During black metal’s most creatively fertile period in the early 1990s, a handful of Greek musicians forged an alternative musical path noticeably different from that of their Nordic peers. Their efforts would subsequently crystallize into the Hellenic black metal sound or style.
Article by Lance Viggiano.
Sacriphyx present a bog standard take on Hellenic black metal through the rollicking pulse native to Australia. The strength of the Greek strategy is in its ability to capture a variety of moods leading to a diverse heavy metal experience. The Western Front is a discontinuous concept album based upon World War I wherein its songs do not function as parts of whole; rather, they are self-contained units acting with autonomy in pursuit of the greater conceptual goal that is realized only through individual skirmishes. These compositional deployments reinforce stylistic choices by maximizing an array of emotive impact while minimizing any diminished efficacy of individual motifs as their power is not derived from their position in a greater narrative arc from song to song. Despite proficient execution, Sacriphyx fail to build upon the Mediterranean tactic in any meaningful sense and thus the movements of its elements will be predictable to those familiar.
Greek black metal gods Rotting Christ have announced an extensive North American tour for this fall supporting generic war metal veterans Marduk. They’re coming out here to do some gigs! Shit will be wild man, wild! Here are the dates from Marduk’s Facebook page:
09/02/16 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Culture Room
09/03/16 Tampa, FL The Orpheum
09/04/16 Atlanta, GA The Masquerade
09/05/16 Baltimore, MD Soundstage
09/06/16 New York, NY Gramercy Theatre
09/07/16 Boston, MA Brighton Music Hall
09/08/16 Montreal, QC L’Astral
09/09/16 Toronto, ON The Opera House
09/10/16 Columbus, OH Al Rosa Villa
09/11/16 Chicago, IL Reggie’s
09/12/16 Minneapolis, MN Triple Rock
09/13/16 Kansas City, MO The Riot Room
09/14/16 Denver, CO Marquis Theatre
09/16/16 Vancouver, BC Rickshaw Theatre
09/17/16 Seattle, WA Studio Seven
09/18/16 Portland, OR Bossanova Ballroom
09/19/16 Oakland, CA Metro Opera House
09/20/16 Las Vegas, NV LVCS
09/21/16 Los Angeles, CA Regent Theater
09/22/16 Phoenix, AZ Joe’s Grotto
09/23/16 El Paso, TX Mesa Music Hall
09/24/16 Dallas, TX Gas Monkey Bar & Grill
09/25/16 Austin, TX Dirty Dog Bar
Article by David Rosales.
Kawir’s Father Sun Mother Moon strikes one as simple and mediocre pagan pop metal. From the recycled tunes to the standard, swinging rhythms of the genre that make actual metalheads cringe, Kawir has collected and presented them all to us on their new album. Kawir debases their music, pandering in the same way as those worthless politically-correct pop-dressed-as-metal bands like Turisas do. It really does sound like these Greeks could have been hanging out with Congressman Freddy Lim and Jesse ‘Djent-Black’ Liu of Cthonic, or drinking beers with the geeks from Tengger Cavalry. All these accusations are well deserved. The album therefore deserves to be dismissed as third-rate pap. Despite this, it is useful to look at this inconsequential list of boring tunes in terms of their de-evolution from Kawir’s previous album, Isotheos.
The concrete symptoms of banality and mediocrity can be found in the overall decline in richness of melodies and rhythms. Melodies have been shortened: they return much quicker to the root tone and rely more heavily on simple-silly rhythms ‘typical’ of Pagan pop. The variety of the types of melodies (that is the different arrangements of the motifs and their variations) are much less in number. Exactly the same with the rhythm guitars: less variety and where there was minimalism (which by definition, cannot be further simplified without loss of value), we now find a dumbing-down. The strict cyclic structures are far more evident in this album, replacing the quasi-linear Eastern European black metal which was used on their 2012 release. This uncreative disaster reaches unbelievable proportions when we encounter a dull track where after subjecting the audience to an ad nauseam repetition of a melody over a beer metal rhythm, Kawir simply fades out to avoid any shock to casual radio listeners in order to make it easier for the corporate broadcaster to place advertisements right after it.
