Article by Belisario
Almost four years after their previous full-length, Varathron is back with a new effort that meets expectations and offers a fantastic black metal listening experience in the distinctive Greek variety. The veterans from Ioannina have been able to maintain a difficult balance between respecting their classic sound and developing new forms, something they had already achieved on Untrodden Corridors of Hades. These new forms are slightly different and more modern, yet clearly related to their older albums.
I didn’t even need to wait to have the very CD in my hands, as their label Agonia Records wisely uploaded the album directly to YouTube in high quality. Curious fans now didn’t have to resort to lame rips perpetrated by random users and published under their own name. Besides being a generous move, this is indeed a clever commercial strategy as it enables direct advertising for the label, instead of it blindly trying to safeguard a product which, in the end, only people who are really interested are going to buy anyway.
It may be worth mentioning that, in order not to repeat some nasty experiences from the past, this reviewer does not purchase any records he hasn’t heard previously, at least once. Fortunately, the bet is safe with the likes of Varathron: their solid discography thus far is an assurance of quality. And although, in my opinion, Patriarchs of Evil fails to be as good as its predecessor, it is nonetheless an excellent and enjoyable piece of music.
The album opens with almost no preface, introducing a direct and solemn anthem that condenses in its guitar melodies and mid-pace rhythms all the virtues and features of typical Hellenic black metal. Subsequent tracks as well showcase a style similar to that of Untrodden Corridors of Hades, in which the primitive and suggestive metal of the Greeks, easily recognizable by its insistent rhythms and staccato riffs, dilutes in old and newer heavy metal influences to breath new life and diversity into the formula.
Melodies flow under an accurate control in the main phrases as well as in brilliant transitions that serve as momentum for the narrative, while swift guitar pickings fly over the whole, bringing in more color and emotion. This band has never stood out for its excesses in innovation in terms of structure and this album is no exception. The organization of the songs here is rather conventional, with a verse-chorus alternation more akin to traditional metal than the more extreme genres. However, this in return allows a systematic use of recurrent segments that know when to come back to anchor and strengthen each track.
Other positive aspects are the dry and thick production, quite appropriate for the music and, in the vocal section, what could probably be considered as the best vocals ever recorded by frontman Necroabyssious. The latter are surprisingly varied and delivered with true passion, not to mention the exotic Greek accent which rather than a flaw is actually an appeal in its own right. Furthermore, Varathron knows well when to speed up to increase intensity, a means used here with wise moderation in order to guarantee its effectiveness. The same approach is followed with the keyboards, which appear merely on occasion to emphasize certain passages.
All of this results in genuine variety within a pattern which is rather simple and recognizable. The composition’s cohesion probably owes a great deal to the fact that the band has preserved the same line-up since 2005. The contrast is marked with the vast majority of veteran bands whose members are often in constant rotation. Here, younger members undoubtedly contribute in no small way on the creative side, judging from the noticeable shift in the playing style with regard to the albums from the nineties.
As mentioned before, Varathron has managed to incorporate new influences without these conflicting with older features that defined their earliest works. The band does not merely repeat the same formula that granted them success in the first place over and over again. They also avoid radically changing their style every few years, grotesquely shifting according to what is popular at each given moment, contrary to most of the living legends currently active. Instead, Varathron manages to create new songs that sound fresh and different within a recognizable paradigm and in a subtle, hard-working manner, thus truly reaching the Holy Grail of “modernization” without self-plagiarizing or losing their music’s essence.
The atmosphere is very accomplished, expressing by purely musical means the idea of an ancient and mysterious cult without the need for cryptic lyrics or superficial auras, in contrast to many of the most recently acclaimed black metal albums that try to wrap mediocre and sterile music in a façade of esotericism. The lyrics here are written in plain English and thus remain rather accessible, but that does not make them any less evoking. Oscillating between Lovecraftian terrors and a romantic-flavored Satanism, the lyrics might not reach the topmost heights of Anglo-Saxon poetry, yet they serve their purpose by being in line with the instrumentation and pointing in the same epic-mythological direction.
Not everything shines in this brand-new effort, nonetheless. The beginning is excellent, with two outstanding tracks and a third one almost as brilliant. But from then on, the quality of the music declines and the songs become less memorable in spite of the flawless craftsmanship, as is the case during the calmest passages of Walpurgisnacht. This does not mean that they are vulgar collections of older elements put together in a coherent order, as heard in Metallica’s most recent studio album. In fact, we are rather talking about the invisible yet unbridgeable gap between the exceptional and the merely well done.
Fortunately, the last track somewhat raises the bar with more profuse guitar pickings and an epic feel, partially overcoming a clear unevenness which, on the whole, lessens the global appeal of the album. Ordering the songs from best to worse is a more advisable method than doing the opposite. However, this gradual decrease in quality throughout the album highlights the fact that while the album is truly worth listening, it is not a perfect opus that shines from beginning to end.
Despite all this, the four years spent polishing the new material have proven fruitful and, although Patriarchs of Evil may not be as spectacular as Untrodden Corridors of Hades, it is still a relevant and strong record that will most certainly earn its own place among the most outstanding albums to come out this year.