About Me

Interview with Samael

Samael are a Swiss band that have influenced many underground bands. In their first albums, they played heavy, intense and awesome Black Metal. Sadly their sound shifted and they added a more electronic vibe to their music, mainly due to the use of a drum machine. 
Recently, this great band delighted their Portuguese fans with two shows, in support of the mighty Moonspell. Both shows were dedicated to their older material namely “Ceremony of Opposites” in Porto and “Passage” in Lisbon. After the show in Porto, Metal Imperium had the pleasure of interviewing Vorph, the band’s mastermind, in the backstage of Coliseu do Porto. Here is the conversation...

M.I. - What did you think of the show?
We really liked it! 

M.I. - Didn't you think the audience was too controlled?

You know, this is a Moonspell show. We're guests, but it was nice!

M.I. - I don't know if you remember but you came here promoting “Ceremony of Opposites”...

Cannibal Corpse and Moonspell were playing there! It was the first time we met! They were not touring, they were just playing that show!

M.I. – No, but you played here in Porto with Tiamat, Hypocrisy...

Oh, that was after, because the first one was in 94, so this one was in 95.

M.I. – Yeah, you played and people went insane! Do you remember that show?

Not exactly, but I remember being here with Tiamat in an open venue...

M.I. – Yeah, it was in a school backyard... I’ll never forget that because when you played “Till we meet again” there was a huge mosh pit! Why did you play “Ceremony” today and you’ll play “Passage” tomorrow?

This is Moonspell’s choice! They asked for it and we're like “why not?”. We just did a tour for “Passage”. We haven't played “Ceremony” entirely with this lineup, because Ales just joined three years ago and then covid came. So we told Moonspell that we’d do it and I know Pedro is a big fan of “Ceremony of Opposites”.

M.I. – Samael started off as a black metal band and your sound changed throughout the years!

Yeah, especially with “Passage”, this is the album where we started to work with the drum machine, so we kind of integrated a more industrial, more different sound in our music. 

M.I. - And why did you start to work with a drum machine?

It's all consequences for other things. We had a keyboard player that joined for “Ceremony of Opposites” and then he left the band so we were looking for a keyboard player. We couldn't find one in the area where we were and Xy would not like to have somebody... I mean, he could play the keyboard obviously, because he was making all the sounds, but he didn't want to have somebody else even if he had to sacrifice his place as a drummer, so to speak. So we went with that option and “why not, you know?”. It would be a different setup and it would be more pumping. 

M.I. - He played drums on “Ceremony of Opposites” and I thought I was going to see him play the drums tonight! There were people who were disappointed about it! 

We actually did “Ceremonial Of Opposites” entirely almost 40 times. A couple of years ago, for the 25th anniversary, people were expecting us to use the drums but we didn't... I mean, we did a project with the two first albums where actually Xy was playing it, but it would not make sense to have those sounds programmed because they were really rough, you know?!

M.I. - Now do you feel good playing this old material considering that your newer stuff is a bit different? 

I'm actually not thinking when I'm playing live but you cannot bring your mind back to that time, so my mindset is a bit different, it's like you try to catch up with your “old you” or your “young you”, whatever you want to call it! You try to align it with the way you were thinking at that time, and that's how you can probably present this on the best way.

M.I. - But do you identify yourself still with this material?

I would have said things differently today. Basically on a lot of subjects, you know, religion, for example, it was my way of expressing myself back then. 

M.I. – Yeah, because with you growing older comes maturity!

Supposedly, yeah! Supposedly!

M.I. - But do do you still appreciate Black Metal? 

I don't really listen to metal. Today our manager actually bought me the first Venom album as vinyl, the rare edition, because I had the original one, so I'm gonna play it back home of course. That was what I was listening to when I was 14 or something but I didn't really catch up with the band. I'm not really following what's going on in the metal scene, but whenever I hear something, like in a festival, then I'm gonna check, trying to catch up with what's going on.