While Isotheos melded melody and rhythm into a phrasal motific force, Father Sun Mother Moon clearly separates the paradigms of melody and rhythm. This in itself does not mean the end of the world but nothing is done to balance the combined simplicity. In fact, repetition plays an even greater role in filling out the runtime of this album: variations are less frequent, variation distance is smaller or unrelated, and single melodies or rhythms contain less content (movements from the tonic, manner in which they return to the tonic, temporary movements to different tonics, and even number of notes). Some sections on Father Sun Mother Moon reach the heights of the previous record but the overall quality is definitely lost.
Article by David Rosales
Kawir is a band that belongs to that side of metal whose discussion allows the true metal nihilist to distinguish between free minds who embrace the spirit of metal’s independence from political or religious doctrine. Metal has been characterized by its portrayals of power, courage and strength, while looking down on sheepish behavior, compliance with the system and general cowardice. When bands who openly express musical worship of Pagan ideals as a source for racial/national power, it gives one the opportunity to weed out the sheep in metal guise. The metal nihilist will find in the concept of the pagan theme in metal yet another expression of pride and power apt for the narrative of timeless natural struggle. He may dispassionately nod its head to the idea without necessarily embracing it as something that speaks to him, personally. He holds the burning flame of life in front of him, observing the destroying consumption that drives action in eternal co-dependence with passive materia. He stares at it directly without fear of having the miserable protective borders of human-society constructs burn away, nay, welcoming this removal of the illusory.
But the infiltrator will often reveal himself by expressing typical modern-urban discomfort in the face of the tribal roots of these ideas, deeming them not sophisticated enough and the product of ignorant naturalists and superstitious people– because they have obviously never even read Karl Marx, let alone Michel Foucault or Noam Chomsky. We also find the majority of undecided metal fans who can guiltily accept these “rash” ideas in the context of artistic expression, although not without signs of rubor on their cheeks and heavy perspiration on trembling hands, more characteristic of virtuous maidens than courageous warriors. Yes, metal is masculine, and no, it does not imply misogyny. These last at least exhibit the intellectual honesty towards which metal tends to gravitate, even if the shackles of their own societies and times can still be felt as they adopt a tongue-in-cheek disposition and keep their fingers crossed behind their backs in a sort of secular modern superstitious fear. One may still find them making quick apologies for the band or comical quips that prove their allegiance to their in-time, humanist ideals, putting their puny minds at rest that they have not incurred in heresy.
Isotheos (ίσο – θεος, ‘equal [to] god’ — Godlike) is the Apollonian in-time expression through metal and minimalist Hellenic elements of Dionysian timelessness, the underlying human genetic memory of survival that Nietzsche wisely derived and intuited and that Jung demonstrated empirically. This collective unconscious speaks to us in mental images, flashes of emotion and conceptual ephemeral . A sign that Kawir places utmost importance on the core and significance, rather than on the temporary expression of these, is that although there is a clear embracing of the products of Greek pre-classical antiquity as the heritage of its nation and people, references to both pre-Hellenic and Roman outward manifestations are admitted into the concept of the album. The album deals with the transcendental aspect of Greek symbology, not as temporary and superficial expressions of this or that period, but as evidence to the unique evolutionary path of Greek survival arising as fumes from boiling blood.
Musically, Isotheos revolves completely around simple, modal themes, which in no moment cede to any other element. While there are vocals, rhythm guitars and often more than one melody line, the centrality of the theme is never, even for one moment, lost. Kawir simultaneously achieves the high-energy, dense locomotive character of metal that rides on thundering drums, as well as the melodious, inspiring horizon-gazing sounds of primeval Greece. These, we have now come to associate with the ancient temples and oracles through reconstructions of that ancient European music. Rhythm depends on power chord phrases closer to the approach of Witchfinder General than Iron Maiden, thus a stronger backbone and less distraction. Despite this adherence to simplicity (the beautiful simplicity, the ‘good simplicity’ of Plato’s Socrates), there is no lack of variety, and through smart use of economical and effective use of a close-style repertoire of techniques achieves a strong and fluent expression.
