Celebrating their thirtieth year of existence, and perhaps thirteenth with a consistent line-up, Hellenic black metal’s truly unsung legends Varathron return with a strong sixth full-length. ‘Patriarchs of Evil’ is on trend with their releases since ‘Stygian Forces of Scorn’ back in 2009 where they’ve built upon the band’s legacy with melodic black metal modernization while retaining the signature Greek black metal rhythms long left behind by their early 90’s peers. Though I don’t think this Varathron release has outdone recent output from Kawir, or the truly epic ‘Stygian Forces of Scorn’, with ‘Patriarchs of Evil’ it is easily the most exciting legacy black metal release of the first half of 2018.
For my taste in black metal records, few releases come close to outdoing Varathron‘s 1995 full-length ‘Walpurgisnacht’ in terms of unique sound, performances, and sheer memorability and as I discovered Varathron so did my interest in black metal explode at the time. In the grand pathetic flapping of self-conscious taste and internet revisionist theoretics ‘His Majesty at the Swamp’ is typically the be-all-end-all reference for Varathron interest but, with the exception of ‘Crowsreign’, each and every release from the project has exemplified true underground Hellenic black metal that has never been in service to another’s sound.
Though the stoic riffs of the early 90’s came from several Greek bands, it seemed that when those musicians joined Stefan Necroabyssious (Stefanos Karasavvas) their association often resulted in the best examples of Hellenic black metal guitar work. Wires were crossed between Root‘s “Candlemass-meets-Bathory” attack and an incredible sluggish take on Hellhammer prowling riffs that likewise influenced early releases from Samael and Christ Agony. But between Varathron and Rotting Christ each retained, and sometimes shared, members equally influenced by classic heavy metal and Teutonic thrash metal. I only bring this up because one of the great strengths and points of interest on ‘Patriarchs of Evil’ is a thread of resurgence that brings some of these death/thrash elements back into Varathron‘s sound. At the very least the Messiah ‘Choir of Horrors’-esque riffing of “Into the Absurd” should have your spindly, phone-crooked neck nodding at it’s ‘old school’ implementation.
Most of ‘Patriarchs of Evil’ is undeniably Varathron‘s own brand of melodic black metal which escapes some of the death metallic hints of ‘Stygian Forces of Scorn’ and seems to aim towards recapturing the earlier identity of the band with nods to 90’s releases (“Hellwitch (Witches Gathering)”) and Necroabyssious‘ vocals continually expressive vocals are more ‘blackened’ as a result. His performances seem more inspired this time around and less experimental since ‘Untrodden Corridors of Hades’ had gotten slightly oddball at times (“Arcane Conjuring”). By comparison ‘Patriarchs of Evil’ takes fewer steps towards futurist black metal and instead resembles a conglomeration of their more distinct moments across their discography as well as some Scandinavian melodic black metal influences (“Luciferian Mystical Awakening”). Not to be mired by their own past but rather building upon it with self-referential doom riffs, thrashing madness, and even keyboard/symphonic elements; the old soul of Varathron crops up increasingly as the record reaches towards it’s end.
I found ‘Patriarchs of Evil’ immediately distinct as a Varathron release and as a result the continual exposure to it’s compositions felt centering, both familiar and expanding upon my expectations of their sound without forming parody or stretching too far astray (as in ‘Untrodden Corridors of Hades’). Initially I’d felt “Saturnian Sect” was really just conjuring up a typical Rotting Christ song but, outside of that intro, it actually resembles Kawir far more and I think this distinction is only blurry because of aging impressions and phantom nostalgia; Modern Hellenic black metal influenced by their legacy, but doesn’t appear to be self-parody, is a tough balance to strike but I believe ‘Patriarchs of Evil’ finds the right ratio. When I’ve seen this record touted as one of their best yet I have to concur but I wonder if it is the album’s accessibility or the nods to their olden days that kindles that reaction. I personally found myself itching to point out that a lot of this brilliant balance had already been stricken on ‘Stygian Forces of Scorn’ to very little fanfare. So, at the very least go and buy/listen to that record as penance.
When it comes to bands spawned from the late 80’s-early 90’s Hellenic black metal scene I have endless enthusiasm for their output with few exceptions. Of course I love this record. Looking beyond my own decades of awkward fandom this should be a notable enough return to what is most familiar about Varathron for those who might have skipped out on their releases since the late 90’s. I’d highly suggest previewing “Into the Absurd” and “Hellwitch (Witches Gathering)” to churn up interest but there really isn’t a song here worth skipping.
|Released||April 27, 2018|
|BUY/LISTEN on Agonia Records’ Bandcamp!||Follow Varathron on Facebook|
Groaning under the tyranny. 4.25/5.0
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