|Musical Style: Progressive Metal||Produced By: Erez Yohanan|
|Record Label: Inside Out||Country Of Origin: Israel|
|Year Released: 2008||Artist Website: Amaseffer|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 77:50|
Some metal albums are obviously great. Others gradually thrust their greatness upon us. The latter has been my experience with Slaves For Life, the summer of 2008 full length debut of Tel Aviv, Israel based Amaseffer. The group, drawing its name from that chosen for the Israelites in the Bible meaning “People of the Holy Book”, came together in 2004 with the idea of recording a trilogy of concept albums telling the Old Testament story of the Exodus. Slaves For Life, the first of the three, starts by depicting the oppression of the Israelites by Pharaoh and culminates with the ten deadly plagues of Egypt but also includes all things in between: The birth of Moses, his flight to Midian after killing an Egyptian slave master, subsequent encounter with God in the form of a “burning bush” and return to Egypt and confrontation with Pharaoh.
Placing Amaseffer within a specific style segment proves problematic due to the diverse and distinct nature of their sound. Progressive metal is the first word that comes to mind - along with some power and melodic metal aspects - but that would be limiting in that there is much more to the group from a musical standpoint. You will also encounter ethnic folk and world music influences along with orchestral arrangements, atmospheric and ambient interludes and Middle Eastern instrumentation. Helping lend a movie-like soundtrack experience are dramatic elements with spoken voices of actors and sound effects depicting the historic storyline in question.
I purchased a copy of Slaves For Life in the immediate wake of its release - the subject matter, obviously, piqued my interest - with the idea of putting together a review. My attention started to wane, however, with repeat listen. I failed to find the material accessible, with the songs too long (and complex) to keep my attention. Many of the dramatic overtones, which were often in Hebrew, went over my head. When further factoring that Slaves For Life comes in at over 75 minutes, it does not make for a casual listen (one reviewer that suggested it is “not an album you can just check out on your way to work” had the right idea). All things considered I soon became discouraged and set the album aside indefinitely until several months ago when two Angelic Warlord readers encouraged me to do the review.
I subsequently revisited Slaves For Life and came away seeing things in a different light. The key is giving the album the time and attention it deserves and growing to appreciate it for the accomplished work that it is. Slaves For Life represents one of those albums that can be listened to a dozen times straight and you will always find something unique to stand out in that its material is so intricately woven and deeply structured. In other words it is as progressive a project as you will find due to the fact the subject matter automatically lends to highly complex and lengthy songwriting, which I originally chagrined but came to embrace. So rather than being an album you “check out on your way to work” it is one you take on an extended road trip instead.
Another particular revolves around the albums intent to tell a story - through music, words and dramatic interpretation - and when approached from that standpoint the listener cannot help but be immersed. Yes, it is a listen that requires your complete attention, and needs to be done without interruption, but when combining the immense detail of the project with such a profound landscape, one cannot help but have that previously referenced greatness thrust upon you the more you return.
Hence, I hesitate to invite comparison because I cannot think of another progressive based group approaching the genre in the same manner as Amaseffer. Saviour Machine comes to mind, and not due to any direct musical comparison (placing the Gothic sounds of Savior Machine alongside Amaseffer is an apples to oranges scenario) but rather as a result of how elaborate its material is and the amount of time required to absorb it. Thieves And Liars also deserve mention. Again, not from any musical resemblance - Thieves And Liars trends towards seventies hard rock - but rather the fact the groups 2008 debut When Dreams Become Reality also is based around Old Testament themes (this time chronologically tracing the life of Joseph).
Due to the dramatic nature to the storyline and the fact there are no distinct breaks between tracks, it is difficult for individual songs to stand out. Nevertheless, the album centers itself around three epics in the eleven to twelve minute range - “Birth Of Deliverance”, “Midian” and “Ten Plagues” - in addition to nine minute instrumental “Wooden Staff” (which features a lengthy stretch of scintillating open air lead guitar). You will also find one song traversing power/progressive territory, “Slaves For Life”, and another approaching things from a semi-ballad standpoint, “Land Of The Dead”. Other calmer moments include the acoustic laced “Zipporah” and orchestral ballad “The Burning Bush”.
One could not find a more fitting vocalist than Mats Leven (Therion, Malmsteen, Essence Of Sorrow), who lends his trademark raspy and mid-ranged flavorings to the moving scene at hand. The best way to describe his performance would be emotional and passionate while delivering a great range of moods (depending on the song and subject) in the process. But it is not all Leven in that Kobi Farhi (Orphaned Land) performs the traditional Hebrew based vocals, while Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy) adds some extreme growling to the track “Midian”.
Production and packaging are immaculately done. Former features enough polish (albeit not to a fault) to allow the varying instrumentation - again, ranging from metal to folk to traditional - to stand out, while latter comes in a six-panel digipak with a multi-page mini booklet featuring translations to the Hebrew parts.
Slaves For Life adds up to a masterpiece when heard within context. Once more, this is a work not necessarily intended for casual listen - you will not encounter a lot of catchy sing-along choruses or accessible elements here; I like to think of the albums material as made up of encompassing understated melody structures instead - but rather needs to be approached from a long term repeat listen standpoint. Only then (at least based upon my experience) you will gain appreciation for the sheer detail and immense scope of the project as it reveals the story surrounding the epic story at hand.
Track By Track
“Sorrows” represents a short intro piece upheld by acoustic guitar and woodwinds.