M.I. - But do you listen to music at home?

I'm a big fan of music, I listen to a lot of classical music, especially when there are no lyrics. But, generally speaking, I love to hear musicals, you know, mainly piano pieces.

M.I. - As of July 2017, the band performs “Worship Him” and “Blood Ritual” under under the name W.A.R. Why?

That was something we actually tried when we were still playing with our old keyboard player Mas at the rehearsal place. We tried two or three songs with Xy on the drum for fun and then we thought “Wow! Maybe we should do one show just with this thing!” and then we forgot about that! Xy is part of a festival in Switzerland and the guy who organized the festival actually asked him if we would be up to give it a try. So it was our idea but we never talked with them about it! When they suggested it, I thought “Wow, this is our chance! Let's give it a try! And we did and then, of course, it's always the same and you're supposed to do it just once but it was two nights. 

M.I. - Do you know that many fans were disappointed when you stopped playing drums because they thought the sound lost its essence? Back then people were very critical of the decisions bands made! 

Yeah, but you know, you're doing your thing and if people don't like it, they’ve got plenty of other bands they can listen to. Fortunately there were still people who listened to us, so we could keep on playing shows and stuff, but I know some people didn't accept that change and I'm fine with it.

M.I. – Okay, okay, I thought it might be because Xy got tired of playing drums!

No, Xy is working with electronic bands, with different projects and he was playing on War. So he said “I'm done with this, so if you want to do it, you need another drummer”, I don't think we're gonna do much with this project anymore. 

M.I. - You have been taking longer and longer between albums, right?! Between “Lux Mundi” and “Hegemony” there was a six-year gap. Next year it will be six years again!

We will take seven years because next year we have in mind to record it but it won't be released next year, that's for sure!

M.I. - So it will be released in 2024?!

The problem, when you have that many albums, I think it's 10 or something, it depends on how you count. I mean if you've got a mini album with half an hour, I would say 10. You need to take a step and it takes longer because sometimes you're stuck and you feel like we just cannot pass further, so we're doing the same thing... it takes time and maybe it will take longer and longer... maybe it's gonna be the last album because we're going to be too old or I don't know! 

M.I. - I keep looking at your releases and I see re-releases of singles. This year you re-released “Dictate of transparency”. Do you do these re-releases to keep the fans interested?

No, it was for ourselves. I mean it was covid time and we did a video clip for that one and a video clip for the cover of The Beatles “Helter Skelter” that we did on that album. Somehow to us that wasn't finished but we had to stop touring, stop making shows for two years, like every other band. We felt we should still give it a try. That is not a re-release, that is a single actually. We tried to put some light on that song because we felt it kind of resonated with the moment and we felt it is maybe the time for this song to have more attention, in our mind at least. We’ve got more songs than we did but we still have to record them so that's what we're going to do next year.

M.I - Did covid affect you? Because during covid lckdowns, I didn't feel like doing anything. I was so disappointed, I didn't know what to expect! Many people were creative while others felt disappointed!

I think I drank much more than usual and I kept on drinking ever since but it's okay, I'm still not an alcoholic... but we always say that! Lol! Still we managed to play together every month at least, even though we had no shows. We played some songs, then we listened to them and tried to do a demo version. That was our moment to see if there is still a future because we're doing an album so it has to be out sometime.

M.I. - But did you feel creative? Did you write many songs?

Yeah, I've tried not to think too much about it. You just adapt to the situation! It is a privilege somehow to have all the time in the world to write music. You have no concerts, you have no tours, there is nothing so I can spend the whole week on two lines in a song, I can do that!

M.I. - So are you full-time musicians? 

Yeah but I'm not living large! Xy is working for a festival, just to make money, so that's part time. Drop has his own studio. Alex was a teacher at the University. He quit to play with us and he doesn't regret his choice because he had enough. 

M.I. – The band’s almost 35 years old! Do you feel old?

No, I don't feel old actually! When the body starts not to function in a good way you have to adapt but still you feel like you're gonna do the best you can until the day everything breaks down. 

