Samael Passage Cover1996 was a weird time for metal. That year many bands decided to abruptly switch logos on us, and whenever that happens, usually the music gets a lot more “creative” (i.e. tame) and a whole lot less metal. I remember seeing an ad for Samael‘s Passage in an issue of Metal Maniacs and immediately got worried. Gone was the pentagram-infused logo and the Eric Vuille painting of Jesus with his crown of nails coming out of his head, and in their place was a logo that was fresh off of Microsoft Word and a picture of what appears to be the moon. There was also gossip of how Xytras (henceforth known as “Xy”) gave up drumming to tackle keyboards and soundscapes, a position left open by the mysteriously vanished Rodolphe H. Still, I made my weekly pilgrimage to Newbury Comics to pick up Passage, skeptical as all hell, and proceeded to drop my jaw to the floor repeatedly once I pushed “Play.”

The music itself wasn’t an abrupt departure from 1994’s awesome Ceremony of Opposites (which is also the first-ever Yer Metal is Olde inductee). Rather, it was the delivery that was altered significantly. Xy proved himself to be a much better keyboardist than a drummer, as his ability to evoke incredible atmospheres on the awesome “Angel’s Decay” and “Jupiterian Vibe” gave Passage a royal sense of transcendence. He also proved that he was no slouch at programming drums either, as his programming opened up some rather tricky-yet-engaging patterns that would be tough to replicate on a live kit (the beginning of “Angel’s Decay,” the break near the end of “Rain”). Also making a radical departure were the lyrical themes. Gone were the hymns to Satan and “bulged-tummy women” (hey, I didn’t write the lyrics), and in their place were songs about personal transformation (“Angel’s Decay”), belief in oneself over any deity (“My Saviour”), and personal empowerment (“Rain”). Guitarist/vocalist Vorphalack (now Vorph) improved as a lyricist when it came to writing in English, leaving behind the awkward passages (the aforementioned “bulged-tummy women”) that made otherwise great songs like “Son of Earth”  a little chuckle-worthy.

But the core of what made Ceremony of Opposites such a great album was thankfully retained and strengthened on Passage. The only difference was the exterior is painted with shades of Laibach and bits of Kraftwerk instead of swatches of Celtic Frost and Bathory. Whereas Ceremony of Opposites felt warm and dark, Passage was cold and distant, approximating the feeling of being lost in space. “The Ones Who Came Before” married the new sound with the old, being the album’s most frenetic, blackened track, but also the most danceable. “Jupiterian Vibe” brought an atmosphere that was both otherworldly and dark, with a refrain featuring Vorph speaking over a nice trip-hop beat, so when he says “Present is the time including all times/each second is eternity as eternity is now/and now? Now is forever…” hefty and hypnotic. There’s even a ballad in the form of “Moonskin,” showcasing Xy’s incredible piano melodies and the debut of Vorph’s singing voice.

Samael-2015

Of course, there’s one song on Passage that reigns above the rest, and Samael, like My Dying Bride before them with The Angel and the Dark River, saw fit to introduce the album with their best in show. “Rain” comes in like a typhoon, with Vorph and then-newcomer Kaos riffing away over Xy’s keyboard melodies and Masmiseim’s driving bass lines. Featuring one of the band’s most iconic choruses (“Our seeds sown larger/Our roots will go deeper/Our trees will grow higher/And now, we wait the rain”), “Rain” is Samael‘s unofficial anthem, a crowning achievement in a catalog chock full of crowning achievements, and one of their most requested songs in live settings.

And while Samael dove deeper still into the industrial pits with varying degrees of success, no one can argue that Passage was a crowning achievement, proving that you can expand well outside your box and gain an immeasurable amount of success and fans. Twenty years later, the album still feels fresh, still hits hard, and still enraptures and empowers with a sense of otherworldly royalty. Welcome to the Hallowed YMIO Halls again, Samael! [Bulged-tummy women, you make the rockin’ world go round.Steel Druhm].

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  • Nothing beats the creepiness of Ceremony of Opposites, but this was pretty cool in a weird, befuddled way.

    • Sh0ck-wave

      When Ceremony came out I got so many people into this band just by playing the start of Baphomet’s Throne and Flagellation. Brilliant stuff. If only the recording was better .. even when I picked this up back in ’94 the recording was terrible for the time. You had to smash the bass just to get anything. Rebellion which only came out a short time afterwards had a far better production.

  • ferrousbeuller

    Ceremony of Opposites will always be my favourite – Mask of the Red Death alone was worth the price of entry, but this album, in hindsight, probably went a long way in broadening my metal horizons with it’s pseudo symphonic/industrial leanings. What a beast.

  • Imperator

    This is one of those rare, perfect albums where nothing is out of place, and nothing needs to be added. 5.0 from me.

    Also, the piano version of this album by Xytras is amazing.

    • Grymm

      I need to track that down again!

      • Sh0ck-wave

        I’ve got it, it’s like listening to an early 1900’s black and white movie sound track. More commical then cool unfortunately. Xy should have slowed the pace down and played it in a lower key rather then keeping it at the same tempo and higher pitched. It could have been dark and brooding but ended up more like a charlie chaplin encore. Shame really.

    • Wait what? A piano rendition of the entire album was released officially, or was it some ultra obscure bonus CD on a different album?

      • Imperator

        Officially, under the name Xytras – Passage. I don’t think it’s that rare, but it might take some searching finding a CD.

