On Tour With   

In the heart of Samael’s galaxy

Samael has just finished a 5 show tour as opening band for Arch Enemy in France and Luxembourg. A good occasion to meet the Swiss band, on the road for the promo tour of their new album “Above”, in stores since last year.  
Radio Metal was invited into the intimacy of the tour, to reveal the backstage atmoshpere, the personality of Samael, and to give you important information on their next album.  
This is an exclusive tour report of the Lyon and Strasbourg shows on March 30th and 31st.

Vorph, alone in the dark
Tuesday, March the 30th : the city of Lyon is boiling. Yes, Arch Enemy are playing tonight with Samael, No Return and Dylath-Leen, but it’s the quarter final of the Champions League, and that is causing a lot of noise around the Ninkasi. The Ninkasi is a concert/burger restaurant/bar complex, just a few meters away from Gerland Stadium, home of the football exploits of the Olympique Lyonnais.  

Around 2pm, your servant (me !) is on location. A lot of stands for the match are already in place. On the other hand, for the concert, there’s not much apart from old friends from the local concert world. Teams from My Reference Events (local promoteur) and K-Productions (national booker) are here and are making the last touches before the artists arrive. 

Mas looking as if he wants to thump Doc’

Samael arrives around 3.30pm. The band arrived in Lyon yesterday and has spent the night in a hotel not far from the venue. Greetings are quick, and I can only find out that the contact is easy. It must be said that the band is a French speaking band, and that makes communication a lot easier. I realise very quickly that the team is at ease, serene and very friendly. Without any further ado, I end up backstage with the band. Makro reminds me that this is “not only for us, in fact, there’s three of us in here !” says the guitarist. And its true : Samael, No Return and Dylath-Leen have to share a 8 meter square room, a lack of space that contrasts with the luxurious rooms backstage of the Laiterie in Strasbourg, where the band is playing the day after.  

Backstage in the Laiterie
It’s the first time Samael has played in this venue in Lyon, and to be honest I find it a bit small for them…and the show proved it. Their performance was good, but lacked the intensity that I saw in other venues, in France and abroad. Makro told me he remembered their show in Lyon in 2003 with Cathedral in the Rail Théâtre, “it was a great show”. Makro joined the group in 2002, and in a recent interview (by Radio Metal ! ), Vorph (singer and founder of Samael) told us how important the arrival of Makro had been.  

Mas working for Arch Enemy
“So, happy Makro ?” “Vorph often said this, but it’s true that I appreciate it. At the beginning it was a bit hard for me. You’ve got to get used to all this. All the stress, journalists, tours, etc… And I was often asked questions about Xy (programmer and composer) and Vorph. So I always had to say to the journalists that they should ask them directly. But after all you get used to it. I was discreet on stage ? You should say I was completly clumsy ! Adapting is not so simple….I was playing in a band that I still have, called Sludge. One day, Xy phoned and asked me if I wanted to join Samael (me being of fan already…), you can imagine how I reacted ! Now I give a bit of advice on the compositions. Lets say I have a fan’s ears so I can have a bit of objectivity on the song writing.” 

Makro has style
Makro is checking his mails and working on songs for Sludge, so off I go to see Xy and Vorph in the catering room, on the first floor of the Ninkasi. The two brothers, Michael “Vorph” Locher and Alexandre “Xy” Locher, have just finished eating. While I’m talking about the world with Xy, Voprh is reading “La pensée Savage” by Claude Levi-Strauss. We are miles away from the bands who look for all sorts of weird things to do in their spare time…

The day after in Strasbourg, after hearing some shouting – actualy concerning people outside – Masmiseim, Samael’s bass player told me this “ we’ve known each other for a long time and we don’t need to shout. The day I’ll be sick of all this, tours and that kind of stuff, I’ll quit. For the moment, it’s not the case.”Humour is always here and Samael never hesitates to laugh at each other. Masmiseim laughs at Vorph getting lost trying to find his hotel, Xy teases Makro on his asocial behaviour and his computer addiction…
So lets talk about Xy. On this tour report, he was my prime contact. Samael’s composer told me a few things about their next album. “There’ll be less electronic sounds. We’re going to focus on guitars and orchestration.” Orchestration ? “Yes ! We’ve always used them, but this time it will be highlighted. We’ve already started to work on them” says the creator of the Samael Sound. On the next opus, Mas will later tell me about real “nazi orchestrations”, laughing and going to the opposite of the band’s political opinion. Not that they are on one side or another. Samael is simply open minded and open to  the world, far from any kind of extremes.  

David hard at work
David, light technician for Samael told me that he’d discovered 33 different countries with the band. A good way to get to know yourself, others, different cultures, life in common….”We don’t really have time to visit the countries we play in” says Xy. “It’s quite hard, we’re in the bus most of the time, and then we are on a tight schedule. You can’t discover a town in two or three hours…” but the band is able to meet a lot of different personalities and to catch a glimpse of the identity of their interlocutors. “We really liked towns like Barcelona and Helsinki” said Xy.  

