While it gains less attention than its Scandinavian parallel, the Hellenic black metal scene has been one of the most creative and daring over its nearly 30 year existence. Hungry and experimental projects pop up regularly, while some of the scene’s greatest originators and stalwarts continue to put out quality material and push their own boundaries.
Of those stalwarts, Rotting Christ is the obvious standard bearer, but Varathron is ranked high among bands not featuring the Tolis brothers, and have arrived at their status by a very different path. Whereas Rotting Christ hit the ground running and never stopped (12 albums from 1993 to 2016), Varathron put out a pair of minor classics in the 90s before taking almost 10 years (and making a lot of lineup changes) before dropping their third full length in 2004. And while Rotting Christ has actually experienced a slight decline in recent years, Varathron has been on an upward trajectory since their return. (A pair of Varathron members’ involvement in the great Katavasia record may also have helped to fuel this resurgence.) This trajectory seems to culminate in the beastly Patriarchs of Evil, which isn’t just one of their best albums, but among the best blackened metal releases to come from Greece in recent years.
Of course, one of the band’s not-so-secret weapons is their lone remaining founding member, band leader, and vocalist Stefan Necroabyssious. Personality goes a long way, it is said, and throughout the album, he shows a rare amount of range within his bellowing blackened voice. In “Remnants of the Dark Testament,” the album’s sometimes distant, expansive aura is brought to its peak, with riffs that switch back and forth between passive and punchy. A lesser vocal approach — say the type of one-dimensional screech all too common in blackened sludge — would sink the song, doing a disservice to the great music. Thankfully, Necroabyssious elevates the track with his charisma, helping to anchor a key bit of dynamics in the middle of these 45 minutes.
The album’s dynamics are also aided by the band’s restraint, as they only occasionally put the blasting into overdrive. “Orgasmic Nightmares of the Arch Desecrator,” for example, starts out as big and blasty as the album gets, but finds time to return to the band’s signature melodicism and distant chants (A+ for that song title, by the way). But it’s “Luciferian Mystical Awakening” that really shows off this trait. It starts with a soft, mournful feel, dives full into a 6/8 Viking drive, and ups the bombast and theatricality throughout. After a second use of the softer parts, a small solo grows to be a huge tremolo lead that is then accompanied by a lower, equally huge tremolo harmony before an explosion of blasting and Necroabyssious’s massive presence overtake the song. It’s a deft bit of songwriting, and possibly the best song on an album loaded with great, instantly catchy tunes.
That last bit pretty much sums it up. This is the sound of an experienced and smart metal band that is perfectly comfortable with their past and present. Patriarchs of Evil won’t change your perception of what Hellenic black metal can be like some of the country’s current musical exports, but hot damn if it doesn’t find one of the style’s great originators at the top of their game. Varathron brings the riffs and the vibe in equal measure. Yes, have some.