Review Summary: When you hear Samael talked about in a good way, and only hear their later material and don't understand the hype.... this album is where the hype justifiably came from.Samael
brought this on themselves. They caused the perception that they're a mediocre Industrial band by releasing the very bad Eternal
and the much better (but still decidedly non-Metal) Reign Of Light
, but that perception was not always the case. There was a time when they were seen as one of the premier second generation of Black Metal bands. People loved them for their dark and original sound that rested comfortably in a mid-paced and highly rhythmic space that no one else occupied. When they released the critically acclaimed album Ceremony of Opposites
people began to think that Samael could do no wrong. On their next release, Passage
the band decided to test that theory by going against the perceived norms of the genre, most notably by bringing in a drum machine, and they came out on top.
caused a stir for a lot of reasons, but mostly due to them dropping live percussion and replacing it with programmed beats. The drummer wasn't removed from the band (in fact it was his idea to drop the drums); he just switched to programming those beats and playing keyboards (an element that was only used sparingly on previous albums). When news circulated about this switch people were doubtful that Samael could pull it off and still keep their integrity, but they did both. Passage
retained the dark, sinister vibe of past albums, as well as the rhythmic nature of the songs, and added to it an abundance of keyboards, programmed beats (that were still Metal-influenced in execution at this point), and a more subtle version of their "evil" lyrics... and it worked. Within thirty seconds of the opening track, "Rain", people's fears were immediately alleviated.
"Rain" begins with a riff similar to past efforts, but it is much heavier and direct due to a better production and a sharper guitar tone. Soon after, choir sounding keyboards that are still more Black Metal then Industrial, and the drum machine comes in (both of which were brand new elements for the band). People weren’t too concerned with Samael adding keyboards as a lot of Black Metal bands did, but they were concerned that the drum machine would ruin the band. Within seconds of the first thundering double bass drums, that fear is easily put to rest. The album is actually given a much heavier vibe due to the deep, pounding nature of the beats, a vibe that would be hard to produce without a lot of studio magic if they had tried to use a live drummer. By the end of the first track it is obvious that a lot of thought and effort went in to every aspect of the beats, from the sound itself to the arrangements; they definitely were not lazy and did not allow the beats to become redundant and boring. Another thing that is clear by the end of the first song is that Vorph's growls somehow became more aggressive and deep then on past releases (this was before he started using Industrial effects on his voice that ultimately weaken their future albums).
A few subsequent songs such as "Angels Decay" and "Moonskin" lose a little bit of the dark heaviness that permeates through most of the album, but not due to an increased Industrial influence, but due to an increased Classical influence. These two songs are driven by classically inspired piano melodies that are contrasted nicely with Vorph's growls, heavy guitars and the rhythmic beats. It's an element that they had never really used before, and unfortunately they never really used again. Actually, on this album, the more Industrial influenced songs such as "Jupiterian Vibe" are some of the darkest, heaviest, and most sinister songs on the album. The riffs are monstrous, the vocals are some of the best Black Metal has ever offered, the keyboard and choir effects are haunting and the rhythmic nature of the pounding beats gives the songs an edge not usually found in the genre.
With the advantage of hindsight, this album can definitely be seen as the peak of a band that had a lot going for them before eventually venturing into territory that they just took too long to be proficient in. For anyone that has heard great things about this band only to feel totally lied to when listening to Eternal
or Reign of Light
, it was actually this album and their previous one that people were referring to. This is a flawless album that is heavy, dark, and also highly original due to its rhythmic take on Black Metal. Anyone who is into the genre or has only heard the two albums I've mentioned earlier owe it to themselves to give this one a try and see where all the fuss came from.