Short break. The basic rule for an interview is simple : don’t interview. The rhythm given by questions and answers is not the most interesting one, and the dialogue enters a new dimension when it takes the shape of a discussion. Sometimes, and this was the case with Samael, it’s very easy because we have lots of time. The time to exchange, to talk and to understand each other. I mentioned earlier the open mind of Samael, and I was able to verify this by staying two days with them. They were very kind to me and were interested in my work. For example, Xy asked me a lot about Radio Metal : our development, our economic structure, our difficulties, etc…This Swiss band has a real desire to understand things and to broaden their culture. To sum up, they are interesting guys with good judgement. Judgement being, as everybody knows, the highest proof of inteligence. End of break.

Importance of lights

Around 4.30pm the band starts the sound check. The room is empty and Samael allows me to take a few pictures while they play and check the final details. The four musicians play “Chosen Race” from the album “Passage” and “ Under One Flag” from “Above”. The sound isn’t great, a problem that will stay for the evening show. My ear-plugs were welcome because the sound check was insanely loud. The musicians are laughing together while David finishes instaling the last things for his light show, one of Samael’s strengths. Masmiseim is also working, not only for Samael because he is also light operator for Arch Enemy. Mas has a lot of experience in this domain, as he has been doing this since the 90’s in a Swiss club. Arch Enemy, In Flames, Dark Tranquility : Mas is frequently recommended for his good work. “Samael, admit it ! Mas is the one who works the most in the band !” “Well, Mas doesn’t only work for us, so its probably true… “ says Xy. 

Catering at La Laiterie
If Vorph is the creator of Samael, his younger brother Xy has a very important place in composing and producing the bands records. “The most active period for me is the mixing period”. The schedule is fixed and I have to respect it. Mixing is a lot of stress”. Mas insists : “our album “Eternal” (1999) has been criticised for the mix. People say they don’t like it, but often they come to us and say they like this song, and also this one, and this one is good also…Maybe one day Eternal will be recognised for what its worth.” 

Its true that Eternal is unique in the band’s discography. “The best selling one is Passage” said Xy. Passage, in 1996, is from the Century Media period, and the use of a drum machine. Ah..the famous drum machine. The one that was written about a lot, and that metal fans said avoid it. “Everybody said : don’t use it ! But if you listen to what people say, you end up doing nothing” said the programor. In fact, if Samael is made of calm people, you can feel their strength of personality. Particulary for Xy and Vorph, the two dark eyed brothers that look a lot like each other. The bands career confirms this. Risks, experiments and mistakes. “Its true that we may have made a few strategic mistakes, especialy on tours we accepted, but it’s very hard to choose what will or will not be good for the band.” A unique story, with a black beginning, a quest for electronics, debatable tours it’s true, and experiments like Era One or Above, that where not originaly planned to be issued under the name of Samael. To take the full responsability of all this, you need a strong personality.  

No fear !

This is also demonstrated by the problems with Century Media, problems that ended in court. “We knew we were selling records, but we didn’t have the figures. We met the head boss, and he told us that there wouldn’t be any problems, and that the situation was going to change. We couldn’t see anything coming back, and we knew that bands like Lacuna Coil and Moonspell were also complaining about the same things, so we started to wonder….That was the time were Samael was confronted by big record companies that where, as it happens frequently, putting a lot in their pockets and forgetting those who made their business, the artists.  

Now the band is on Galactical Records, a label created by Xy. So my friend, not to hard to keep up ? “On the contrary ! It’s great being there for all sorts of questions about communication, promotion etc…A lot of responsability, but at the same time more freedom”.  

Time goes by and the hour approaches. For their track-list, is the band adapting to the more extreme bands playing tonight ? The group insits on the fact that they do as they please, but with a discography as vast as Samael’s, it’s hard to satisfy all the fans. Black metal, industrial metal, oriental sounds : the fans have to understand all the influences to understand the band. But what about you Xy, what do you like ? “For the electro side, I love Prodigy. I saw them on stage and their last record “Invaders Must Die” is very good. I move around sometimes in festival incognito. Last year I went to Greenfield in Switzerland to see Faith No More, and it was a real punch in face !”. Open mind, again…. 
Its now time to leave Samael and let them get prepared for their show, scheduled for 9.10pm. The promoters are also asking us to leave at 6.30pm, Arch Enemy is arriving and “Angela Gossow” doesn’t like to see people hanging around backstage. Ouch ! I just have time to talk to Julien from K-Productions and to give out a few flyers, and the first bands start the show. Right on time, Samael gets on stage and gives us a very precise show, but again the sound is not so good. The show is good, sold-out, and its very very hot. “They were right”, says Vorph as he steps down from stage, “its really hot !”. It’s always a very special moment to see musicans coming off stage, a bit lost and submerged by the adrenaline of the show. The osmosis of a band and its fans is something priceless. 40 minutes of show that are worth living, if you trust the smile on the musicans faces… 

They are now tidying their stuff. Vorph quickly goes for a shower while the others go backstage or go outside for a smoke. Julien (K-Productions) comes to Mas and tells hime to watch out for a cold. Draughts are artists enemies and God knows that in all these corridors a cold is never far away. A danger that you need to keep your eyes on….
Time to shake a few hands and the night is over for Radio Metal. 
Tomorrow, the train leaves at dawn for Strasbourg. 

