SYNTELEIA – The Secret Last Syllable (2022)REVIEW

After three years of nightmarish terror, saved only by a disparate conviction half-sustained by mystical ensorcell and various impresario of yet wilting craft, I am unwilling to vouch for this reality. There is cause to insist that my experiences were wholly an extended hallucination for which a variety of unseeable and unthinkable chthonic emanations appeared to exist. The hideous reality experienced is yet inescapably persistent, hope remains impossible without the correct set of unsacred phrases, lung-and-lip burning incantations to break the ever-adaptive seal of nowadays black metal’s curse unending. If indeed this Athens, Greece-propagated “Synteleia event” did happen in 2019, then we as a cult of dark arts-enjoyer types must be prepared to accept these newly severe notions of the ordo and its now cosmically sprayed implication becoming tangible, dominant mutation. We can no longer deny what faces us in visceral Eldritch vortex, this ‘The Last Syllable‘, whose merest mention is a paralysis, scarifying to the fortitude of all exposed.

A new era of chaos and uninhibited violence arrived by the reaper’s usher in 2015 when guitarist Drakon Hesperion and vocalist Nyctelios (ex-Drama Noir) formed an elite quintet of like-minded fellowes and began working together with the goal of reigniting the level of craft Hellenic black metal thrived within in the early 1990’s (see: Varathron, Thou Art Lord, Rotting Christ), putting their own voice and spiritus into the old ways with brilliant enthusiasm. From my point of view they’d already met an higher than average standard with their first demo (‘Astral Blasphemies‘, 2016) with quite strong performances making it far more than a simple rehearsal recording. When the band resurfaced they’d been more than impressive out the gates, signing to Hell’s Headbangers for their professional yet entirely unholy debut full-length (‘Ending of the Unknown Path‘, 2019) and though I’ll be reciting old praise from my review of that album it was entirely worth noting that they’d put their own stamp upon the Greek black metal sound up front.

Epic traditional heavy metal and doom metal influences have always been a key component of this niche form of typically melodic black metal and this remains a vital characteristic of that debut album still resonating so well today. Revisiting songs like “Ithaqua, thy Mighty Storm” and “Ending of the Unknown Path” one cannot help but feel the commanding resolve they’d put into each riff while managing a hook, progression or burst of violence within each piece that still demands to be replayed. They’d not been plainly cranking out variations of classic forms but applying memorable and in most cases far more adept embellishment ’til the result had become their own, or, more than a recreation of someone else’s atmosphere. It is a tough balance to maintain between a specific, celebrated sound and one’s own additions yet one that Synteleia have absolutely upheld with ‘The Secret Last Syllable‘. The major bout of change I’d make an argument for here today is that they’ve stepped even more into their own sensibilities without losing the right performative touch, cultivating their own contributions to the cult without defecting.

Opener and lead single “Tower of Koth” is the appropriately re-energizing introduction I wanted up front, fanfare which takes the listener right back to Synteleia‘s sprawling guitar progressions and dramatic bursts of speed. The keen-eared listener will note an almost progressive touch these rhythms, the keyboards hovering in glowering empyrean atmospheric placement and quite a lot of attention paid to the structure of the song as it comes in waves. They’ve not wasted a moment challenging expectations though, whereas Side B was the more daring edge of the band’s tousling of gothic metal accoutrement (or, operatic vocals in particular) we find some of these elements driving the otherwise classic harried yet melodic “Emblem of Yith” over the top in its final third, a very symphonic metal (but not) level of dramatism applied to an otherwise cyclone of a song to great effect. A lot of the things I’d remarked in the past are still here, such as the strong use of keyboards (a la the best of Ancient Rites) and the feeling of classic heavy metal abounding in an appreciably stoic setting, yet this is not just an amplification of elemental tics but a neatly crafted vision with plenty of brilliant detail that shines within repeat listening.

Though the first few pieces on Side A present us with the general lexicon of the full listen the full story and the real unveil of ‘The Secret Last Syllable‘ takes the initiative within the two part “Nymph of the Pyramids” wherein the majesty of Hellenic black metal finds an urgent exaggeration and a grand step forward for the quartet, the exact right cornering of classicist broad strokes and refined melodic shaping. This’d been surprising enough as a consistent favorite point in the album for my taste, consider I typically detest the use of operatic vocals but here it feels more avant-garde and wild rather than plainly ‘gothic’ in placement. Of course it should be clear that I’ve been impressed with the amount of personae dripping from Synteleia‘s performances on the album, particularly the first half where they’re essentially on a roll for about twenty minutes straight. At the very least they’ve given me a reason to like this album beyond merely meeting the old (yet still high) standard once again.

Ready your fists, brace your stance, and angle your deepest scowl toward the horizon as “Harvest the Forest” lands with the sort of heavy metal (yet clearly black metal) finesse that’d had me sputtering over ‘Ending of the Unknown Path‘ a few years ago, This song serves as a sort of triumphal victory lap at this point, a memorable song which’d only left a bigger dent in my axons as a fan having already been convinced that Synteleia were on the right journey and their own path. At this point we are well immersed enough to recognize that this is a mostly mid-paced melodic black metal album, though there are many elements here that are as nicely balanced in pace as a record like ‘Stygian Forces of Scorn‘ it is not a particularly brutal or blazing fast sort of record by comparison. What the band have done without forcing callous speed into each piece best emphasizes the thought put into each song, finding their voice within movements (and riffs) throughout this album that are exciting for the atmosphere created and the finesse put into each motion. A different way to reach for maniac extremes while sustaining high musical value.

Just as I was transfixed and beyond impressed with Synteleia‘s first album so am I here today glowing in the sinister light of their second. ‘The Secret Last Syllable‘ is an especially fine example of there being infinite potential for this ageless form of black metal to expand unto greater infamy. This level of inspiring and heavily repeatable craft bleeds of ancient, spirited bombast yet slyly molds itself into something brilliantly their own. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (86/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Secret Last Syllable
LABEL(S):Floga Records
RELEASE DATE:May 14th, 2022

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