continue what was started, so long ago, and to see it through. Despite some faster moments, the overall tempo is mid-paced, making for a cohesive atmosphere throughout the album.

"Total Consecration" is another piano piece, creating a sense of dread and hopelessness. It is like going down a twisted staircase into some unknown pit, deep beneath a ruined castle. From the distance, you hear the raspy voice summoning evil spirits. Inexplicably, you are drawn forth, though in your heart you wish only to seek some sanctuary from the horrors that await you. Like a moth to the flame, you descend into the darkness.

Starting with some of the most lethal and forceful riffs on the whole album, "Bestial Devotion" assaults you from the shadows, like a nocturnal predator. There is an added sense of malevolence in this song. It creeps at a slow pace, though remaining as deadly as ever. It becomes, somewhat oppressive, as the pressure begins to squeeze the air from your lungs and to prevent your heart from beating properly.

The ritual is complete with "...Until the Chaos". Vorphalack's vocals are at their most miserable here, hearkening back to "Into the Pentagram". The lyrics are sparse, yet the feeling put forth in these screams is undeniable. About midway through, the tempo changes a bit and there's a brief section that includes and old school galloping riff. This is like the final spasms, as the body is in the throes of death. The soul-crushing riffs return, along with the tormented screams, leaving you cold and dead. The final seconds of the album see a quick tease of the title track, though it fades away...

Though the band means nothing today, Samael was once a group capable of brilliance. Blood Ritual shall forever remain as a testament to this genius of songcraft. If it is absent from your collection, hang your head in shame (or simply hang yourself) and seek this out.