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Varathron's first full-length album, His Majesty at the Swamp, was released in August 1993 by Cyber Music. This record is one of the cornerstones of the Hellenic black metal scene, though not at the very top of the heap. It is often claimed that this band followed in the footsteps of Rotting Christ, though both bands were utilizing a similar style on recordings from 1991-92, already. Also worth noting is that this release came a few months before Thy Mighty Contract, albeit on a much smaller label. Either way, this L.P. is certainly one of the best to come from this region and still holds up after all these years.
The material consists of a lot of mid-paced riffs. In fact, that may be one of the only complaints regarding this record, as the lack of high-speed sections does not allow for the slower parts to make as much of an impact. Of course, there are some faster riffs, but never in the same way as a song like "Genesis of Apocryphal Desire", from One Step Beyond Dreams. Obviously, Varathron was opting for a much more epic sound, which is what they achieved. That is the one word to best describe His Majesty at the Swamp, as a whole. The riffs are quite varied, throughout the album, and each one does well to build on a foundation of traditional Metal. The melodies are very memorable and each song possesses an identity of its own. From the somewhat gloomy feel of "Son of the Moon (Act II)" to the intensity of "Flowers of My Youth" (bloody awful title for such a great song), the band manages to cover a lot of ground. At times, the tracks can drag on a bit long, such as "Unholy Funeral". Limited amounts of synth are employed in order to accentuate the atmosphere, from time to time, though the keyboard never becomes the central focus. The vocals of Necroabyssious are somewhat deep, but possess a sort of hollow feel in a similar manner to the first Amorphis album. They sound almost like a morbid whisper, but still loud enough to be heard.
The musical traits shared with Rotting Christ may have something to do with the fact that the bands shared a few members. Mutilator played bass for bothb, while Necromayhem (of Rotting Christ / Thou Art Lord) played guitar on "Lustful Father", which is filled with the intense staccato riffing that his other bands were known for. Themis Tolis even makes an appearance on this release, playing drums on "The Tressrising of Nyarlathotep". Finally, tying this together with the entire Hellenic scene, there is Morbid/Magus Wampyr Daoloth of Rotting Christ / Thou Art Lord / Necromantia fame. That this record would bear similarities to any other bands from their country was nearly impossible to avoid.
The production is not as dark and evil as it could have been, really sounding much more polished than on the band's previous releases. Everything is quite clear and this actually detracts from the atmosphere to an extent. That is not to say that the material was written to really capture this kind of feeling anyway, but the slick production prevented that possibility from ever becoming a reality. The guitar sound is on the thicker side, as the overall sound is more in line with death metal than what most would equate with black metal. The drumming is a little too high in the mix, especially for the clarity that is possesses, and it sounds fake at times. The keyboards are buried in the mix, which is a good thing. As for the vocals, they are at a good level, being slightly high to make up for the less extreme style of the vocalist. Otherwise, his voice may not have been audible enough to make much of an impact. The production of the final song is the best of the whole album, but that is due to the fact that the songs were recorded during different sessions and this one was captured back in February 1992.
His Majesty at the Swamp is a great record and one of the best to ever come from Hellas. Fans of any of the aforementioned bands should certainly give this a listen. With the only drawbacks being that the production is not raw enough for my taste and that a few of the riffs go on a slight bit longer than they should, there is no risk of disappointment. This L.P. is loaded with memorable riffs and an epic atmosphere that few can match. Waste no time in adding this to your collection.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
It might come as somewhat of a surprise that I find Varathron's full length debut to be a disappointment. Not that it's a bad album, per se, because in fact, His Majesty at the Swamp is pretty damn good. The letdown stems from the fact that where the band showed such a distinction from their Greek peers on the One Step Beyond Dreams EP, this album is more or less barking up the same trees as the better known Rotting Christ on their Passage to Arcturo and Thy Mighty Contract albums: generally slow, plodding black metal with straight thrash or heavy metal rhythms tucked into a grim vocal atmosphere, backing synthesizers and other cheesy effects used to give it that unquestionably Greek environment.
There are some marginally faster passages scattered through this album, but the skin shredding, pick me up thrash/black of "Genesis of Apocryphal Desires" is entirely absent. Considering the close relationship Varathron have with their brother band, it's not so stunning. Even here, there remains some crossover, with bassist Jim Mutilator serving in both (though Themis Tolis, who performed on the EP, has been replaced here by 'Wolfen', who may or may not be the same person for all I know). So forgive me if I consider this to be a companion piece to Thy Mighty Contract: aside from Necroabyssious' broader, more bloodied vocal presence, that is precisely what it is. Even the composition of the guitars begs a comparison. The late, accelerated melodic picking in "Lustful Father" is similar to what Rotting Christ would mutate and recycle for years (it's even written by Sakis Tolis himself); while the slower, doom-driven pieces like "Unholy Funeral" and "Son of the Moon (Act III)" are also highly redolent of their kin, not to mention the parched production.
