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Sammath - Dodengang Review

by Mark Hensch

The Netherlands are pretty much the last spot in Western Europe that springs to mind when one thinks of the Second Wave of black metal, but the Dutch had their Satanists and misanthropes too, producing a unique, oft-overlooked scene. Formed in 1994, Nijmengen's Sammath were spawned in the dying embers of the movement as a whole across all of Europe, and as such, never really ascended to the level of infamy many other black metal bands from that era did. Originally conceived as a five-piece, Sammath has undergone a tumultous lineup implosion or three, and now stands at drummer Koos Bos and vocalist/guitarist/bassist mastermind J. Kruitwagen. 2006's Dodengang is the duo's first full-length recording alone, and marks the first of a three record deal with the Dutch Folter Records label. Conceived during the very twilight of the Second Wave, yet forged in an isolated and lonely locale, how does Sammath stack up when compared to the hordes of alternative black metal bands out there?

The answer is surprisingly well. I have never really followed Dutch metal of any kind, but as far as black metal goes, Sammath is pretty solid. For a two-piece, the songs on here are amazingly crisp and have honest bite to them. Like all truly great classical-era black metal, Sammath attempts to drown listeners in atmosphere and darkness, their music is less about technicality and more about mood. This holds true on all of Dodengang, and the band exceeds at mixing ripping aggression with chilling, somber melody.

"To Hell" quietly creeps up on listeners with its shadowy, sinister melodies, the likes of which are intangible and slowly coalesce into legitimately furious tremolo-picking. When frontman Kruitwagen lets loose an unholy shriek to kick off "Ravager," you'll know right away these guys know what they are doing. The percussion is airtight yet chokes at the same time; I envision a noose being drawn tightly around the neck of the condemned. Kruitwagen has crafted some fantastically frostbitten melodies and deep bass; for a man playing two instruments, this is a remarkably seamless performance, so much so I was surprised to find that the band is only two people.

"Dodengang" continues this trend with blasting, meticolous groove and furious aggression. As the longest cut on the entire album, one would think it capable of flagging a bit, but not so; the album's title track consistently puts forth enthralling yet ghoulish melodies atop strong, muscular, and lean riffs which bite and tear. In an expertly pulled twist, "Dodengang" soon devolves into samples of brutal firefights and trench warfare, all before a mine explodes and the song fireballs back into its oddly melodic waltz to death and darkness. It all makes for a fairly wicked track, and it sounds every bit as professional and memorable as something a band like say Gorgoroth might pen.

"Ashes to Ashes" riffs with tones as hollow as empty skulls and just as unnerving. The slow-paced percussion perfectly meshes with the churning maelstrom of dirty, raw chaos kicked up by the guitars, and a bridge of frantic double-bass followed by hypnotic, nausea-inducing guitar riffs works wonders. "Imminence War Death" goes right for the jugular immediately thereafter, a roiling bassline being swallowed whole by increasingly deep guitar roars all before the true madness appears on stage. The chilling melodies sparkle with sickly, ebony sheen and are some of the most haunting notes I've heard this side of Vrolok. Simplistic yet sinister, it has been a long time since I have heard a BM act use tremolo more for atmosphere and less for showing off personal technique---major applause is in order for Sammath in regards to this trait!

"Stalingrad" crashes a few cymbals before ripping you limb-from-limb with unhinged black metal easily on par with some of Immortal's more blasting moments. As raspy howls cascade past you, the band finally halts the madness only to let an eerie melody sneak into the battle and distract from the final offensive of war-metal only moments away. The song's mix of icy picking and blasting viciousness near the end is an entertaining and unique nuance, something that really sets the band apart simply due to the unique nature of the melodies and tones they manage to conjure up.

"Oblivion" keeps things in high gear with some drum rightousness, more wicked picked melodies, and a shockingly well-placed clean guitar passage which sort of rears its head amidst the ugliness only to be consumed moments later. Driving and determined, the song is the relentless aural slaughter only high-quality European BM can offer.

"Merciless" closes the disc with yet another explosion or two, being very much in the vein of hate-filled rage present throughout all the earlier songs. Bass explodes in random spatches of brutal, senseless violence, and the blasting portions are top-notch slices of furious darkness. Through it all is weaved a profound and frightening strand of night's chorus, a sort of visceral and gripping melancholy turned to dark, catchy sound. This is one helluva way to close the disc, and I'll admit my expectations were much exceeded on Dodengang overall.

As mentioned earlier, it was definitely not the Netherlands that people have come to associate with black metal's notorious Second Wave, and rightfully so; despite this, that doesn't mean the BM scene in Holland was incapable of contributing its own unique stamp on the proceedings as well. Dodengang features a wistful, haunted quality amid all the bloody misanthropy on offer here, and Sammath as a musical unit easily reflects the age and experience its members should be in possession of. In conclusion, Dodengang is a sound fusion of eerie melody and bleak, hellish chaos, plus well-worth checking out for obscure BM collectors. Dodengang is well recommended by this author.

1. To Hell
2. Ravager
3. Dodengang
4. Ashes to Ashes
5. Imminence War Death
6. Stalingrad
7. Oblivion
8. Merciless

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Sammath - Dodengang


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