Production: Good backroom production with acoustic space in a comfortable sound of studio control.
Review: Drawn out and intricate black metal at a slow mid-tempo pace, Varathron places more emphasis on phrasing beyond the three-chords-falling approach of most black metal. Its riffs are pieces of thematic monsters which unencumber themselves from their origins to extend to their full length and then resolve into slow, hypnotic, fading patterns of allusion to what once was. Into this mystical space of ambiguity arises a pattern logic of the clash of symbols.
1. His Majesty at the Swamp (2:02)
2. Son of the Moon (Act II) (7:35)
3. Unholy Funeral (3:58)
4. Lustful Father (4:47)
5. Nightly Kingdoms (4:30)
6. Flowers of my Youth (3:20)
7. The River of My Souls (5:57)
8. The Tressrising of Nyarlathothep (Act I) (7:16)
Conventional rhythm evolves subtly to work through intricate riffs, with attention paid to the orchestral dynamics of voice and rhythm, allowing an easy walking beat to pervade an otherwise operatic complexity. The resulting sound is dark, low, and abstracted, with a more reserved approach than fast attack but laden with more perspective in the flowering of its variations. Easy pacing on the drums including techno styled simple counterpoint percussion keeps pace with this developing style, as do keyboards mixed into simple fragments of larger guitar odysseanism.
Dark hoarse shadows of vocals paint obscurity on the relative rigidity of structure. A Celtic Frost influence appears in the dark pacing and physical motion grooves of this music, which creates an ethereal presence in its sweeping but grounded work which remains disparate enough in melody to retain its enigmatic, cryptic winding ascent to the resolution of its themes in abstract freedom. As much heavy metal as black metal, musically, on an artistic level this release discovers a mystical voice which remains unmatched.
Production: Both EPs possess an obscure but full-toned, well mixed sound in which slightly abraded instrument signals do not corrupt each other. What sounds like weird guitar tone on the Necromantia is an 8-string bass used in a rhythm guitar mode.
Review: Slower than most black metal Varathron moves like holes in the cloud cover of a full sky which split and rejoin to form wider gaps, leaving spaces for imagination only. Evaporating structure leaves implications of greater order, through gaps which are the process of a larger entity forming. This cycle, its demonic lyricism and the the underwater guitar sound contribute to this EP an aura of mysticism worthy of the title of their first album.
Necromantia - The Black Arts
1. Lora of the Abyss (7:50)
2. The Feat of Ghouls (5:34)
3. Evil Prayers (5:44)
4. Lycanthropia (1:44)
5. De Magia Veterum (10:04)
Varathron - The Everlasting Sins
6. The Cult of the Dragon (2:27)
7. The Tressrising of Nyarlathotep (7:15)
8. La Reine Noir (6:09)
9. Outro (0:49)
10. Descent of a Prophetic Vision (3:29)
11. Genesis of Apocryphal Desires (3:10)
Complexity does not occur in turbulent bursts of riffing but in the tasteful introduction of themes and intensity of harmonic variation used to direct their resolutions. These old style metal riffs move to a doomish beat that almost sleepwalks right over you, although it and the riffs are simple structural elements that help build an atmosphere but are inscrutable on their own. Heavy use of melodic lead playing for structure is reminiscent of the more explosive death metal bands like Suffocation, but riff hierarchy points toward NWOBHM and other epic metal adventures being played with a black metal technique so precise that its integration is natural and undisturbing to the musical sense of order from chaos that is found here.
Although this work has its great profundities, even greater things lie ahead than many of these Slayer-influenced "early works." Guitar solos are tonal and tuneful while sparsely placed within harmonic topography for augmentative spatial development. Voice of darkness whispers the hoarse violence of feral perception over the strumming chant of the guitars, sending a counter-rhythmic shivering of message through the obscurity. Dark clamping rhythms move in the background from potential to fulfilment to nihilism, a vacant world revealed to a motionless dark eye. The unending battle of this music is the beauty in its sense of the obscurity of potential variation, even as found in vaguely swampy doom metal wrapped in the upward transcendental aesthetic of mystical black metal.
Production: Clear and expansive room sound with the condensed tone bands from this region tend to favor.
Review: Where the first Varathron album exuded a slow ferment like the parting of mists, the second either charges ahead at a Norse pace or drops into a mid-tempo technical style that became the template for all material to follow. This new direction is more musically erudite but in its stability, loses the serpentine struggle to fit riffs into a narrative based on their shape alone which gave earlier Varathron its brooding, uncertain and mystical atmosphere.
