Samael

Passage

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While 1994's very impressive Ceremony of Opposites had used industrial precision, samples, and synthesizers to frame and accentuate its still dominant guitar parts, 1996's dazzling Passage caught Switzerland's Samael in the act of seamlessly and fearlessly meshing state-of-the-art electronics with religiously analog heavy metal -- no mean feat. Orchestrated by the band's drummer, keyboard manipulator, and chief songwriter Xy, who laboriously programmed all of his drum parts and synths -- including highly atmospheric simulated chorused vocals -- this particularly daunting undertaking effectively yielded one of the first post-industrial black metal masterpieces. Opener "Rain" alone already managed to pacify any suspicious members of the extreme metal community, by delivering all of the unconventional ingredients cited above in flawless cooperation with a relentless flurry of double kick drums, viciously distorted staccato riffs, and absolutely raging deathly growls from vocalist/guitarist Vorphalack (incidentally, Xy's brother). One could say that nothing that followed quite matched the song's voracious intensity, and yet less frenetic highlights such as "Angel's Decay," "Liquid Soul Dimension," and "A Man in Your Head" sounded even darker and more evil and sinister, their meticulous arrangements resulting in gloriously hellish mini-symphonies. And as if these musical accomplishments weren't groundbreaking enough, Passage's lyrics found Samael in an intriguingly esoteric, often astronomical frame of mind, as evidenced by deep space ruminations like "Born Under Saturn," "Jupiterian Vibe," and the excellent "Moonskin." Needless to say, Passage's oftentimes mystifying originality marked it not only as Samael's crowning triumph, but as one of the most important heavy metal albums of the 1990s, bar none.

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