That being said, I still really dig the atmosphere here. The synthesizer and whisper-strewn title track intro is admittedly pretty freaky, while the songs are suitably dark and dreary. A few of the riffs in "Nightly Kingdoms" and "The Tressrissing of Nyariathoth" show a slight Celtic Frost inspiration, with tiny grooves amidst their loosely thrashing gait. The fact that the tracks were recorded in three separate spans of time does have an effect on the album's consistency, and the varied sounds do tend to jerk the listener out of the experience, but the composition itself is level throughout. If I had to pick a favorite it would be "Flowers of My Youth", which is perhaps the closest in pace and atmosphere to the previous EP, at least the slower sequences there in "Descent of a Prophetic Vision". However, the album in its entirety is reasonably cool if you're into the primitive, old-school sound from this country.
Rotting Christ, Necromantia, Nergal, Zemial, Thou Art Lord, and Varathron: they all seem to creep along at their own stride, mindless of the ripping, rasping velocity being spun out of the rest of Europe. His Majesty at the Swamp takes its time drawing you in, but it inevitably gets there, assuming the listener's affections are not so easily broken by the crude production values here. I can't say I enjoyed the songwriting quite so much as Thy Mighty Contract in the long term, but you can very easily get lost in this if you're seeking a parallel. The memorable artwork and grimy sound engineering only add to the flavor, that of frosted moors and mist shrouded sadness and revenge.
Varathron started it's career with demos that were not so convincing. Although when they continued, they made something that will always be marked as one of the best Greek Black Metal albums ever. Here it is: His Majesty at the Swamp!
Intro track "His Majesty at the Swamp" starts the album with it's eerie curdle. Then kicks in the mind darkening track "Son of the Moon (Act II)". This track introduces early Varathron's potential dark riffs, and of course drums that i like the most in this whole album. Now already everybody has heard the vocals too. It is different, compared to vocalists that scream themselves to death with their sore throats. Maybe not better, but it brings bit of difference, and that's what this album is all about: Positive musical difference. Third track "Unholy Funeral" keeps the album epic and mind rinsing. "Lustful Father" is the most different track of the whole album. It brings down albums darkness a little bit with it's guitars. "Nightly Kingdoms" is a good track, but doesn't bring anything new to this album, but then comes "Flowers of My Youth" which is the fastest of them all! Bringing a bit of speed to carry on this masterpiece. "River of My Souls" keeps on the kicks, still being a bit too much fill up. Album ends with the track "Tressrising of Nyarlahotep (Act. I)", which is a memorable track, and ends this album possibly the best way that it should be ended.
In the end "His Majesty at the Swamp" is one of the best Greek black metal albums, and Varathron made themselves sit on the throne really well after this album. It's epic, it's dark and best of it all: It's classic!
When i first time got this album, i knew it's going to be one of my favorite black metal albums. How's so? Well, just turn your ears towards the southern Europe, and you will be amazed!
I’m not going to lie, for me this wasn’t love at first listen. I found it to be incredibly boring and couldn’t figure out why the reviews were so good. This made me decide to give it another try, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t realize how good this is.
This is not your usual black metal album, the focus here isn’t fast blast beats or the grim atmosphere, and instead the focus is on just damn good riffs. The other thing that is different about this album is that the atmosphere is very warm, something we generally don’t associate black metal with. One of the reasons I may not have liked this at first is because I didn’t recognize a warm atmosphere which, now that I think about it, is blatantly obvious. This band comes from Greece, possibly the southernmost part of Europe; you won’t be finding many grim and frostbitten forests there. The album is entitled “His Majesty at the Swamp” swamps are usually pretty warm places. I think it’s nice to see black metal having more faces than the cold, frozen, and grim stuff.
Now onto the instruments, the guitars are the main focal point on this album. The riffs really stick in your head and they really make the album a pleasure to listen to over and over again. The tone here is pretty good, not overly distorted compared to some bands but there is definitely a crunch there, it’s really more like Black Sabbath and Trouble rather than Darkthrone and Marduk. The drums aren’t really standard in black metal because there is a lot of variation as opposed to blast beats and bass drum-snare alternations. They are very well played, but don’t detract from the riffs the whole time. In general the album is actually more slow, and mid-paced, but rest assured, there are fast parts. The bass isn’t really a standout instrument here, but it does a good job of backing up the guitars and giving the riffs a nice thick sound. The vocals aren’t really anything special, but they really fit the music. Shrieking the lyrics or using guttural growls would not work here. The vocals are harsh and generally in the mid-low range, but they aren’t exactly growls per say.
