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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