April 2024 - Feature Release - The North Edition

First Post March 31, 2024 07:03 PM

So just like that we find that a new month is upon us which of course means that we’ll be nominating a brand new monthly feature release for each clan. This essentially means that we’re asking you to rate, review & discuss our chosen features for no other reason than because we enjoy the process & banter. We’re really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our chosen releases so don’t be shy.

This month’s feature release for The North has been nominated by myself. It's 1992's "Blood Ritual" sophomore album from Swiss black metallers Samael. Ben & I were both pretty big fans of Samael back at the time of release & my recent revisit to their 1991 debut album "Worship Him" has seen me encouraged to remind myself of how the follow-up compares in terms of quality.


April 01, 2024 09:08 AM

I have heard this before, quite a while ago, but jammed between Worship Him and Ceremony of Opposites, it didn't make a massive impression on me, so I am looking forward to seeing how it shapes up now.

April 01, 2024 04:04 PM

The bank holiday weekend has been a welcome break from work and so I have attempted to use the time to actually listen to a couple of the features for the first time in what feels like an age.  Here's my review:

When asked in a 2019 interview about Fenriz describing Worship Him as “the first Norwegian black metal album”, Vorphalack from Samael replied, “We were not exactly satisfied with the sound of the album, we wanted to have something fatter and heavier. We actually reached what we were looking for when we released Blood Ritual but yeah that album sounds different.” It is hard to disagree with Vorphalack, Blood Ritual is gifted (or cursed depending on your preference) with a much beefier production than anything that came before from the Swiss group. As much as I enjoy a raw black metal album from time to time, I think that sometimes a bit of clarity is needed to really let a band’s sound shine. Whilst I will not attest to be being all that familiar with Blood Ritual until this past week, whilst listening as a standalone bm record I found that instantly I could take away positives from the experience.

A slower, more measured take on black metal that takes reference from Celtic Frost clearly, Blood Ritual is accessible without sacrificing the mandatory underground vibe that one would expect from such a record. The dense gloom that permeates the album is a chilling yet welcoming cloak in which to shroud yourself as a listener. There are smatterings of latter day Satyricon in this album (bearing in mind we were in 1992 when this was released) and although the comparison is relevant, I would suggest that the Swiss’ effort is less clinical and sterile then say Diabolical Now era Satyricon.

The simpler approach reaps its rewards for me, allowing strong structures such as After the Sepulture to grow well over its four-and-a-half-minute duration. As such, Blood Ritual has a sense that Samael are using the space better to construct an album as opposed to charging blindly through at a more traditional bm pace. Not that there is any denial of such intensity here. Indeed, the title track is a solid bm romp that blends this more traditional pacing with the clearer production values nicely. However, I could not see tracks such as Macabre Operetta (or the less impressive With the Gleam of Torches) at over six minutes faring so well on a shorter and more rabid tempo-based release.

My two main criticisms are that the album is firstly too long (even the two interlude/intro tracks don’t necessitate such a lengthy track list) and lacks much in the way of variety overall. The latter criticism holds less weight given that this is also one of the key strengths of the album. I think this is probably the best evidence that the Celtic Frost and Bathory influences got worn perhaps too visibly on the band’s sleeves. That having been said there is a level of intelligent (albeit a few notches above basic) songwriting here that needs to be acknowledged. There is still something enchanting about the primitive riffing of Bestial Devotion, that whilst is never groundbreaking, it is still presented so honestly that it is hard to ignore. That is probably how I would sum up Blood Ritual altogether as well.


April 02, 2024 12:24 PM

Whilst listening to Blood Ritual, it struck me how early in black metal's second wave 1992 actually was. Contemporary releases to this were debut albums from Burzum and Immortal and Darkthrone's first dive into black metal iciness, A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Surprisingly, though, Blood Ritual sounds far more like modern Darkthrone than it does their unholy trinity, with a lot of slower tempo riffing that feels more doomy than black metal, a path Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have been exploring with vigour over their last two or three releases, so in a way I guess black metal has finally come full circle.

Anyway, that aside, Samael were obviously influenced by their legendary countrymen, Celtic Frost, with the opening riff of Bestial Devotion sounding like it was ripped directly from the grooves of To Mega Therion. Most of the quicker-paced riffing here sounds quite thrashy and certainly has more in common with Tom G. Warrior than the tremolo riffing being touted at the time by their cutting edge norwegian black metal contemporaries. Add to this the beefier production and it is apparent that Samael aren't going to propogate the same kind of frosty atmosphere as the scandinavians, making the album more blunt force trauma than icy stilleto wound.

Of course that doesn't mean this is a bad album, in fact it most definitely is not. The extended attention I have afforded it over the last couple of days has seen me strengthening my impression of it, to the point where I believe it sits very comfortably between Worship... and Ceremony... and has an appeal all of it's own. Blood Ritual inhabits the space where the old becomes the new and feels a bit like Possessed's Seven Churches in that it inhabits a point of transformation that is more extreme than it's influences, but not quite extreme enough to attain the next level.