Particularly stamped on the capable listener’s mind will be the natural consistency with which themes are treated, the healthy growth of variations without even the slightest hint of pretension. In no moment does technique supersede communication and structure, a balanced sort of modest beauty that maintains its worth by carefully and sparingly choosing climaxes that never come beforehand. This is achieved through gradually evolving the theme, so that a structure of cyclic transformation is represented. Each song makes use of one theme only, usually, tying it poetically with the concept, and making absolutely revolve around it. This is not a theme on a melody dancing above moving harmony with an occasional quote and echo, but rather the whole of the music adds a grain to the theme itself, as it assumes no definite form and all forms. While the classical variation starts from a primordial seed that is represented in increasingly complex forms, the ancient spirit of Kawir’s music lends no particular importance to any of the manifold incarnations of Dionysian memory. To be more precise, what we find on Isotheos are not the strict romantic themes, but motific variations that are kept at relatively close Levenshtein distances, thereby guarding them from disfiguration.
In this music, every single aspect is important and none of them are. Their preservation in transfomations is immortal, but their temporary forms or manifestations are only suitable for that instant and hold no value in and of themselves. Each moment is distinctive but strongly related to future and past, as water raining on the tops of mountains, running through ravines, precipitating down waterfalls and reinvading the ocean uncountable times as no single drop of water survives but is reincarnated. If there ever was an album that explicitly collects the Nietzschean balance of the Apollonian and Dionysian, it is Isotheos. If there is any place in metal which takes one closer to the Platonic musical ideal through appropriate forms, it is Isotheos.
Another album that I briefly wrote about a while back is approaching its official release date. Rituals by Rotting Christ will release on February 12th, 2016, and is still available to preorder from Season of Mist in the meantime. You know how a great deal of established and older bands stick to their stylistic guns, especially now that the crisis of the 1990s is but a dim memory? Rotting Christ is amongst them; they’ve continued their traditional-black-etc fusion ways as hinted at on their earliest albums and established, at the very latest, on Triarchy of the Lost Lovers. If this album fails to be of any value, you’ll at least have Thy Mighty Contract as a fallback.
Rotting Christ’s 12th studio is in the works. Entitled Rituals, it will come out on Feburary 12th, 2016; a single has already been officially released to the internet for streaming. Given the timing, I’m not under the impression that Rotting Christ’s latest upcoming album was directly inspired by Varathron’s most recent efforts, but that’s something to ask the band’s personnel, if at all. Interestingly, the album is currently available for preorder from Season of Mist‘s online store. While I am not familiar with Rotting Christ’s later discography, I haven’t heard much complimentary about it from the DMU types. If they’re to be believed, it doesn’t really measure up to the band’s strong formative work, perhaps even coming off as a pale and overly streamlined imitation of such. Might be better for you to stick to modern Varathron if that’s the case.
It feels like we’re doing a great deal of anniversary mini-features these days, but Scarlet Evil Witching Black, at the very least, is particularly deserving of notice. Released on November 15th, 1995, Necromantia’s second album continues the band gimmick of dual distorted bass guitar arrangements. More importantly, it favors some melodramatic and perhaps overblown composition styles I am personally fond of, and serves as an admirable blueprint for how to effectively and tastefully incorporate symphonic and other relatively “normal” musical elements into extreme metal. Definitely a high point of the Greek black metal scene, and a markedly different experience from not only the better known Norwegian works, but also the midpaced stomp of a Rotting Christ or a Varathron.
As half original work (a short EP) and half live document, The Confessional of the Black Penitents seems more compilation than unified album at first glance. I wouldn’t be surprised if the live tracks were added in an attempt to increase the supposed ‘value’ of this EP, but this is one of those cases where the commercial intent of a tracklisting decision seems less important than its overall effect on how I engage with the tracks themselves.
Varathron does admittedly stick to the stereotypical “Greek” aesthetic on the original half of this EP – in this case, a combination of contemporary black metal technique and production with elements of older metal and rock. After an extended intro, the two lengthy tracks that form the core of this half tend to explore this by alternating more overtly extreme sections with slower sections similar to older works and frequently interspersed with melodic guitar leads. These tracks showcase a strength of organization and a tasteful, limited incorporation of modern metal elements in a fashion similar to that of the band’s previous album. Based on this, and compared to other bands in the Greek scene, Varathron has aged gracefully, avoiding the contrasting pitfalls of endless repetition, excess streamlining, or overextension in the name of artistic progress or even just diversity.
The live half of this recording could serve as a general survey of Varathron as reinterpreted through the band’s modern lineup, although it is lacking in the band’s 2000s output. With three of its four tracks sourced from the band’s earliest days, it showcases the often slower and sparser approach of the band’s earliest days. Even the faster, blasting components showcased on the original tracks here make some appearance, so the main difference appears to be that in their ‘classic’ era, Varathron focused more on the rhythmic and percussive elements of their music. The other live track comes from 2014’s Untrodden Corridors of Hades; this rendition does much to render it closer to the older material in sound, which helps highlight the similarity of their songwriting. The production also helps to unify these tracks – while rougher than a proper studio environment, it’s still intelligible and in some ways more polished than that of the original material.
The new studio tracks, at the very least, make The Confessional of the Black Penitents a fine purchase. Fewer will go out of their way to acquire this EP for its live component (although it is apparently Varathron’s first official live release), but it too has value, as it provides an introduction of sorts to the band’s older material.
Awakened in remorse
To rebuild from destruction
Recreate life’s evolution
Returning from the brutality of a Bolt Thrower show to recollect the events that defined it brings to mind the task of Ernst Junger, depicting the graphic scenes of martial violence and destruction in his soldier’s memoirs, ‘Storm of Steel’. Not merely the sounds of war and chaos, but the philosophy of death is what one has to confront on such a stage, and this sums up the depth of the Bolt Thrower experience. The great elemental gods of Britannia fired the opening salvo of the evening, unleashing a torrential downpour on the troops to be in attendance once conscripted into the dismal but still functional ULU venue, around the University College London site and home of the un-elite Utilitarian philosophy. A single flash of lightning, probably striking the Cenotaph for the war dead a few minutes away in Whitehall, would indicate that this night belonged to only one elite group, and the slowly multiplying hordes as if signalled to the venue by this storm omen, proved that the headliners were in everybody’s iron sights.
In the meantime, some fairly well-known bands would run through comparitively uninteresting sets in order to plug new albums or just an association with Bolt Thrower on this Next Offensive European tour. For the one unknown band, clearly grateful to the Coventry squadron for being able to provide opening infantry support, Ancient Ascendant took to the stage with some confidence and raged through their set infront of the minimal crowd at this time. The sound was not good and the technical setup of the venue’s sonic equipment would be a recurring issue throughout the night, usually leaving bands with an unbalanced sound. Even less impressive was Ancient Ascendant’s music, which was practically educated by the newer schools of Death Metal exclusively, sounding like a more frivolously melodic version of Bloodbath. A lot of generic rhythmic business with some predictably inserted flourishes of lead guitar lines and none of the compositional sense that at the very least ripping-off the old school Death Metal formula would have imbued the songs with by default. Even the next band, The Rotted’s only listenable song was from the older generic Gorerotted project, which is not much less moronic than The Rotted who are really damn retarded in this incarnation, with their stripped down songs consisting of one riff from a later Cryptopsy song played out as blasting Punk music. It’s also quite strange and not recommended to watch old, drugged up men performing breakdowns.
Considered by many as nothing more than a brief distraction, this was soon forgotten as the once powerful entity of Promethean Greek Black Metal took to the stage and the floor swelled with eager hordes. For someone that reveres the older fraction of their catalogue as highly as the Nordic classics, the Rotting Christ set provided both frustrating disappointment but also possibly the biggest surprise of the evening (not the appearance of Diamanda Galas). The transition from ancient Heavy Metal-inflected compositions of blackened mysticism to a boring and cheap form of fast and extreme Rock music with pseudo-cultural embellishments that would make Vangelis either laugh hysterically or summon the wrath of Mars upon Sakis and company, was made quite some time ago when the band sold out to Century Media and although the recent jump to Season of Mist has only marginally improved the quality of their music, the bulk of their songs is blockheaded rhythmic work that wouldn’t sound out of place on a System of a Down joke and disembodied keyboards typical of mainstream Black Metal bands to accompany the minute flickerings of nostalgia that is the signature Rotting Christ melodic style, the same tactic used by fellow Greeks, Septicflesh. Within this disastrous but obviously crowd-pleasing selection of tracks was something quite unexpected given the current direction of the band and their most recent live performances. Almost as though the old spirit of Necromayhem broke free from his sealed confines, the band launched mercilessly into ‘Sign of Evil Existence’, flooding the crowd with a sea of beautiful, extended phrasal work, causing an absolute frenzy and evoking the first old school invocations of the night. Not content with such a brief introduction to arguably the pinnacle of their early discography, ‘Fgmenth, Thy Gift’ continued the magic of ‘Thy Mighty Contract’ with the folky but regal opening riff surging into those magestic, ascendant patterns of guitar. The higher register key of these older songs manipulated the flatness of the sound setup brilliantly, with every note perfectly audible and a memorable contender for song of the entire show.
Benediction were next on stage, an aging group of Death Metal punks fronted by Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh, Mistress and Never Mind the Buzzcocks fame, who nearly talks as much shit on stage as Barney Greenway, including an embarrassing appeasement of some girl’s sob story about a now deceased Benediction fan, thankfully met with a shout of ‘Only death is real’ from the front of the crowd. The set itself was a typically reliable collection of songs spanning most of their discography, better suiting the live environment than on CD, inducing as much violence from the crowd as their primitive, bouncy Death Metal can, like ‘Harmony Corruption’-era Napalm Death meeting ‘Tower of Spite’ by Cerebral Fix. It wasn’t much of a loss to have a guitar cut out during their stint, as the rest of the band seemed to push onwards, building up as much aggression as possible and justifying their placement on the bill, though it was huge relief to hear the end of Benediction at long last, for the lights to dim and the next offensive to commence proper.
Anticipation was immense for the legendary Grindcore/Death Metal ensemble and the battle hordes pushed forward like a scene from Braveheart, rivalling the force of a 90,000 strong audience gravitating towards the celebrity status of Metallica. Faint sounds of approaching war lingered from the amps over the field as Bolt Thrower finally took to the stage and launched straight into the sombre yet mammoth opening riff to ‘IVth Crusade’. The deliberate, sinister pacing of the double bass began to roll through and the crowd imploded into deadly chaos and aggressive force. As bodies began raining from the skies like mortar fire, crushing necks and leaving temporary indents of fallen victims, the atmosphere became thick with the smell of blood, sweat and the disturbing fragrances of shampoo. A large bulk of the set consisted of tracks from the last album but these were all delivered with enough power and rousing, anthemic vigour to blend seamlessly with the more skillful dynamics and evocative melodies of the older songs, from the brilliant rendition of ‘World Eater’ into ‘Cenotaph’ to the unforgettable lead guitars of ‘…For Victory’.
Bolt Thrower commanded the crowd, Karl Willets looked like a war-torn veteran but still yet to be tamed as the ferocity of his vocals didn’t let up for an instant. Jo-Anne Bench is undoubtedly the most menacing female presence in the entire Metal scene, and the poorly balanced sound worked well to render the songs with more bassy fury than can be heard on record. The subtle rhythmic variations of Baz’s guitars on the other hand were not as discernable, but for a seemingly undiscerning crowd, this did nothing to quell the primal violence that tore bones asunder in a ritual of combat replication. The signature riffs were also fairly muted but managed to somehow shine through like the sun between Afghan mountain peaks, and as the band returned for an encore, the perfect choice of songs scorched the stage like a vast napalm attack, with the ominous theme of ‘War’ transforming into ‘Remembrance’ as though the sorrows of Arjuna had been cast aside as he takes to the empty plains of Kurukshetra, seeing the world as it is.
Even as the band exited, the feelings of confrontation and pugilism reigned as brawls ensued and battered humans walked out to count their wounds. The show proved how bands such as Bolt Thrower who retain their integrity, remain possessed by this same eternal process of nature’s evolution and deliver like a well-trained soldier, with precision and consistency will rule for the longest time. We will remember them.