Passage (Century Media)
by Scott Hefflon
A release that lives up to its name, Passage is a moment in time captured in sound by a band that never ceases to outdo itself. Samael has grown from just another death metal band in the early ’90s into brooding artistés pondering deep thoughts and writing darkly majestic epics. Produced by one of the best in the biz, Waldemar Sorychta, Passage alternately chops like a deranged axeman, and flows smoothly and steadily like a glacier melting. With the surprising absence of a live drummer (XY switched to doomy keys and drum programming), the effect fluctuates from coldly mechanized Fear Factory-esque rampages to Drown’s slow, whispery torment to Samael’s own lofty and complex originals. While the metronome ticking occasionally limits the space in which the song is allowed to stretch, and at times reminds you just how crucial a touch of human inaccuracy is, the drum programming is, in the end, very convincing and brings new elements into the carefully constructed structure. Vorph’s raspy vocals are slightly more varied, delving momentarily into a hoarse whisper, but staying primarily true to their original scraping beauty. While moments, such as the beginning of “Shining Kingdom,” hint at the dark glory of Celtic Frost’s chord progressions, the horror synth sounds reminds you you’re in the ’90s now, and experimentalists of heavy music, while respecting their ancestors, must forever move onward.