M.I. – For how many more years do you think you'll keep on going with Samael?

I have no idea! I'm like everybody else. I'm watching the older bands and thinking if we could reach that. I don't think many musicians went over 75 in the rock/metal world and usually if they keep on is kind of “nah, not that good”, so I don't know... I mean, if we don't die or we don't get sick before,
maybe we can move further but, at some point, everything's gonna break down.

M.I. - Is there any goal that you still want to achieve with Samael?

Many!! We still want to play. There are many places in the world we've never played like China, Africa. I know there is a Festival in South Africa and we've never been there. We’ve never been to Australia and I really want to go there and we've been once in Japan but I really want to go there again. 

M.I. - It's strange because you're such a famous band and you haven't played China and some
smaller bands they've played there, which means that their label is doing a better promotional job?

You know, in those places there is no money to be made for the label so they don't care. This is not a label thing, you have to find your way to to enter the country. We've been to America this summer, to Vegas in a festival and San Diego and L.A, but we never played New York, we've never played Vancouver... so many places and we just want to play as we're still in kind of a good shape to do it because, you don't know how long that's gonna last.

M.I. – I saw one of your posts on social media and you mentioned you were preparing for a new tour and you were at the gym.

I'm 54 in a couple of months, so if you're not doing anything, you get rusty and then and you cannot do it anymore.

M.I. – Is it exhausting doing a whole show? 

Yeah, it is! But it’s not that bad if you're in a good shape!

M.I. – So what still inspires you to keep on going with Samael? What do you focus your lyrics on
these days? What do you write about?

I never know before exactly what's going on. I mean, I know about the album, and while it's not finished, I can change the title, I can have another angle at some point on the song, so it's still moving somehow but the bases are there. Sometimes something comes to me and I react, you know? I hadn't written about religion for a long time because I didn't have any interest anymore but I did write about it in “Hegemony”. I came from a very religious place and Portugal is as well, so you know what I'm talking about. But at some point it's yesterday's story so you no longer care, but I think after 9/11, religion came back on the table, not for me, but in general, in society, because it was an identification. Religion is culture and we were attacked by foreign culture and foreign religion so we had to put our religion on the table and this is this is exactly what we don't want, we have to let it go, to move forward, not hold it and that's why I wrote those songs because I felt really an aggression about this situation. Most of the time when I'm reading something, I think of a title, maybe I've got something, I kind of build up...

M.I. - So you don't have a concept that you want to base your album on? 

It never happens! All those ideas that you've been gathering but then as it is happening in the same time frame, it's never a concept but somehow you gotta find a link between it and then you understand what you're doing because you never really know when you're doing it but when it's finished you're like “oh, yeah okay”. It's kind of a concept. This time there is more a political vision, I'm not a political person but that's what I say about “Hegemony”, you know what it is, you cannot ignore what's going on, it's coming to you all the time through your phone, the internet, so even back in those days I did not turn on the TV, I was just reading so I didn't even know what was going on. So it's just about your story, your world, you build your own story... the information is coming everywhere so some pieces of it went through the songs. For example “Dictator of transparency” is pretty much about this, you know? It's talking about the way we are shaped by all the information that we receive.

M.I. - You live in Switzerland, a country with 3 different cultures. Did they influence you?

Of course! Somehow we're in the centre of Europe. We just talked about covid and Switzerland was never ahead from the rest about the decision... they were kind of looking into France, into Germany, what was going on and they were trying to have a middle ground about the restrictions, about everything. 

M.I. - It was so strange to see such an evolved country like Switzerland and they had such different rules from the ones we had here in Portugal! 

It pretty much divided the people in this story because either you accept the rule or you fight against them but, at some point, you don't know what's right! I mean it was all exaggerated. I had this discussion with a friend of mine that I just met this morning. He is from Sweden but he’s living in Germany and he said “Let's wait five, six, ten years, then we will understand what happened!”. Because now we don't know... maybe it was too much, maybe it was not, because we're fine now but there’s information that a new variant is coming back and the fourth vaccine is already being enlisted again.

