Samael - Passage (1996)

Samael - Passage (1996) Cover
Ben Ben / May 05, 2019 / Comments 0 / 1

An immensely brave album that forged a new path while still impressing most of their fan base.

Samael certainly shocked their fans with Passage. Beginning their existence as an extremely raw and simple black metal band (as can be heard on debut Worship Him and follow-up Blood Ritual), this Swiss band had already evolved into a more intense and hard-hitting blasphemous outfit on 1994’s Ceremony of Opposites. They’d gained a lot of new fans with that release (myself included), all of which were waiting anxiously to see where this evolution would go next. 1995’s stop gap EP Rebellion should have warned us all of what might be coming with its increased use of keyboard atmospherics, not to mention an Alice Cooper cover, but this resulting full length album was still an immensely brave release. The industrial elements that had been hinted at on previous releases had been amplified dramatically, the keyboards given far greater importance, and the whole thing was seemingly designed for a mainstream audience. Surely none of these changes were going to please black metal fans!

Yet somehow, despite this huge shift in tone and sound, Passage is blatantly Samael! The heavy, simple, yet effective riffs are there, the energy the band had found on Ceremony of Opposites is if anything amped up and Vorph’s vocals still contain that accented venom we all know and love. This is most definitely the same Samael engine used to create their early albums, but the chassis it runs in is a completely upgraded, shiny new model. Samael made the correct judgement that their previous Satanic themes wouldn’t sit too well with the shift in approach and took on a more Occult / Cosmological subject matter, which is perfectly synchronized with the striking yet simple artwork that adorns the cover. The symphonic aspect is wonderfully executed, with tracks such as Liquid Soul Dimension and Moonskin driven by gripping, and in the latter’s case, beautiful keyboard work. While the focus was certainly taken away from the guitars, it’s worth noting that the band added a second guitarist for the recording, which gives the album a far bigger sound all up.

Not everything the band attempted on this album turned to gold. The programmed drums are great in general, giving the album an almost mechanical and powerful quality, but they occasionally make things a bit too sterile. The beginning of Angel’s Decay is an example of where they sound too characterless, perhaps even too clean for my liking. But 90% of the time they achieve their goal perfectly, with The Ones Who Came Before’s double bass kicking combination with dance beats displaying possibilities conventional drumming could never accomplish. Passage is an example of a band that was willing to take a risk, breaking down the restrictive boundaries that black metal fans often place on their beloved genre, and coming up with something that not only brought them a new audience, but was good enough to impress their existing fan base. If you’re into black metal, industrial metal or even gothic metal, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Highlight tracks are Rain, My Savior, The Ones Who Came Before and Moonskin.

Daniel Daniel / September 09, 2021 / Comments 0 / 0

Ben & I came across Swiss outfit Samael very early on in their recording career through their early 90’s releases. Those records pushed a fairly raw, simplistic & primitive yet still quite dark & atmospheric brand of Celtic Frost-inspired black metal that took a similar approach to that explored by the Greek bands of the time like Rotting Christ & Varathron. 1991’s “Worship Him” & 1992’s “Blood Ritual” were both reasonably enjoyable releases however Samael wouldn’t really peak until their 1994 career highlight “Ceremony Of Opposites” album that saw them taking a step up in the black metal ranks & in doing so entitled them to a lot of repeat listens during the next year or so. 1996’s fourth full-length “Passage” would prove to be a very different prospect though as it would not only see Samael stepping away from their black metal roots but it would also see them creating a new sound that is still very hard to categorize today. We'd gained a taste of this new direction a year earlier with the band's stop-gap "Rebellion" E.P. seeing Samael dipping their toes in the water to see how people would react however "Passage" would see them cementing their new identity. It would be one that would stay with them for the remainder of their career too.

