Solar Soul

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From crude black metal to finessed industrial electronics, Samael's long and not always smooth career path has left many fans upset and stranded by the roadside -- especially due to the erratic qualities of 1999's electro-metal hangover Eternal (a rude awakening after the euphoric genius of 1996's Passage) and the radical trip-hop departures of 2004's otherwise impressive Reign of Light. With their seventh long-player, 2007's Solar Soul, the Swiss quartet appeared to be striving to achieve some kind of historical balance between all of these disparate styles. As a result, numbers like "Promised Land," "Valkyries' New Ride," and the title track see the band re-injecting some of the analog metal elements of early-day efforts into its still thoroughly digital aesthetic, thus rendering those songs at once inventive and worthy of a good headbang. Unfortunately, another fair portion of Solar Soul's songs, such as the slow-poke "Alliance," "Olympus," and the Indian music-laced "Quasar Waves," get bogged down in a queer brand of creeping goth metal -- too slow to dance to, never mind slam-dance to -- that also tended to bog down the band's most recent albums to varying degrees. But at least the similarly deliberate (and once again Eastern-accented) "Western Ground" manages to avoid this fate thanks to its incremental use of synthesized choirs and symphonics, while the female voice-enhanced "Suspended Time" delivers the album's most trip-hoppy moment. In short, there's no simple solution for Samael's ongoing dilemma because the greater part of their fan base will never fully embrace the group's distancing from core black metal values. But it certainly doesn't help matters that flawed but hardly terrible albums like Solar Soul and Eternal simply lack the brilliantly consistent songwriting standards of the band's mid-'90s releases, and that even a strong statement like the intervening Reign of Light couldn't convert enough new fans from the electronic realms to the band's cause.

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