Despite having shared a bassist between 1988 and 1993 as well as a drummer prior to the release of their legendary full-length debuts the two most recognized pillars of the Greek black metal scene (and style) had never actually done a split release together. This is something I’d never thought about until reading the biography for Rotting Christ from Cult Never Dies (‘Non Serviam: The Official Story of Rotting Christ‘) and seeing generally how close and related many of these early bands were in terms of sharing members, recording in more or less the same studio, and playing shows with each other regularly. We’d all heard those dynamic similarities between the heralds of the Hellenic spawn but few bands were perhaps as closely watched and deified beyond the 1990’s than Varathron and Rotting Christ and quite frankly for their original contributions to melodic black metal rather than the more commercial developments of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. In lieu of fully detailing my own personal history with Greek black metal for the umpteenth time in a review, as I did extensively between Varathron‘s incredible year-making ‘Patriarchs of Evil‘ (2018) and the slight disappointment of Rotting Christ‘s ‘The Heretics‘ earlier this year, I will say that these are two of my favorite bands of all time to the point of being a ridiculous fanboy who has spent a lot of money to witness live performances and limited releases. This one included because it is damned good.
The underground is forever solidified in support of both bands though ‘Theogonia’ (2007) and ‘Stygian Forces of Scorn’ (2009) were high points of celebration for fans of each band; There they’d both achieve separate but equal ‘return to form’ moments. Rotting Christ and Varathron both appeared to chisel fresh and finalized concrete spiritual identities that were graciously conscious of their past and this was surprisingly a vaulting point of creative growth in each case. Therein lies the same luscious font of dark mana both have drawn from for their material throughout the last decade as well as this split. For ‘The Duality of the Unholy Existence’ each band provides an exemplar four and a half minute melodic black metal song, emphasizing their core identity and highlighting their distinctive ethos.
Rotting Christ‘s “Spiritus Sancti” is on par with the best material on ‘The Heretics’ and reminiscent of the opening intensity of ‘Theogonia’; It is the sort of song only Sakis Tolis can write as his unique sense of rhythm has never been capably duplicated. There are few songwriters more talented at penning an opening number so, it is fitting to kick off the split with this track. Second we slide into the more hypnotic grooves of Varathron‘s “Shaytan” which feels very much like a prime cut from ‘Patriarchs of Evil’, a record that pulled back towards the mid-paced epic heavy metal feeling of classic Varathron just as ‘Stygian Forces of Scorn’ had a decade prior.
These tracks both feel curated, selected as prime examples of each bands signature sound and impress as exemplar notions of the unique appeal each group holds. A new fan could hear both songs and quickly understand why each band is legendary to begin with, though to be sure the auld evil rawness of their debuts/demos is merely suggested in their rhythms. If theses songs were in fact set aside from recent full-length sessions they’d been difficult omissions because I feel these would’ve added to the value of each record. So, at least we’re not getting trash B-side material to mark the occasion. As much as I’d initially thought this’d be a collectors item with average songs, I do think fans of either band need to hear these tracks and especially if you’d enjoyed their most recent full-lengths. Very high recommendation.
Nocturnal thundering within their graves. 4.5/5.0
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