Samael - Passage
Century Media
Blackened Industrial Metal
11 songs (42:11)
Release year: 1996
Samael, Century Media
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Somewhere between their early Black Metal gnarliness and later Industrial danciness, Swiss fourpiece Samael produced their fourth full-length, a strange album full of catchy Metal that continues the wonderful work of Ceremony Of Opposites and adds a gleaming layer of Industrial experimentation. If you’re a very open-minded Black Metalhead, it’s their last barely acceptable album, if you’re an Industrial Metalhead, it’s their first classic, and if you’re both, like me, then Passage ticks all the right boxes and continues to get heads banging and feet tapping nearly fifteen years later. Strangely overlooked by the mainstream metal press, Samael have been making great metal since 1987, and it’s a shame that they get dismissed as Rammstein wanna-bes when albums as good as Passage are buried in history.

There’s a major ‘but’ coming up, and this is it. The one problem with Passage is that the band embraced the Industrial sound a little too eagerly and as a result everything sounds rather odd – they must have been obsessed with it, because Xy’s drum programming seems very dated and takes a little getting used to (especially with Vorph’s harsh vocals in there as well) although otherwise the band are perfect once you’re used to it, a seamless mixture of guitars and orchestral keyboards that is effortlessly grandiose and capable of being twisted into all forms of catchy songwriting shapes. Opener Rain is the first of many killer tracks, the underlying menace of the guitars clearer than elsewhere, whilst follower Shining Kingdom is slower and more intense – there’s not a vast amount of differences between tracks that you can point to, aside from the odd personal moment like how Angel’s Decay sounds like something Laibach might have done back in the day at first. The percussion (non-programmed, amazingly) that opens the quirky Jupiterian Vibe is a nice touch, too.

It took me a while to truly, madly, deeply love this album, chiefly because the first time you hear it your attention is focused on the poor drum sound rather than the excellent songwriting and atmosphere, but give it a few tries and it flows together and the album as a whole grows on you immensely. Those fans more enthusiastic (and nerdy) than I will give you a spiel about how amazing and spiritual Samael’s cover art and lyrics are, and indeed if that floats your boat you should take special notice of that, but for the rest of us it’s the songwriting that is really special – just listen to The Ones Who Come Before (no giggling at the back!) and the opening double-bass that opens into some 24th century rave-metal with almost too many keyboard choirs for comfort. Liquid Soul Dimension sounds like Satyricon teleported into the early eighties club scene, whilst the piano in Moonskin is utterly bizarre and sounds like Moonspell covering Elton John to me. Wacky stuff all around.

I mean, I might be overstating the case here a little, but the more I listen to Passage the odder it seems. Born Under Saturn mixes groovy riffing and carnival-esque keyboards and completely and utterly makes it work, Chosen Race’s first spoken lyrics are ”bom, bom, bom” yet later it goes on to almost cinematic levels of glorious grandeur, whilst closer A Man In Your Head is Gothic as hell – if you came to this album from Worship Him, your head would probably have exploded, and in retrospect it explains a lot of the hate that the purest and truest Black Metallers have for this. I’m not saying it’s excellent – if you haven’t heard Ceremony Of Opposites then go away and don’t come back until you’ve heard it – but Passage has its own style and does its own thing with far greater respect for the band’s past than the albums that would follow. Fans of the band should own it already, everyone else should check it out as a curiosity if nothing else – certainly don’t expect to understand the score I’ve given unless you’ve heard it at least five times.

Killing Songs :
Rain, Shining Kingdom, Jupiterian Vibe, The Ones Who Come Before, Liquid Soul Dimension, Born Under Saturn, Chosen Race
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Samael that we have reviewed:
Samael - Solar Soul reviewed by Cory and quoted 56 / 100
Samael - Reign of Light reviewed by Cory and quoted 86 / 100
Samael - Lux Mundi reviewed by Cory and quoted 92 / 100
Samael - Ceremony Of Opposites reviewed by Goat and quoted 95 / 100
Samael - Blood Ritual reviewed by Goat and quoted 83 / 100
To see all 9 reviews click here
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