Swiss veterans Samael recently released Hegemony, their first album in six years. Vocalist/guitarist Vorph fills us in on the record, a new band member, forming W.A.R. to play early Samael music and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: What led to the six year gap between albums?
Vorph: There has been a few reasons for this gap. We had all the songs ready in 2013 when Xy got an offer from the city of Sion in Switzerland to create music for a spectacle they do every year. He decided to give it a try and that whole project took him over a year to complete. It delayed the completion of our new album, but it also gave him the chance to work with a full orchestra, something he wanted to do for a long time. That experience probably benefited the new songs as there is more keyboard arrangements now than before.
We also had a lineup change. Mas left the band and was replaced by Drop. We wanted to play a few shows together before recording the new album and decided to play Ceremony of Opposites entirely a few times, but as the demand increased for that show we ended up playing it over 40 times over the last two years. That was mainly festivals beside a couple a small tours in Canada, Russia and Poland. Last year we finally took a break and recorded the album. We mixed it during the summer and spent the rest of the year in negotiations with different labels to find the best option to release it. Six years go fast but we’re proud of Hegemony and that’s the most important thing to us.
How did bassist Drop come to join the band?
Drop replaced Mas on a couple of occasions when Mas couldn’t play shows due to his other activities as a light engineer. When we took the decision to split apart the choice was self evident. Drop was a fan of Samael before joining the band and we clicked right from the start.
Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for Hegemony compared to the usual Samael album?
We went back many times to the songs, before Xy started his classical project and after, so every song had the time to mature and reach its peak before being recorded. But other than that, we kept the same formula as far as songwriting goes.
Xy usually produces or co-produces your albums. Was that the case this time around?
Yes, this time is no exception. Waldemar Sorychta came for a few days in Switzerland for the pre-production and he came back for the recording of the album, but Xy was there every step of the way.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
I don’t have any specific memory that comes in mind beside working long days. It was the first time since the recording of Passage that Waldemar assisted to the recording of the vocals, so between him and Xy I had two coaches.
How did you come to sign with Napalm Records?
Napalm were interested in Samael for a long time, so as our agreement with Nuclear Blast was over we thought maybe it would be the right time to do something together. They’ve been very supportive of the band and of the new album. Hope it will stay that way.
You shot a video for “Black Supremacy.” What’s the role of videos these days?
To shed some light on one song in particular I guess. We wanted to present “Angel of Wrath” as the first song from the new album as we thought it was a typical Samael song but with a fresh angle, then Napalm choose “Red Planet” as the second one. Those two songs are both mid tempo tracks with heavy guitar riffs, so as the third song we chose “Black Supremacy” to show the diversity of the album.
You recently played California Deathfest. How come you didn’t schedule any other U.S. dates around that show?
We played Maryland Deathfest last year and got invited to the California edition. At both festivals we played the album Ceremony of Opposites in its entirety. We hope to come back soon to the U.S. to present the new album and hopefully play more shows.
What’s your favorite thing about visiting the U.S.?
The people. Nowhere else can we find people with such a positive energy. That’s uplifting to be surrounded by people who, despite all difficulties, always seem so lighthearted.
What inspired you to form W.A.R. as its own entity to play the first two Samael albums?
As we use a different set up for W.A.R. and Samael we thought it made sense to form a different entity. With W.A.R. we don’t use electronics or keyboards. It is a very traditional set up of drums, bass, guitar and vocals and it allows us to play the two first Samael albums the way they were recorded.
What was the response to the shows?
We only played two show so far in a local club. We had a full house for both nights, most of our friends were there and some people traveled from abroad for those shows.
Will that incarnation of the band be doing anything in the future?
We’re confirmed to play Wacken next summer so I guess there will be more shows in the future. Hard to say at this point where that’s gonna take us, but we’re open to try a few things.
As you look back on Samael’s catalog, is there an album that was overlooked or underappreciated when it was released, but in retrospect has held up very well?
We get lots of good comments about Eternal these days and as I remember it wasn’t considered so special when it came out in 1999.
When you formed the band in 1987, could you have imagined Samael would still be around 30 years later?
Once we started, we thought we would never stop, but at that time I didn’t think I would still be alive 30 years later.
What have been the high and low points for you in the band’s history?
Every time we do something for the first time is an exciting time and we had a lot a first times and there’s still a lot to come. The low points are certainly all the moments of doubt that happened and still happen sometimes.
Read any good books lately?
“The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth that has a strange resonance with the current time or the more absurd “The Broom of the System” by David Foster Wallace.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
I don’t listen to music in heavy rotation anymore. Once I’ve heard an album two or three times I listen to something else. Currently I’m listening to Einstürzende Neubauten Haus de Lüge.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Our new album Hegemony is out now and it is probably the best thing we’ve done so far!
(interview published November 20, 2017)