Creating Our Sins(Morbid - 1992)
Like Mayhem, this oldest Israeli band from 1985 spent a decade issuing underground demos and compilations, supporting a weak local metal scene, delivering prototypical black-metal back when it was new, and performing live to build their reputation before finally recording a full length LP with brand new material. They were supported by Mayhem, but, notoriously, received a letter bomb from Varg Vikernes when they attempted to contact him. This LP re-issue is a compilation of miscellaneous tracks: An EP with three new long doomdeath tracks, and the Millions Slaughtered release which is a compilation of their old songs recorded live in 1990. From the EP, 'Old Wounds' stands out as a prototypical Melechesh sound with some driving middle-eastern rhythms and scales mixed with blackened growls and old-school death metal, but the other tracks are pretty plain deathdoom with an emphasis on Slayerish death. The live tracks are generic black-death with energetic raspy growls and screams, backed by very raw sounding guitars and a live, grungy atmosphere. Ze'ev Tanenboim, the founding member, performs the middling vocals, and what he lacks in depth and timbre in his vocals, he makes up for in energy and harshness, sometimes chewing into the microphone. The live tracks are followed by two very Bathory-esque tracks with echoing, muddy black metal coming out of the pits of hell, pounding percussion, a hint of keyboards, and booming distorted growls. I can't say that any of the riffs and songs are memorable, and the album is, after all, a compilation, but if you like a raw underground vibe of 80s garage death and black metal, this may be up your alley. Energetic, but very generic.
Kaddish(Morbid - 1994)
Salem adopts doomdeath on this second LP; their first full length with all new material. Strong comparisons to older, pre-keyboard Paradise Lost are very appropriate with its raw and heavy riffing, but the occasional Greek style heavy metal melody, oriental noodling or weepier My Dying Bride-like sounds do make appearances. Like Paradise Lost's debut, this one may be a bit hard to get into at first because of the weighty atmosphere and slow music, but the songs are well composed and executed with just the right amount of variety and dynamic composition. The sounds here range from slow, end-of-world riffing to energetic death metal with growls of despair and anger, to looming gothic morbidity on themes of the Holocaust, with scattered sad melodies, guitar solos and middle-eastern touches or intros. Tanenboim rips growls and rasps out of his lungs, and although they are a bit thin-sounding at times, the majority are passably good and backed by energy. Salem take their time writing songs and it shows; they don't sound like a song factory under pressure to fill in empty album time. Altogether, an above-average and lightly recommended doomdeath release.
A Moment of Silence(BNE - 1998)
If anyone ever asks me what the difference is between doom and gothic metal, I could simply tell them to compare this third LP by Salem with the previous 'Kaddish'. Whereas Kaddish explored a much rawer and extreme sounding aural painting of pessimism, pain and despair, this release chooses to use more melodic hooks in minor keys, and a syrupy, more romantic approach to dark moodiness. In terms of band comparisons, this one is more like Moonspell or later Paradise Lost with a healthy dose of Rotting Christ, mixing Tanenboim's growls with ubiquitous clean vocals sung either in Moonspell-style low crooning, or with the part gothic chant, part goth-pop singing a la Depeche Mode/Sisters of Mercy. It's this latter style that puts me off this album, with the terrible 'Winter's Tear' taking it to a commercial extreme. Other elements used include a lot of latter-day Rotting Christ slow and weighty melodies and riffs, the popular Century Media's keyboard-oriented dark metal sound of the time, some doomdeath, and frequent use of middle-eastern scales on guitar. Other stand-out tracks include the plodding Pink Floyd cover of 'Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun', the death-metal track 'Symbiosis', and the 11 minute doomish 'Who Will Comfort Me Now'. Altogether, although there are some interesting compositions and the album defies classification, a lot seems copied from the popular metal sounds of the time, the commercialism creeps in here and there, and the tracks are a very mixed bag. Not my favorite musical styles, featuring vocals that will probably turn off others as well, and I got a lackluster impression of the album as a whole.