The shadow of has always hung over the Metal Academy website. I mean I can’t deny that it was the inspiration for the initial concept for our site & it certainly stills holds a very dear place in my heart. But if recent months have shown us anything it’s that there are significant gaps in its audiences understanding of metal music with their genre-tagging arrangement proving to be consistently inaccurate & “Passage” is a prime example of this. On RYM we see “Passage” being tagged with both Industrial Metal & Symphonic Black Metal as primary subgenres however that’s simply not an accurate depiction of what you can expect to hear on this record. Sure, there are some industrial metal tracks included on "Passage" however there are more that don’t really show much of a trace of anything industrial. In truth there are just as many gothic metal tracks included but that subgenre doesn’t seem to get a mention despite some clear similarities with the likes of Moonspell & Tiamat at times. Plus, claiming “Passage” to be a black metal release is a big stretch. There are a few tracks that show glimpses of the symphonic black metal sound & Vorphalack’s vocals still maintain his extreme metal bite however this isn't enough for a primary vote & “Passage” would seem well out of place at the top of the release charts for The North in my opinion. The only consistent element here is the symphonic component which is clearly evident on every track & is a major driver for the album as a whole. For this reason I see the Symphonic Metal subgenre as being the logical home for “Passage” & it’s unfortunate that this doesn’t really align with our Metal Academy clan structure given that Symphonic Metal currently resides in The Guardians i.e. our traditional melodic heavy/power metal clan. Thems the breaks though I guess & I’d much rather have our releases tagged correctly than worry too much about whether someone might misguidedly select a Samael track for The Guardians playlist.

Given my statements on the correct gentrification for “Passage”, this brings us to the quality of the music & the impact Samael’s new sound had on my overall enjoyment. The production is excellent as it presents Samael’s trademark simplistic riff structures in a chunky & up-front fashion that accentuates their heaviness while the symphonics are positioned well in the mix & never overpower the guitars. It’s a really professional sounding package to tell you the truth & was a big fat feather in the band’s cap. The song-writing is also pretty strong although this is where personal taste comes into it. I’m not at all surprised to see someone like Andi jumping all over “Passage” as he’s more of a fan of symphonic metal & gothic metal than I’ll ever be & it’s important that you have a good grasp of those two elements if you’re to fully understand the charms of this record. I can’t say that I’m completely onboard with the symphonic component if I’m being honest & that’s been a sound that I’ve always battled with no matter what the basis of a band’s sound might be. It’s only been the absolute elite acts like Emperor that have managed to overcome that stigma to gain genuine classic status from me personally but for every one of those there are dozens of artists that I’ve cast aside along the way. Don’t get me wrong. Samael are a class act. There’s no question about that. It’s just that I can’t help but feel a level of disappointment that their musical direction on “Passage” doesn’t suit me quite as well as it did on its predecessor & for that reason “Passage” would see me getting off the Samael train & giving subsequent releases very little attention until I started putting together the monthly The Sphere playlist.

Despite the undoubted quality of the performances & execution on display here, there are a couple of failures included amongst the eleven tracks. I don’t have much interest in “Moonskin” or the straight-up gothic metal of “Shining Kingdom” which both sound pretty flat to me. The rest of this material offers me a pretty consistent level of appeal however the stylistic direction sees me unable to push for classic status on any of the individual tracks. The Slayer influenced opener “Rain” is probably the best of them along with the equally strong “Jupiterian Vibe” & “The Ones Who Came Before” but none of them manages to quite get me jumping out of my seat. Vorphalack’s blackened vocals are very well done but I don’t think there are any hooks that have me repeating them in my head for days afterwards. He shows his Swiss heritage pretty clearly as you can often hear elements of Tom G. Warrior (Hellhammer/Celtic Frost) & Ron Royce (Coroner) in his delivery, only with a bit more of a black metal edge.

Overall, I’d have to say that I have a lot of respect for “Passage” as an ambitious & original undertaking from a band that were looking to do something fresh & different. If that was their goal then they’ve certainly achieved it & the fact that I find it so difficult to pigeon-hole "Passage" into any clear subgenre is a testament to that. In saying that though, I can’t deny that it doesn’t fit in with my personal taste as well as “Ceremony Of Opposites” did & I don’t think I’ll ever regard it in the same terms as Ben or Andi do. That’s OK though. Those differences of opinion are a big part of the appeal of music & art in general, not to mention websites like this one.