“Slaves For Life” intersperses cinematic overtures and militant drums with strapping guitars. The song comes across powerfully built as a result, maintaining a Middle Eastern flair and subtle melody but wrapped in the sophisticated tempo changes - some heavier and others trending towards the calmer - that keep things vibrant with repeat listen. This one is progressive but not to a fault. Lyric snippet:
God send us your helping hand
Striving for our promised land
Walk towards the sun
From anguish to redemption
Look for a guiding hand
To bring us all salvation
Eleven minute “Birth Of Deliverance” opens its first couple minutes in theatrical fashion, as sweeping keyboards and overtures give rise to a histrionic milieu. The remaining nine bring a literal maze of twists and turns: Heavier passages with full on guitars, melodic moments giving rise to a forthright feel, dramatic interludes and quieter moments with a viola darkening the backdrop. The upshot is a highly complex piece but listenable all the same.
What better way to follow an eleven minute piece with one that comes in at just under twelve. “Midian” also follows an intricate pattern with almost too much going on to go into adequate detail. This one also opens to a lengthy instrumental stretch, with some calmer ethereal passages slowly giving way to heavy set guitars. Moving forward this one lends some darker symphonic aspects in playing up the more tumultuous edge - note the fitting extreme vocals at the halfway point - while staying true to the dramatic Middle Eastern influences throughout. Lyric snippet:
I see the burning eyes
Chasing me into the night
Follow me as I run away
No one to lead the way to paradise
let not such act to be in vain
The stars won't shine
Moon turned to black
Will I ever be able to go back?
The night is falling down on me
In my anguish I cried to the lord
And he answered by setting me free
“Zipporah” is a shorter (six minute) piece calmly carried by acoustic guitar in featuring a duet between Leven’s and the female vocals of Maya Ayraham.
Lush and majestic, ballad “The Burning Bush” moves its length stilly to acoustic guitar as keyboards gently highlight the backdrop. Bluesy guitar played with a great deal of feeling helps adorn the final two minutes. Lyric snippet:
Recreating everything in every single word
In awe I knee before the ruler of the world
I'm but a shepherd, I cannot lead no man
I won't defy the voice, but I cannot understand
If truly you are God, If you can see inside my soul
Who am I to stand against the Pharaoh, and who am I at all?
Who am I at all?
On this forsaken mountain nothing is mundane
This voice is telling me of a land forgot by men
My lord has spoken true
His words sculpture my heart
The warrant is superb, indeed the high command
Even as a stammerer your distant voice be heard
Now I'll leave my home and gather all my herd
“Wooden Staff” can best be described as a nine minute progressive instrumental. The song starts in heavier rocking fashion to storms of aggressive guitars prior to tapering for a passage carried by eerie guitar feedback interwoven with whispering voices. Regaining its momentum, “Wooden Staff” moves to a lengthy stretch of the albums best lead guitar (blistering and ardently played) that transitions to the quietly played guitar backed by chanting in Hebrew that carries the final minute and a half. Creative is the first word to come to mind.
“Return To Egypt”, also instrumental but shorter at just three and a half minutes, slowly drifts to keyboards interwoven with keyboards. Final two minutes feature voice over in Hebrew.
Eleven and a half minute “Ten Plagues” breaks down into three distinct parts.
The first begins acoustically with a thunderstorm in the background prior to metal laced guitars kicking in. A quietly done environs prevails for the piano driven verse that follows, while guitars return to carry the subsequent two. A majestically done chorus delivered in choir-like fashion serves to tie everything together.
The second takes a climactic turn in featuring dialogue in Hebrew between Aaron and Moses and Pharaoh.
The third approaches things instrumentally, with ominous overtures and symphonic guitar harmonies leading the way to the songs final emotional verses.
Two brothers stand; their eyes are caught with fire
They know no fear from the tyrant on the throne
A simple wish not granted, to worship for their god
There's no compassion inside the Pharaoh's heart of stone.
Blood consumes the waters; tainting red the sacred Nile
The rancid stench of death harbors winds for miles
The cities and the temples, flooded now with frogs
And their croaking lasted days until Moses gave his word
The Pharaoh's slender patience was reducing with each night
But to free the Hebrew slaves was an unimaginable right
Though the word that spread in Egypt was speaking of the awe
That was penetrating slowly about a God they do not know
“Land Of The Dead” brings the albums to its decisive close. The song comes across in the form of a striking semi-ballad, as keyboards carry the tranquilly done verses and edgier guitars back what amounts an ethereally flowing chorus. Guitar harmonies shoulder a protracted instrumental section. In the end this one proves a fitting end to quite the moving album. Lyric snippet:
When neither side will dawn a smile
None of the fallen souls rejoin the Nile
And all shall perish
Across this land
Forsaken and condemned
As destiny of man to rises like a morning star
Nightfall will embrace Goshen from afar
And in the hour of bereavement
Every mourning witness can gasp;
"It's not the end"
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Sorrows” (2:40), “Slaves For Life” (8:27), “Birth Of Deliverance” (11:11), “Midian” (11:47), “Zipporah” (6:10), “The Burning Bush” (6:30), “Wooden Staff” (9:13), “Return To Egypt” (3:25), “Ten Plagues” (11:28), “Land Of The Dead” (6:53)
Yuval Kramer - Guitars
Hanan Avramovich - Guitars
Erez Yohanan - Drums & Percussions
Mats Leven - Lead Vocals
Kobi Farhi - Lead Vocals
Angela Gossow - Lead Vocals
Yotam Avni - Lead Vocals
Maya Avraham - Lead Vocals
Amir Gvirtzman - Flutes
Yatziv Caspi - Tablas
Yair Yona - Bass