Collective Demise(System Shock - 2003)
Salem changes styles for a fourth time, this time mixing aggressive death metal (both American and Scandinavian) with some black, and scattered use of female vocals. At the Gates and old Death are both obvious influences, but the songs vary often and I also hear some Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, Slayer, Dismember and even a couple of orphaned Opeth riffs. This is not to say that they reproduced the greatness of these bands, the pacing seems a bit slower on some tracks, and the sound is too generic to be inspiring, but the composition and playing are competent, and Salem spices it up with some middle-eastern sounds, scales, riffs, percussion and solos throughout the album. Tanenboim's raspy growls have improved, now sounding similar to Chuck Schuldiner. Stand-out tracks: 'Act of Terror' and 'Al Taster' are middle-eastern ethnic songs that would fit right in an Orphaned Land album. The lyrics make this album even more unique, covering terrorism and the Intifadah in Israel. Classify this one as competent and moderately well-done, without any obvious flaws, but too generic to pull out of the drawer regularly. It suffers from copycat syndrome, where the songs are written to sound like someone else, but don't work as well because they aren't driven by internal inspiration. Once again though, Salem deliver with a good variety of compositional styles and sounds, keeping the album interesting. If the middle-eastern touch sounds irresistible to you, and you'd like sort of a death-metal version of Melechesh, you may like this one a lot more than I did.
Strings Attached(Raven Music - 2005)
Salem goes Apocalyptica, re-writing a collection of old tracks to incorporate a quartet of strings. The selection of tracks is mostly off the first two and a half doom/goth albums (Creating EP/Kaddish/Moment of Silence) with a couple of transformed death tracks from Collective Demise, and one new song. At first, the strings sound merely appended to the songs as either a continuo, added percussive effect, a background layer, or an intro, without rewriting the original tracks much. This is not only somewhat flippant, but the additions are grafted without thought towards the way they change the tone of the song. For example, it loses that heavy Paradise Lost vibe of the Kaddish songs due to bouncy percussive strings. The awfully commercial Winters Tear is included. Ha'ayara Bo'eret, a well known Holocaust dirge, gets a respectful treatment and full sound with choir, doom rasps and sorrowful strings. Salem's most aggressive death metal track, Slave, is played only by the quartet for a full Apocalyptica treatment, but, unfortunately, as soon as the strings get the front row, you can really hear how amateurishly high-school and off-tune they are. And then, Tanenboim gets more bold and experimental, replacing guitar lines completely with awkward strings for many tracks, adding avant-garde touches and even trying arrangements like a mechanical blast beat with strings for 'The Fading', until the last two tracks that feature poor guest vocals, and a moderate female vocal rendition of 'Coming End of Reason'. Tanenboim doesn't adjust his harsh growl/rasp vocals much, sounding a bit broken at times, except for some odd whispered growls on the first track. A valiant experiment conceptually, but not a successful one. I didn't enjoy this at all.
Necessary Evil(Season Of Mist - 2007)
Another album for Salem, another style. This time, the sound is down-tuned, chunky, slowish death metal that can shift from grinding/bouncy latter-day Sepultura, to slower Kataklysm, with chunky, rhythm-oriented death metal and occasional blasting, all spiced with some middle-eastern touches. The vocals seem a bit out of place though, with a heavy undercarriage and accent, some use of dual layering, and dull, monotonic edges that don't complement the sharper-edged music adequately. That's how it sounds to my ears anyways. The guitars are sludgy, the drums sometimes sound electronic when they blast, and the composition eschews riffs for the most part, revolving around rhythm, repetitive, driving guitar lines and some middle-eastern scales and noodles. For a monster closer, there is a 26 minute song split over 5 tracks that sounds like sludgy Kataklysm spliced with noisy, distorted Meshuggah-esque tech-metal, with many surprising, experimental and progressive touches. A heavy and complex composition, once again let down by muddy vocals, as well as out-of-place melodic guitar solos and female vocals. Overall, the album has a monster sound but I feel it is too weighed down by the vocals and monotonous guitar phrases. The music never seems to build up or come to life for me. Try before you buy.
Playing God And Other Short Stories(Pulverized - 2010)
Salem sticks mostly to the same sound as before for the first time in their careers, with some experimental touches. As with Necessary Evil, this is very down-tuned, sludgy, grinding guitar with heavy bass that sounds like Sepultura/Soulfly/nu-metal except it is used for rhythmic and slowish death metal that can suddenly turn to drum blast-beats. So, more songs that consist only of a collection of rhythms with dullish vocals and a dearth of riffs, except this time they added a lot more painfully inappropriate female vocals, and a weird Bob Marley cover. There is some experimentation with percussion, including some tribal Sepultura drums, marching drums in 'Downfall of Paris', some bad high-pitched harsh vocals, a funny jihad on pigs in one interlude track, and ambient keyboards make an appearance in one or two songs. All of this is just decoration on basically dull-sounding music though. This one is all-around poor.