For fans of The Kovenant, Godkiller & early …And Oceans.

shadowdoom9 (Andi) shadowdoom9 (Andi) / September 01, 2021 / Comments 0 / 0

Well well... What have we here?... Industrial black metal!? Thankfully, more influences from the former metal genre than the latter. If this was one of their earlier black metal albums instead of Passage, I would prevent my attention from being grabbed. Industrial metal also wasn't my thing, but that I look forward to expanding.

Fortunately, I think I just found one of my new all-time favorite metal albums in Samael's Passage, containing the power of unique beauty! As I've implied above, Samael was initially in the 2nd wave of black metal. I haven't heard their earlier black metal material yet, but I'm glad to start with the album where electronic keyboards overpower most of the heavy satanic black metal until the latter is almost no more...

I can hear it clearly in "Rain", an amazing opening highlight, starting with a killer yet smile-inducing riff. The hard-to-miss beginning of "Shining Kingdom" sets up the drive that the rest of the song would take. The keyboards nicely blend over the heaviness in beautiful melody, making Samael the bridge of difference between industrial metal and black metal. Those melodic keyboard passages would continue shining on in this fantastic album. The haunting intro of "Angel's Decay" proves it right off the bat. "My Saviour" is an amazing standout classic. This is industrialized Hell that's so great!

"Jupiterian Vibe" would keep bashing up your face until you bleed. "The Ones Who Came Before" has a chorus that acts as a galactic greeting from a cold dark place. "Liquid Soul Dimension" is one of only a couple songs where guitars and bass take the front stage, instead of the keyboards. The guitars and bass are still around for a solid sound.

There's soothing melody within "Moonskin" that almost reminds of In Flames' "Moonshield" from this year, though Samael's song is slightly faster. "Born Under Saturn" has more demanding power while staying as varied as the other tracks to make the release brilliant. The intro riff of "Chosen Race" is another example of great guitar heaviness. "A Man in Your Head" once more has great devotion, making it clear that the band has departed the black metal of Worship Him until at least Above.

All in all, Passage is an album I would recommend to fans of either the industrial metal of Godflesh or the symphonic black metal of Limbonic Art, or both. Again, this might just be for me one of the best industrial metal albums of space and time!

Favorites: Rain, Shining Kingdom, My Saviour, Moonskin, Born Under Saturn, A Man in Your Head

Noir Mind Noir Mind / May 10, 2021 / Comments 0 / 0

I, unfortunately, was not previously familiar with the work of this group, and I was attracted by a specific mixture of black metal and symphonic industrial, which was listed in the tags of the album. I expected something like a mix of Neurotech, Septic Flesh and Dimmu Borgir, but I got... something more. The combination of the mechanical percussion section, dark black metal riffs, gothic keyboards - often presented by organ sounds - and space themes creates a unique existential vibe devoid of the cybernetic nonsense of Neurotech, the pathos of Septic Flesh and the vulgar satanism of Dimmu Borgir. 

This album seems to me a serious, multifaceted work, which surprises the listener in each track with various experiments, whether it is methodical pagan percussion of "Rain" and "The Ones Who Came Before", dramatic but not vulgar organ vampirism of "Angel's Decay", sensual, like dark fairy tale, "Moonskin", or epic futurism of "Jupiterian Vibe". But even with all its technical and melodic variety this album seems to me not just a set of songs, but an integral work with thematically connected tracks, only some of which seem to be fillers. Unexpectedly successful for its originality this is the record I recommend to everyone who is tired of the sterile noise of black metal. 8/10


Release info

Release Site Rating

Ratings: 9 | Reviews: 4


Release Clan Rating

Ratings: 6 | Reviews: 2


Cover Site Rating

Ratings: 6


Cover Clan Rating

Ratings: 3

The North
The Sphere

Symphonic Black Metal

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Industrial Metal (conventional)

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