KATAVASIA – Magnus Venator (2020)REVIEW

The slow dissolving corpse of SIPA.ZI.AN.NA — In aiming their arrow towards the most capable era of Greece’s infamous black metal renaissance in the early-to-mid 90’s Ioannina-borne quintet Katavasia represent both the eyes of stoic witness and the spirit of the eternal student within their craft. Formed in 2014 between members of several well known extreme progressive/black metal groups, the aim of their work thus far has been in keeping with the melodic traditions of their distinct regional sound. The main songwriters for the project were initially Achilleas C., who has been instrumental in all of Varathron‘s works since 2004, and his Aenaon bandmate Astrous alongside the legendary presence of vocalist Necroabyssious providing lyrics; The original line-up was then fleshed out by a keyboardist and a drummer each from Hail Spirit Noir, making the first Katavasia album (‘Sacreligious Testament‘, 2015) an intense ‘supergroup in hindsight’ but perhaps a stellar Greek black metal album from a multi-generational perspective first-and-foremost. It’d been a somewhat overlooked gem back in 2015 yet an exemplar bout of spirit for the niche; So, what of its long-awaited follow-up, ‘Magnus Venator‘?

First, a couple of changes that are actually quite sizable considering the amount of sonic personae on order. Haris‘ focus on his (incredible) synthesizer work in Hail Spirit Noir has pulled him away from this project and now Achilleas C. appears to be doing most of the keyboards for Katavasia on album. They’ve pulled in a third guitarist and songwriter in the very talented Dimitris K. who you should most definitely know from Melan Selas. The effect of changing the feeling of the keyboard work and employing the austere, classic heavy metal driven hand of D.K. compounds to an album that is more flamboyant, aggressive, and bombastic as a whole. Much more in the spirit of the ’93-’96 albums out of Athens in terms of melody but still resembling the ‘new guard’ of Greek black metal acts such as Caedes Cruenta, Cult of Eibon, Synteleia, and similarly “new but old school” projects Disharmony and Funeral Storm. If we can be very literal and reductive here, this means something a bit more weird than ‘Walpurgisnacht’ or ‘Non Serviam’, closer to Agatus‘ heavy metal spirit but not as keyboard-heavy as ‘Eons Aura’-era Nightfall or Nergal‘s debut. If I am speaking another language at this point, then it won’t likely help that I’d also probably add a touch of Ancient Rites in description of the keyboard work this time around, especially on opener “Daughters of Darkness” and the “Saturnalia Magus Cult” interlude.

If you are completely lost in the sea of references then I’d say you’re due a beginners course in Hellenic black metal before fully understanding the deeper traditions of Katavasia‘s sound but, ‘Magnus Venator’ still does a fine job expressing those traits in a ‘new old school’ way. The easiest way to describe the style achieved is “traditional heavy metal influenced melodic black metal” that uses keyboards to match or emphasize uprising melodic centerpieces. This second album from the project does have the feeling of classic Rotting Christ and Varathron running through its length, not only by virtue of Necroabyssious‘ wild and commanding presence (which is incredible, wildly over-the-top evil) but for the simple techniques they’ve used to frame each melodic idea. The one-two punch of “Blood Be My Crown” and “Chthonic Oracle” actually sounds quite a bit like the more straightforward stuff Rotting Christ had brought back circa 2007, or the striking work Disharmony did on their recent ‘Messe de minuit’ EP, with a very simple recording presence and pieces that drive in and stun the mind with three-stage riffs that carry otherwise simple arrangements. These are high impact and fast-acting moments that equate to the inspired push for material in the mid-90’s. My description sounds a bit flippant but few bands have earnestly pulled off anything this inspired since ‘Ερείπια ψυχών‘ released. Much of this observation stems from the riff-forward songwriting and loud-stomping presence of the album, which doesn’t at all steep itself in any one atmosphere often enough to feel subtle or mystifying in any sense. It is most certainly a heavy metal record with a gorgeously applied multi-colored skin.

By all means the point is made — This is a Greek black metal album made by fans (and die-hard legends) of the craft -for- fans of the craft. The nuance and stylistic touches within are meant to be parsed and bathed in by the devout. In digging through my collection I would say that if you’d found the first Melan Selas album a bit sparse but you loved those big heavy metal riffs, this is a fine choice because it has that artist’s panache all over it alongside the adept melodic sensibilities of auld Katavasia‘s core union. There is broader appeal here but folks driven by the greater zeitgeist of Hellenic black metal should be the first to rush for this record, it is an exceptionally entertaining listen that is refreshingly far from subtle. A high recommendation.

High recommendation.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Magnus Venator
LABEL(S):Floga Records
RELEASE DATE:September 4th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Black Metal

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