  • george

    there was one time (in camp) a friend asked me which was the best album i have ever heard. I said Ceremony. Years later, when i saw him again i took it back. It was Passage.

    • I wasn’t the only one who read this comment and thought about American Pie right?

      (I feel like I’m about to get a *thatsthejoke.gif* response now)

  • I’d argue that CoO, Passage, and Eternal are a pretty badass trinity of a band’s transition. I also think Eternal was around the time that they toured the US with The Gathering. What a performance.

  • Wilhelm

    I lost interest In Passage as years went on, although I don’t quite know why. I think that the proceeding less quality albums left me cold to Samael and the style introduced on Passage. I must say, it is a great album though, a staple of my childhood definetly worth digging out again to see how fresh it really sounds.

  • Rob

    Newbury Comics! I, too, haunted that place.

  • Diego Molero

    I didn’t even know that this band existed until now, I’m definitely not olde enough, but “Rain” sounds cool, I’m checking the whole album asap. Thanks again, Grymm!

    Btw, did you listened to the new Ashbringer’s record? I remember you reviewing and liking the debut, is there a review coming for the new one?

    • Grymm

      I’m waiting to get my hands on that.

      Vacant was a great record!

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        It was free on Bandcamp when I downloaded it. Or are you waiting for permission? A considerable step up from Vacant in my eyes; really good shtuff

        • Diego Molero

          Is still free, and I too think is a step up from Vacant (wich was already good stuff).

  • Feytalist

    Still my second favourite Samael album.

    First will always be Reign of Light, which I know is an… unpopular choice.

    Still. Beast of an album.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    This could be a 90’s metal weirdness piece too

  • Noobhammer

    This album, along with Eternal, are two of my favorite Samuel albums. The atmosphere was dark and ambient, lyrics thoughtful and introspective. I think this was the period where Samuel really began to shine and find themselves.

    • I’m listening to Eternal and…it’s less bad than I remember. I seem to recall hearing a single that sounded different to Passage and I immediately decided not to buy the album. I’m a fucking idiot apparently, but it’s never too late to discover that an album is actually good.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Apparently it’s also never too late to discover one is a fucking idiot, judging from your comment ;)

        • Well played sir, well played. :)

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            I keep discovering -and rediscovering – that I am a fucking idiot myself ;)

      • Noobhammer

        It was probably “The Cross”, which is actually what convinced me to get Eternal

  • [not a Dr]

    That’s no moon… It’s a space sphere.

    • Blueberry Balls

      You talk to your mother with that mouth?!

      • [not a Dr]

        Actually, I didn’t type that with my mouth, but with my fingers.
        And I’m not answering that next question.

  • My first Samael album and still my favourite. I bought it in 1996 and it was the soundtrack to my first year at university (along with the first Pist.On album, October Rust, Like Gods of the Sun and Crowbar’s Broken Glass)

    It took about 20 odd years and some highly positive reviews from Autothrall to make me look at Ceremony of Opposites and Blood Ritual (which are both very good), but Passage will always be Samael’s peak for me.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    The pictures accompanying these “Yer MEtal is Olde” should be contemporary with the album being rewieved. If it’s a recent picture it should have a caption like “And your band is Olde too!” or something.

    • We tried but there were no decent pics from the time of this album.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    This was around the time Century Media records was releasing albums that changed the face of Metal: Tiamat’s “Wildhoney” and “A Deeper Kind Of Slumber”, Opeth’s “Orchid” and “Morningrise”, Sentenced’s “Down” and “Frozen”, Moonspell’s “Wolfheart” and “Irreligious”, The Gathering “Nighttime Birds” and I’m only mentioning innovative stuff that I particularly like, leaving out more “inside the box” Power Metal, Death Metal and Black Metal by bands like Iced Earth, Nevermore, Cryptopsy, Arch Enemy, Emperor, Ulver and Borknagar, to name a few.

    The Mid-to-late nineties were really an awesome time for Century Media.

    • Noobhammer

      I know right? Their label “Century Black” also distroing all the hard to find black metal albums as well. the 90s were great for the Century Family

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        If one were to make a “Top Ten” list of definitive, indispensible, genre-defining Black Metal albums, about half of them would be on Century Black. I mean, they released Ulver, Emperor, Arcturus, Satyricon, Mayhem, Gorgoroth…

        • Noobhammer

          Rotting Christ…we could just make endless lists lol

  • siegbran

    This was a huge hit for Century Media and a gateway for a lot of young kids getting into extreme metal but I think it hasn’t really held up. Ceremony Of Opposites is now firmly entrenched as the definitive/timeless Samael classic (even got the whole-album-tour treatment last year) while this is more of a nostalgia piece.

    It did mark the point where many bands embraced the industrial side of things (from Dødheimsgard to Satyricon to Mysticum to Aborym to Thorns) but that was a bit of a stylistic dead end to begin with.

  • bolok

    industrial black metal ! well that track was awesome and the review a great read so thanks for that :) will have to do some more listening of this band XD

  • Blueberry Balls

    Ceremony of Opposites will forever be my gal, but this sure is a nice piece of tail.

  • MetalBriMN

    I actually got into this band with Blood Ritual which had
    many stellar moments by itself. Ceremony was/is brilliant and Passage was their
    pinnacle. They really fell to s*** after Vorph got all New Agey.

  • Adjudant

    It’s all well and good but trip hop beat????????????????