1. Tleilaxu (The Unborn Child) (5:59)
2. Cassiopeia's Ode (8:00)
3. The Dark Hills (3:57)
4. Mestigoth (4:48)
5. Birthrise of the Graven Image (5:18)
6. Redeunt Saturnia Regna (1:36)
7. Under the Sight of Horus (6:38)
8. Somewhere Beyond Seas (4:55)
9. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (1:13)
Much of the faster material resembles Rotting Christ's Thy Mighty Contract in its tendency to create a melody which lapses into its own inertia and then emerges again, like a study of waves writ in four-note minor key sigils, while the mid-tempo material streamlines heavy metal and black metal riffs and drops them into a groove which the adroit skeltonic drumming anchors only to interrupt and catch that expected resolution with offbeats converging on cadence.
Borrowed from death metal and in heavy rotation here is the technique of layering where a phrase is repeated with different percussion frameworks, chording or single-note picking, and tempo doubling to give the sense of expanding space within a momentum and form. Although this CD does not approach the degree of stimulation of imagination that His Majesty in the Swamp launched, it expands upon much of its potential and shows this band reaching its mature style which while less obscure gains a framework in which melodic ideas can develop to fruition.
Production: These are demos nicely remastered with a decent CD pressing that transcends most limitations of previous ultra-low-end or incomplete recording practices.
Review: Tracing the vein of development through the evolution of this famed Greek black metal band who were at their peak a mystical, romantic and often esoteric collection of ideas so abundant they were not contained in reality but generated fundamentals of a now-recognized style, this collection shows a melodic Swedish-style death metal band mutating into atmospheric black metal.
What distinguished Varathron from the sawing, dissonant black metal of the time was the ability to integrate a range of melodies as part of a narrative song structure and not lose cohesion. Through an understanding of rhythm derived from the mighty Slayer and a tonal conceptualization process that, despite its heavy metal roots, seems classically influenced in its use of melody, Varathron helped define what would become a trademark black metal approach to composition.
Many of the lessons learned between these two demo recordings shaped black metal that took the incipient heavy metal elements of the previous death metal style and converted them to pensive, restless, compassionate riffs which developed the music of outright violence into the subtle naturalistic holism in which evil is the dark nothingness which lurks in the forest. Think about death!, it howls, underneath its youthful desire to break out and rise, through beauty painting the abyss.
Procreation of Unaltered Evil demo (1989)
1. Necranastasis (6:27)
2. Dawn of Sordid Decay (3:07)
Previously Unreleased (1989)
3. The Great Seal of Graal (4:05)
Genesis of Apocryphal Desire demo (1991)
4. La Reine Noir (6:17)
5. Genesis of Apocryphal Desire (3:14)
6. The Tressrising of Nyarlathotep (7:23)
7. Seven Endless Horizones (3:33)
8. Journey Beyond (0:34)
Previously Unreleased (1993, 1995)
9. The Mystic Papyrus (3:30)
10. Deep Beneath an Ancient Dominion (4:48)
The first demo, Procreation of Unaltered Evil, approximates the range of bands who attempted early meaningful death metal without losing the inspirational directness of classics like Possessed and Death. Guttural whisper-blown vocals and characteristic muffled-strum riffs alongside ripping speed phrases, as well as the style of writing multiple bridges to make a complex song form that Slayer inherited from Judas Priest, outline the difference in style.
Where the first demo lurked, the second, Genesis of Apocryphal Desire, articulates with a deft motion of themes in riffs that works with intense narrative effect, so that one feels immersion in the music: the structural component of atmospheric music, in concert with the fuzzed and spacious production many mistake for incompetent, achieved once succeeds many times in suspending disbelief so that the aspiration in the music and its desire can be communicated.
Like later Scandinavian black metal, Varathron works on the principle of an extended and theatrical melody that sets its own stage with a sense of tonal and acoustic dynamic as structure to the regulation of mood -- creating a lush and immersive listening experience which escapes modern conditioned isolation to demonstrate through the entranced listener a possibility of mental awareness.
1. Fire Spell/Forbidden Hunt (7:08)
2. Warrior's Nightmare (4:44)
3. The World Through Ancient Eyes (4:37)
4. Beyond the Grave (4:53)
5. Nuns Have No Fun (4:38)
(Mercyful Fate cover)
The Lament of Gods (Pagan Records, 1999)
Dropping for the most part the urgent tempi of Walpurgisnacht, Varathron continue their exploration of mid-tempo black metal with drums taking the compositional lead. This change does not lack merit; percussion leads each song by offsetting each beat it maintains with another, creating a kind of cat's cradle which moves like a stage backdrop through the music, highlighting each riff at the same time it defines context. Informed in jazz and progressive drumming, and with a similar gusto to that of John Bonham, the percussion track both drives each song and takes away the traditional leading role in composition held by guitar and riff change. As a result riffs look inward, layering versions of themselves with additional rhythms added and playing style augmented with pitch harmonics, wailing leads and harmonization. While this makes it easier to get absorbed in any given song, it also robs from them the distinctiveness created when song structure follows the developing form of its riffs and the interplay between them that conveys us from inception to completion with a sense of dynamic contrast in riff shape and melody. Otherwise similar to the slower moments of the previous album, The Lament of Gods shows this band in transition from a riff-based band to a progressive band oriented toward the interplay of keyboards, drums and guitars; notably, keyboards and acoustic guitar introduce more structural changes on this EP than other instruments. Also included is a cover of "Nuns Have No Fun" from Mercyful Fate which is adequate but, like most modern metal bands revisiting their influences, is played more rigidly than the earlier versions of this genre demand, giving it a busy feel but a musical sparseness revealed.
