“This album is a celebration of a record that is a landmark in our history. The album that made us the band we are today.” So speak Samael about Passage, the album that the band released in 1996 and which gained them wider reputation and attention. The first album to feature programmed drumming, it also saw the Swiss move to a more industrial sound, incorporating more symphonic and orchestral elements with a wider gap from their Black Metal roots.
Samael – Passage – Live (Napalm Records)
Release Date: 16 February 2024
Words: Paul Hutchings
This version, recorded in Krakow on the last of their European tour dates to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Passage, sees the band’s current line-up add an urgency and contemporary touch to the album.
Founder member Vorph (vocals / guitar) and Xy (drummer/percussionist/keyboards/programming) are joined by the current line-up of Thomas ‘Drop’ Betrisey on guitars and bassist Ales Campanelli. The result is a revitalised live version of the album, which sounds as fresh today as it did in 1996.
If you are familiar with the album, the live version should provide some fresh touches to songs such as Shining Kingdom, the masterful My Saviour and The Ones Who Came Before. There’s enough melody to make the songs accessible to wider audiences, but Samael retains that grit, which ensures they remain included in the extreme boundaries of Heavy Metal music.
There’s a vibrancy to the band as they race through the 12 songs which make up Passage. The crowd noise, like many live albums, is distant in the mix, but there is enough to give the songs a real live feel.
Regardless, the band are on fire throughout this recording; thick riffs, orchestral voices, and Vorph’s strangulated delivery all combine for an inspired recording. Listen to Liquid Soul Dimension, with its soaring symphonic parts interlinking with the industrial feel, and it’s easy to see why Samael has long been considered a leader in their genre.
It’s the use of keyboards, programming, and other elements that make Samael stand out in a congested music scene. Their music is creative and expressive and varies immensely in tempo and style throughout this live recording.
And they can do Epic. Born Under Saturn is a huge track, a giant of a song, with sweeping soundscapes that cascade throughout the song. It retains a rawness that is essential but still has a smoother edge, provided by the energy that the band demonstrate throughout.
Live albums are a unique thing within the world of Heavy Metal. There are the classics; think of the ’70s and ’80s, and then there are the numerous not-so-classic releases. Where does Passage – Live sit?
Well, it’s not a dud by any stretch of the imagination, highlighting as it does a band in full flow. It may be an album that will appeal to more dedicated fans of the band rather than casual listeners.
This is a very solid release from start to finish. And as a celebration of an album that means an awful lot to many, this seems to be the perfect performance.
Passage – Live track listing:
3. Shining Kingdom
4. Angel’s Decay
5. My Saviour
6. Jupiterian Vibe
7. The Ones Who Came Before
8. Liquid Soul Dimension
10. Born Under Saturn
11. Chosen Race
12. A Man in Your Head