Performance-wise it is a step up from Worship Them with the less raw production also allowing for greater clarity, enabling the band members to shine. There are some cool riffs and most of the songs exhibit a degree of progression throughout their runtimes and although I wouldn't label any of the tracks as out and out classics, the likes of the standout track, After the Sepulture, along with Blood Ritual, Beyond the Nothingness and Bestial Devotion are plenty memorable and possess all the wallop I like in my metal listening. As a result of this reappraisal I think it only fair that I boost my score for the album that now sees it edging a 4/5.

April 02, 2024 11:24 PM

I've done my review, here's its summary:

Although I've just recently sworn off black metal (again), I don't mind revisiting an album by a band that started off as black metal but then became the Swiss leaders of industrial/symphonic metal. I actually like Blood Ritual slightly more than a couple of Samael's industrial metal albums that I reviewed. There's simpler yet more effective production than their debut Worship Him. While their debut has constantly switched back and forth from fast to slow, Blood Ritual focuses on the slower pace more. The sound is actually pretty clean! Their savage filth from the debut has mostly been cleared out. The music isn't played for shock value, instead opting for simple catchiness in the riffing. They still have their dark side though, appropriately timed in places. The clean production brings more life to the vocals and allows the guitars and keyboards to flow easily in the atmosphere. Soft ambient keyboards and heavy fist-pumping riffs can make an excellent match. This is for black metal fans who can listen to albums like this in its entirety!


April 09, 2024 07:48 PM

Here's my review:

1991's "Worship Him" debut album was a relatively big record for Ben & I back in the early 1990's. I was already a fan of the First Wave of Black Metal when I first discovered Switzerland's Samael & their first full-length possessed some of the best traits from a number of those bands which saw me being heavily attracted to their fairly simple yet deeply atmospheric take on early black metal; their measured & doomy sense of control being in direct contrast to the death metal explosion that I was right up to my eyeballs in at the time. We'd pick up 1992's follow-up album "Blood Ritual" on CD & would give it a very similar treatment & with a fairly similar result from what I recall too. I didn't regard either record as being classics for the genre at the time but felt that they were essential early black metal release nonetheless. I always got the feeling that they sported a timeless quality & that element is still very much in effect with this week's revisit.

"Blood Ritual" isn't as different from "Worship Him" as some reviewers tend to make out. It certainly contains a cleaner, heavier production job that has obviously been inspired by felllow Swiss extreme metal legends Celtic Frost with the thick layers of rhythm guitar being a clear highlight of the record. The slow-to-mid paced tempos of "Worship Him" have only been dialed back a little further with the doomy vibe of the slower material off the debut having been accentuated here. If anything the riff structures are even less typical of the modern-day black metal sound too with thrash & doom metal tools being utilized within the context of a black metal atmosphere. Guitarist Vorphalack's grim Quorthon-inspired vocals always end to tie Samael to the black metal genre too, along with the darker feel & simpler riff structures. This is black metal at its most primitive, only with a production that goes very much against the traditional lo-fi grain that black metal was built on but one that definitely suits Samael's character traits. Celtic Frost are the clear source of inspiration here & (as with "Worship Him") I can't help but wonder as to just how much of an influence the early Samael releases had on Darkthrone's transition into black metal, particularly records like "Panzerfaust". The early works of Greece's Rotting Christ & Varathron also come to mind due to the similarities in style & tempo.

The tracklisting on "Blood Ritual" is very top-heavy with the vast majority of the stronger material residing on the A side. There's a short lull in the middle of the album with the faster title track (a re-recorded track from their 1988 "Macabre Operatta" demo tape) & short interlude "Since the Creation..." failing to hit the mark before things return to more enjoyable territories for the remainder of the record. The most notable inclusion is the incredible "After the Sepulture" which was clearly Samael's finest moment to the time & is still one of my all-time favourites amongst the earlier black metal acts. It represents Samael's first genuine classic & is probably the differentiator between where the two albums stand for me personally. Other highlights include "Poison Infiltration", "Bestial Devotion", the solid opener "Beyond the Nothingness" & the lengthy "Macabre Operatta" (another re-recording from the demo of the same name").

"Blood Ritual" is another high-quality effort from a black metal band that had been around a lot longer than most at the time & showed a clear understanding of the key elements that make the genre so great. There's not a lot between Samael's first two full-lengths but I tend to find "Blood Ritual" just edging out its older sibling overall, buoyed by the impact of the wonderful "After the Sepulture" while "Worship Him" lacked such a transcendent highlight track. 1994 would see Samael topping both records with their career-defining "Ceremony of Opposites" third album but "Blood Ritual" is probably still my second favourite Samael record of the ones I've heard & it should be essential listening for anyone wanting to gain a comprehensive understanding of where the black metal genre came from.