In short this is a really good, memorable black metal album which I would recommend to just about any metal fan. If you want to find more Greek black metal to listen to then this is a good place to start.
Alright, so here I am, reviewing what could possibly be the most epic album I have ever heard.
This album is great; it induces something that is cold, unholy and just plain awesome. It feels like you're at a swamp being dragged under the water that is almost ice, and when you just manage to break free and take a breath at the surface, an unholy creature drags you back down.
Now, to the musical part of things.
Wow, the guitars in here are plain awesome, they are melodic, and what's this? They're clearly audible? No way! Yeah that's right, they are clearly audible so you can hear the awesome rifts, typically guitars are very distorted in black metal, but no here, there are very audible which is a plus for guitar enthusiasts.
The drums are the most surprising part of this album, they aren’t typical blast beats or one beat. No this drummer actually has talent, there’s variety and although it may not be so technical, they’re still extremely enjoyable.
Now we come to the bass, again, unlike usual black metal, the bass is audible in this, which is another plus because it adds a thickness to the atmosphere that is almost...doom like. Very cool plus for this album.
Ah yes, now I come to the vocals. Now let me say, these are not your usual black metal vocals, they almost sound like proto-death metal vocals, which is weird because I thought this was supposed to be black metal? Well, the actual style isn't my complaint; it's that they're too low! It's annoying to find the guy in the mix, that's why those five points went away, but when you compare this complaint to the rest of the album, it really isn't that bad.
In conclusion, this album is essential for anybody that wants slow, doomish sound but at the same time very melodic black metal.
Two bands were responsible for a new style in Black metal: Rotting Christ and Varathron. Both bands released their debut albums in 1993, and both were the first to fully utilize this style with these full-lengths, "Thy Mighty Contract" and "His Majesty at the Swamp." Rotting Christ had more luck and were signed to a larger label and got a lot more fame for their first works, so the foundation credit for Hellenic Black Metal is often solely given to Rotting Christ's debut. So "His Majesty at the Swamp" had to be rediscovered years later and today, the album finally gets at least SOME attention and is acknowledged as the second part of the Hellenic BM foundation.
But enough with the history lessons, onward to the album itself.
The album opens with the title track, which is merely an introduction to the albums sound and mood, and you might find yourself skipping over it after two or three listens. The first real song is "Son of the Moon (Act II)" and it welcomes you with a typical Greek BM riff ("typical" is great for Hellenic BM) and raspy growls. The track is "catchy" as hell (in the Black Metal sense) and you'll find yourself nodding your head and feet to it. The track represents the album well, it's generally mid-paced, quite melodic and has this special occult feeling, Rotting Christ and Varathron both shared in their early albums. The only drawback on the song is the length. it clocks in at more than seven and a half minutes and a few riffs are just a bit too similar, and there's not much variation in terms of speed. Not a major fault though, since all the riffs are top-notch quality.
"Unholy Funeral", "Lustful Father", "Nightly Kingdoms" and "The River of My Souls" are all in the same vein, mostly mid-paced, only interrupted by a few faster, tremolo-picked riffs, but more varied and not as long as "Son of the Moon".
The speedy stuff starts with "Flowers of My Youth" which has very fast tremolo- picked riffs and fast, menacing vocal work. Stephan's vocals are quite unique, sometimes it sounds like he's talking with a raspy voice, or growling the verses in a very decipherable way. The (very well written) lyrics can be understood well.
Then my personal favourite track comes: "The Tressrising Of Nyarlathothep (Act I)"
The intro riff is probably my favourite riff on the whole album, and the song itself has a very epic feeling at times, the riffs have a very melancholic and moving feeling to them. Great varied vocal work to be found here. The song is very long, almost as long as "Son of the Moon" but has more parts to keep the listener interested. "The Grim Palace" is another epic track with some great keyboard/orchestra support and probably the fastest riffs on here.
"His Majesty at the Swamp" can basically be divided into two parts. The first 25 minutes consist of the slow and brooding tracks with the most typical mid-paced Hellenic BM riffing and the fast, epic 20 minutes, with great orchestra, acoustic and keyboard work.
The album flows very well and when you start, you' probably listen to it until it's very end. Recommended for all fans of Hellenic Metal. "His Majesty at the Swamp" might not be as strong as "Thy Mighty Contract", but it's definitely as historically important as Rotting Christ's debut opus.
Unholy Funeral, Lustful Father, The Tressrising Of Nyarlathothep (Act I)