Review Summary: Heavy is as heavy does
Perhaps taking some flak from fans for selling out, begging as a humble Swiss black metal band with some death metal tendencies, for the third LP (backed by Century Media no less) Samael decided to ditch the preconceived conventional wisdom of black metal at the time and bring the tempo way down. While the vast majority of black metal bands in 1994 were trying to push the boundaries by creating this underproduced sound that allowed the guitars to produce an inherently grim atmosphere as the tremolo riffs connected to flow over breakneck drum patterns, Samael continuing in the vein of their first two releases, decided that fast doesn't always equal heavy or evil. No, bucking the trend Samael released Ceremony of Opposites in 1994 to critical acclaim, the album itself serving as a bridge linking their past with their more diverse, experimental future albums.
As noted, Samael opts to let overall speed fall to the wayside and instead focus primarily on groove. Now groove or groove metal in general, might be the last thing any black metal fans want to hear being infused into their cold necrosound but have no fear, with Ceremony of Opposites, Samael does the term justice. Beginning where any strong groove should be located, the rhythm section for the Swiss four-piece is strong and steady with a throbbing pulse. Behind the kit, Xytras pounds away providing a rich and full foundation on which to build upon. His patterns are actually pretty restrained, something that he should be commended for because while there is no doubt he could provide some more technicality, doing so would actually hinder their sound. This steady drum work comes off clear and in your face, every bass, cymbal, snare and tom are on point and deliver an immense sound. For starters, take a listen to "Flagellation" and you will hear this subdued yet powerful man at work--his fills compliment the riffing perfectly. Adding to the battery is Masmiseîm's bass, which is super thick and provides a sludgy, syrupy coating on all the rhythm sections. The grooves induced are similar to bands coming from the southern United States at the time like Crowbar or Eyehategod with less thrash. With such a forceful punch packed by the bass and drums, the riffs come in just as--or even more so filthy than the rhythm section. They are incredibly simple but at the same time channel this infectious hook from song to song. It's maddening how sometimes the simplest of riffs can create something so undeniably heavy and catchy. Opener, "Black Trip" delivers this in full force--the main riff being nothing more than a few notes strung together but what sets it apart is the crunch that Vorphalack's guitar brings to the table. A true headbangers dream, a riff to get lost in and just raise your horns to. Vorph's growls are excellent as well, when combined with the guitar riffs usually opting to deliver the vocals during the palm-muted sections, his vocals are a merger of a black metal cowl with some meaty death metal sounds for comfort. The combination makes nearly every lyric audible which puts a huge emphasis on the mystical almost occult-like lyrics.
Ceremony of Opposites does have it's share of experimentation with the inclusion of keys, samples and synths. Not sticking with traditional instrumentation Samael, like some of their black metal peers aimed to create an ominous atmosphere through the use of more symphonic elements. Rodolphe H.'s synths for the most part provide a dark mood that coneys the horrors of the unknown. The now classic, "Baphomet's Throne" brilliantly utilizes during its intro and subsequent refrains what sounds like a cello to provide this eerie, call-to-arms feel. Other times, some critics might accuse Rodolphe of overdoing it a bit such as the ending of "Mask of the Red Death", however these concerns are somewhat trite as adding in the keys and synths is something that Samael did to stand out from the pack of black metal bands. Moreover, the synths are used in a completely complementary manner and never overshadow the real grit of the song--only ever adding atmosphere. The touch of keyboards if anything could be likened to early/middle Therion and the way they used them to create an imposing aura.
As far as flaws go… songs transitions can be a bit odd, meaning that they often end suddenly and kick off the next track quickly without a buildup leaving the listener thinking if it was an intentional part of the previous song or not. The run times of the songs are on the shorter end of the spectrum and in total the LP is quite short clocking in at under forty minutes. The pop/rock lengths of the songs however take nothing away from the tracks ability to come down like a sledge hammer on the listener. If anything, it seems like splitting hairs and a tad nit-picky, to be honest. With Ceremony of Opposites, Samael realized a fresh sound and would continue to make records attempting to emulate this 90's classic album. A slowed down black metal record with death metal and industrial tendencies--warning, this may cause severe head banging.