M.I. - Yeah but we are in a worse situation now with the war in Ukraine, don't you think? We just came off covid and I didn't think we would go somewhere near this!

Now we're in a war, the same thing, you know? It divided people so much! We've played in Russia many times, we've been a couple of times in Ukraine and we have friends involved... I mean, we are not in contact right now but... in Russia we might never play there again! We don't know because if they really go back to closing everything...

M.I. - I think the only solution would be to kill Putin!

I have no solution about that! Yeah, it could be a solution but who is going to be in charge after that?! You don't know! It can be even worse! You know it happened with Gaddafi...I mean, I never liked that guy but once he was gone I'm not sure the country is in a better place now. I don't know exactly because I'm not really informed! I stay away from politics because I don't understand it. Politics is a bit complex! You know, there is no security, things are changing and you have to adapt and try to keep your line somehow. 

M.I. – Yeah, we basically have to live day by day, with no long-term plans! You and Xy are brothers... being brothers facilitated or complicated things for Samael?

I don't know! I never had the experience to work with somebody else, you know? We've changed through the years but somehow we always managed to agree... some of the things I’m thinking today, he might understand exactly what I was thinking, because we were thinking a bit different, because we're on the same page still but we're not exactly on the same line.

M.I. - You have been involved in many labels: Nuclear Blast, Century Media, Regain and Napalm Death! Are you still with them?

Yeah, I mean, you never know!

M.I. - Don't they “force” you to release material?

I mean, you can never say you know, but I don't think we will have another label after Napalm! I think this is already done because they're totally cool! We kind of started at the same time and we trust each other and this is important! The “Transparency” single, they were okay to release it four or five years after the release of the album, because for them it's still something current and we spoke about that before we signed, we told them we had our rhythm of things!

M.I. - But do you think it would be the same with smaller bands because you're in a place that they know they can trust you! 

I cannot tell you but we've been smaller in other labels! We were seeing every band on Century Media going on tour and that was our goal in life, like “Let's go out from our little place, let's go around the world, let's play this music for as many people as possible” so we tried to convince them but they were never really excited about us. It was always like that! When we did a new album, they were like “Wow”, it was always a big surprise but, on the other hand, they never really had our back! Because if you get a little bit of a hype, then there had to be some forces behind to give you the opportunity to be there. 

M.I. – It’s too late, so let me just ask you something else... is there anything in Samael's career that you wish you had done differently?

I don't think that way because it's done! If you thought differently, you would be somewhere else, and it would be different! I'm fine with the place we are in right now, you know? With the lineup we had some changes and sometimes there is no other opportunity! This a big question for me and I think how much we could choose?! Because we apparently are free to choose but there are a lot of things that are beyond us and around us and sometimes there are not many options! I think we still have freedom to choose but I don't know what is the frame, because it's also part of your history, right? If you want to build something, and say I should have done that differently, you wouldn't be where you are today! Maybe you would be but maybe you would take another road! You don't know! That's a big question! Everybody can look back at their life and think “oh, if I would have married this girl, married this guy, whatever”, probably things would be completely different!

M.I. - So I won’t take more of your time! I'd like to ask if you want to share a final message with our readers?

Thanks for the support! This is the only thing I could say because people are supporting us, they wanna hear about us! Without them, we wouldn't be here because, at some point, if nobody's interested, you have to do something else!

M.I. - Can you promise us you'll release an album by 2024?

Yeah, it would definitely be... unless there is something else or something unexpected! But on our side, if there is no catastrophe, we will put it aside until the end of the year! I think we will come back to it early next year and maybe we'll record it in March or something... then it’ll take a lot of time to see how we're going to release it, maybe we’ll still have a single next year before the album! It could be! I don't know! I hope so!

Listen Samael, on Spotify

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca