This has been a pretty busy year for welcoming back bands and artists who have been important to metal’s development over the decades, from Godflesh to At the Gates to former Trouble/current The Skull howler Eric Wagner. We have one more for whom we’ll open the iron doors, and they haven’t been gone for nearly as long as the aforementioned acts.
Greek black metal stalwarts Varathron last reported to us with a full-length in 2009 with “Stygian Forces of Scorn.” And before that, their release schedule was pretty erratic, only putting out two other records in the 16 years prior to that. They’re not a prolific band by any means, which probably is why it seems like them returning with “Untrodden Corridors of Hades” seems like such a monumental occasion. The seven-track, 50-minute platter of hatred and evil feels as purely dark as what the band churned out on their 1993 debut “His Majesty at the Swamp.” They also serve as a reminder that black metal doesn’t have to bludgeon and steamroll, as these guys always have been expert at letting songs breathe and the madness slowly bled out. That remains on this record, which is one of the things that makes it such a damn great listen.
The other part of that is that the band members–longtime vocalist Stefan Necroabyssious, guitarists Sotiris and Achilleas C., bassist Stratos Kountouras, and drummer Haris–are fully engaged and sell this stuff beautifully. Their playing is strong, inspired, and just so heavy, and although the record isn’t a perfect document, it’s still one of the more memorable black metal albums the last half of the year from a genre where homogenization is choking out creativity ever so slowly. The music here feels evil and doesn’t just try to be that way, and as the songs creep into one another, you can feel the danger building as you follow these guys into the fire.
Weird chants and ritualistic thrashing spill out of opener “Kabalistic Invocation of Solomon,” which then steers into raw vocals, strange melodies, and a mystical feel that makes it seem like you’re ensconced in a fog. There are sheets of synth that drop, strong lead guitar playing, and a calculated pace designed to stretch out the drama. “Realm of Obscure” marches heavily out of the gates, with strong riffs and a gallop that smothers you. The drums are absolutely assaulted, with complex guitar work unfurling and savage vocals feeling monstrous and growly. The guitars stab methodically, and the composition ends in fiery glory. “Arcane Conjuring” feels machine-like at the start, with Necroabyssious’ vocals sounding wonderfully deranged and murky, with odd melodies lurking behind. The pace settles a bit, with wild birds cawing and chant-like growls darkening the mood before it fades out in a mid-tempo drubbing.
“Leprocious Lord” has feral growls that sound raw and animalistic, guitar work that tricks and twists, and a sturdy bassline that buzzes through the middle. The vocals sound like they’re reaching into the spirit world, while the rest of the band builds an oppressive fever of chaos and unleashes some really intriguing progressions. “The Bright Trapezium” is the one sticking point on the record for me. It feels like four different songs smooshed together, and it never really gets off the ground, switching personalities just when things seem to be settling into place. There are some nice gothic flourishes and tasty guitar work here, but the whole thing falls a little flat. Luckily, we pick up on “Death Chant” that has an eerie, chilling first half, with guitars shredding flesh and Necroabyssious’ vocals sounding noxious and dangerous. Atmospheric synth later rises up, providing imposing shadows to the ominous storytelling, and the track ends with a crushing gasp. Closer “Delve Into the Past” rips open, throwing speedy guitars, fearsome vocals, and neck-snapping tempo shifts your way. The song is massively destructive, a great final salvo for the band to blacken your eyes and bloody your mouth, whipping everything into a tornadic bloodshed before dragging you to a tumultuous end.
I know I’ve said this a bunch of times about the other really quality late-year records that have come at us like a tidal wave, but I wonder how much more end-of-year enthusiasm would surround “Untrodden Corridors of Hades” if Varathron had released it, say, over the summer. Nonetheless, it’s a great record, a really volcanic ride, and one that takes its time setting the stage to let the horrors play out in front of you. It’s awesome to have Varathron back in our consciousness to make great noise again. We probably won’t hear from them again for a while, so make sure you relish this while it’s fresh.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.varathron.com/
To buy the album, go here: https://www.agoniarecords.com/index.php?pos=shop&lang=en
For more on the label, go here: https://www.agoniarecords.com/