1. Evil Gets An Upgrade (2:13)
2. There Is No God (7:34)
3. The Grim Palace (7:16)
4. Darkness Falling (3:21)
5. Creation of Satan (6:27)
6. The Sign of Eternal Curse (5:48)
7. A Vision of a Nameless Soul (7:09)
8. Emersing From the Immortals (3:47)
9. The King of Asine (12:32)
10. Spirit of the Tomb (3:29)
11. Angel of Revenge (5:05)
Crowsreign (Black Lotus, 2004)
With yet another nearly complete personnel swap, Varathron returns with a musically erudite album that does not exceed the sum of its parts. Reversing the style of underground metal, this album is based around conquering and returning to harmonic patterns, not expanding upon them melodically and through the interchange of phrase shape. As a result, like heavy metal bands of old, it is loop of complementary riffs onto which layers drop to create enough variation to make us think change is afoot. Keyboards take too dominant a role both in composition and production, resulting in an effect similar to that of Master's Hammer where a disproportionately bright and loud keyboard riff usurps any kind of mood collectively established by the composition. Some of the band's most evocative riffs to date populate this CD, but they're lost in the random introduction and presentation to which they're subjected, meaning that the listener remembers the "sweet spots" of each song but gets no impression of the song as a whole. Even more, the very indie rock style composition cannot support the degree of texture or complexity required to generate the archetypal Varathron atmosphere, making this album present itself with the same sterile clarity as albums by Sadist and Ulver: good musical ideas that refer only to themselves, therefore leave us with an impression of nothing but music disconnected from life.
1. Behind the Mask (5:20)
2. Legend of Demusar (7:21)
3. Legions of Profane Wrath (6:23)
4. Where the Walls Weep (6:07)
5. Dismal King (3:28)
6. Beyond the Darkness (1:58)
7. Demoniac Abysmal Realms (5:48)
8. Lord of Illusions (4:50)
9. Sacred Ahlat (6:43)
10. The Depths of Gnar (4:55)
11. Aclo Savaoth Soth (The Final Chapter of Acts) (8:07)
Stygian Forces of Scorn (Death to Mankind, 2009)
Known to us for the mysterious and otherworldly His Majesty at the Swamp, the Greek black metal founders Varathron created their original atmosphere by making music that aimed for the authenticity to which all underground music aspires. The notion of art and music being a privileged insight shared between creator and listener, authenticity measures an artistic value that cannot be expressed in solely musical terms, or music for its own sake, but in an artistic mode unified on an impression beyond the music -- an idea it portrays, a habit of life it mimics, a transition of emotions it touches -- and is the opposite of both wallpaper style background adornment and music for the sake of music theory, which reaches its fullest expression in jazz and postmodern classical. Authenticity creates permeating atmosphere. When authenticity of this artistic nature is no longer present, the music becomes an objet d'art or the kind of well-crafted but fundamentally decorative work of an artisan, without the philosophical searching if not insight of epic art. With Stygian Forces of Scorn, Varathron aim for the surface atmosphere of the past, but are writing music for the sake of music itself, and the result resembles the last two decades of Iron Maiden: well-crafted songs, interesting guitar work, powerful use of mood... but it has no object beyond the expression itself, or nothing it describes that cannot be found in the music, so falls short of the mystical atmosphere of their earlier works. Like later Rotting Christ, or the more recent Immortal, this album creates a steady groove through which the band channel a series of heavy metal riffs and tasteful neo-progressive references to internal harmony, with keyboards and vocals layered on it to create a sense of deepending mood. Like Iron Maiden, whose work this album most thoroughly resembles, this is a continuation of the past with beautiful guitar work, albeit sparse like the Immortal's All Shall Fail, which results in riffs holding harmonic "place" through even repetition of uniformly paced strumming, and song structures that are embellishments on verse/chorus and not the death metal and black metal standard of songform fit to content and esoteric use of riffs like puzzle pieces to make songs of ever-expanding context. As a result, this album is both a beautiful and easy listen, and no substitute for the more artistic, breathlessly alive earlier works of this band.