La Laiterie

12 o’clock, the city is at my feet. Quick detour to the hotel and then off to the Laiterie. The train station, the hotel and the venue are all within a15mn walk, which is perfect for the ecologist that I am. Mas is already here, but his comrades will only arrive around 4.30pm. We sit down for a moment on these horrible chairs, that are in fact NOT chairs. What the hell were they ?  

This is insane.
We go outside with Mas for a moment and here comes Julien, along with the musicians and crew of the other bands. No Return is here, a few guys from Arch Enemy, and Dylath-Leen. Samael has not arrived yet, so your servant goes for a tour of the venue. The place is great. The rooms backstage are huge and comfortable, the concert hall is really nice, and the cooking will certainly be welcome by the musicians, that are usualy used to eat things that are…..uneatable ! The place looks like the perfect place for these muscians. “This place is amazing” will say Xy. “In France, you have great venues anyway. We’ve just seen the Aeronef in Lille, nice place. The Laiterie is superb, the Transbordeur is great, and the Elysée Montmartre is just perfect.”  

Julien (K Productions) and Mas
Around 4.30, Samael is here and starts their soundcheck. Only one song will be played, no need for more, the sound engineer is the same as last night. The show is starting in just a few hours, and the band is chilling backstage. Mas is the only one missing. A young lady comes to check the catering and to ask us if we really need everything (Jack Daniels, beers, Red Bull, Coca-Cola, biscuits…) The fridge is about to explode and there’s only 8 of us. The band says that they will need all this, and Xy tells me that is it’s not gone tonight, it will be useful for the bus. I can believe that ! Still, Samael members are quite thin. With all this beer drinking and sugar eating, you can easily understand why some artists transform completly and become really fat….But as you can see, Samael is a reasonable band. We’ll jus have a few glasses of wine after the show, and that’s all.

Makro (‡ gauche) et Vorph (‡ droite)
Before the show, Makro is on his computer, Xy is checking his guitar strings and so is his brother. “I should do this more often, but its a cycle thing” says Xy. The thing is that a musician should never really lose his hands. Even if they do this, Samael’s members are not the kind of musicians to always move around with their instruments. Around 7.30pm, the tension starts to grow. Mas has arrived and has joined his colleagues to prepare the show. Vorph is already in deep concentration. He has a charisma that few people have. With this singer, you can see a very bright side. He doesn’t speak much, but has a particular style, a dimension. Yes, that’s it, Vorph has a dimension. For those who have taken an interest in the lyrics will understand.

Xy in action
You can see that Vorph has particular habits before going on stage. Change shirt, earphone, red and black pants, coat. Everything must be done according to certain rules. Being with Samael before a concert is liking watching a ceremony. Around 8.50, a member of Arch Enemy’s crew comes round to tell them to get ready. Xy puts his shirt on, Makro opens his, as the tradition demands, Mas is ready for a fight and Vorph is in his world.  

9.09pm : time to go.  

at the beginning, Samael played black metal. Here is a « trve » photo
Samael’s show is more intense and powerful than yesterday. The stage is bigger, and even if the concert is not sold out, the audience is very receptive. The sound is much better than the day before. “In Lyon, I had a weird feeling after the show, but today, it was great” says Makro. The after-show is very relaxed, we’re backstage and after a short break, Mas goes back to work for the headlining band. He’ll be back a few minutes later, his pass is still backstage….  

We have lots of time to talk about past tours and crunchy stories that are part of a bands life. Samael has a long history and has had the opportunity to play with bands that have become friends. It’s the case of the band Sentenced, now split, or Devin Townsend. Masmiseim tells me that they were touring with Strapping Young Lad. After the first show, Devin’s voice was completly gone. Mas asked him how he was going to cope with the rest of the tour, and Devin replied “Pff, you know, that’s not a problem. You just yell and that’s it !”. Rock’n’roll ! They also told me about their tour with Paradise Lost and their humour. The singer, Nick Holmes, is famous for his ability to complain about eveything. The first time Xy met him, he asked him if he’d ever been glad to perform live. And Nick answered : “Yeah, once !”.  
So British…. 

The artist have finished
Honesty, simplicity and sympathy are maybe the best words to describe Samael. If you are (not yet) interested in the band, don’t hesitate to go through their discography. In all of it you will notice the Samael sound. Unique and easy to spot. The warlike sound is present in the black beginings of the band (Solar Soul), or in albums such as Ceremony of Opposites, Passage or Eternal. Samael is the violence of guitars and machines and the beauty of etheral melodies. Samael is the power and relevance of Vorph’s lyrics, embedded with Xy’s sense of composition.  

Ladies and Gentleman, Samael’s galaxy awaits you.   

NB : and since Xy refuses to play their song “Us”, from Eternal, even though I begged him to, this is for him, and for you.

Translation : Mark

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