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Varathron would close their 90s run out with their most varied and atmospheric work yet, The Lament of Gods, though it would also be their last release for half a decade. At this point in history, it had become pretty clear that the band was not going to see the broader success of countrymen Rotting Christ (and to a lesser extent, Septic Flesh), but alongside the infallible Necromantia, they provided a strong second tier of Hellenic extremity for those with the time and curiosity. The four originals on the EP feature a solid range of roughly mixed guitars, Stefan Necroabyssiou's most brutal vocals (at times even reminding me of Martin van Drunen), and by far the most audacious use of keyboards on any of their recordings, placing both a cheesy charisma and psychedelic spin on the music which occasionally draws a comparison to Tangerine Dream or the Greek-born Vangelis.
"Fire Spell/Forbidden Lust" is an adequately epic opener, with steady, mid-paced riffs drawing back to their His Majesty at the Swamp period, conjoined with trippy, punctual synth lines that ride the verse. It picks up the pace accordingly through the bridge, with glinting keys and a faint but audible clean guitar line over the flowing bass, for a slight progressive rock vibe. "The World Through Ancient Eyes" threads sweeping ascending/descending pianos through sparse yet driving black doom guitar chords, with an effective breakdown in which the pianos move into the lower registers for a convincing, Gothic release. "Beyond the Grave" is also a hugely atmospheric piece, while "Warriors Nightmare" rolls along with a Rotting Christ, majestic gait before it morphs into a desperate charge itself. Lastly, the Greeks offer us their rendition of "Nuns Have No Fun" from Mercyful Fate, complete with Gregorian chanted intro and more of the shiny synthesizers that they used in "Forbidden Lust", which are admittedly corny but fall in line with the spirit of the Mercyful Fate EP original (1982).
It's obvious to note why some would take issue with The Lament of Gods, for the production is rather lo-fi and sounds as if were recorded in a retrofitted bathroom at best. This has not always been a problem personally in appreciating underground black metal works, but I can't help but think that a cleaner alternative with louder guitars would have more impact than what we're given. But you can still hear just about everything, and the loose and progressive spin the band has put on the compositions would have made for a fascinating future direction, though it's not quite what would manifest five years down the stretch in the divisive Crowsreign. Anyhow, if you weren't offended by the rugged engineering behind His Majesty at the Swamp, you could view this EP as its toking, acid-dropping little brother, hallucinating back into the ancient past. A consistent curiosity, if not exactly a Cyclopean effort.
Varathron is quite an underrated band; they come from a generally underrated scene - or rather, one that’s often overlooked - and this happens to be an underrated release. Underrated seems to be the pivotal word here. Whereas Varathron’s first two releases appear to be quite well liked by those who’ve heard them, this one tends to be overlooked or dismissed. Why that is, I’m not entirely sure. A change in direction? The EP format? Well, personally, I’ve always been very fond of the said format; I tend to think of it like a short story, just in audio format (not that this is a Vincent Price reading ‘Ligeia’ but how my mind wanders…).
I’ve only recently got into Varathron. I think you should listen to them, too, they’re quite a strange band. Very warm-sounding and unusual for any sort of black metal. However, they tend to be damned with faint praise, sadly, being the “If you like Rotting Christ, why not try…” band. Having been familiar with the band’s first three releases for a few weeks now I’m going to suggest that they’re at least RC’s equal. Plus, they have the added benefit of not turning to mush after their second album. Huzzah! It should be said, that although their sound isn’t the most immediate around it is something very enthralling once you get sucked into it. They’re clearly masters of their unusual craft.
Lament of the Gods is, as I’ve previously suggested, a bit of a departure for the band. This is definitely more obviously melodic and keyboards play a very central role here. It’s still certainly Hellenic black metal - as you can tell by the fantastic melancholic riffs - but it’s definitely more mellow in its own peculiar way. There’s a yearning quality to the material here and it’s really quite addictive. If you’re looking where to place this on the metal spectrum, well, I’ll be succinct and just say that this is probably closer to October Tide than it is to Darkthrone. It’s worth noting that the keyboards definitely play a big part here. ‘The World Through Ancient Eyes’, for instance, has a very eerie cyclic keyboard refrain (riff?) at its heart. I know that by 1999 black metal was certainly no stranger to keyboards but this is quite something. It’s very gothic sounding and it reminds me of ‘silent’ cinema soundtracks ala Nosferatu in a strange way. I guess it’s worth noting that black metal isn’t really a stranger to horror either. The tone of the keyboards and their centrality is actually quite similar to - wait for it - Virgin Steele! Yes, I don’t know as to whether there is a direct Defeisian here influence but given that I’m a chap who likes to, er, stay Invictus I can’t help but notice this particular closeness.
Yet, never fear, despite the stylistic shift displayed here there’s still always lots of great riffs. That said, my favourite track, ‘Beyond the Grave’, is driven by, firstly, a cool acoustic guitar motif and then another of those great cyclic keyboard lines. It’s weirdly anthemic. But I guess that’s rather appropriate for its strange subject matter. It’s about, as you’ve probably guessed, death but its perspective is, once again, very different. One can wonder precisely what that ‘secret enjoyment is beyond the grave’ is? But a quick scan of the lyrics does reveal it to be a solace found in death and not any actual post-mortem fumbling. Ah well, coffins aren’t usually big enough for two.
There’s a Mercyful Fate cover, too, it’s placed at the EP’s end so not to break its flow. It’s actually a really great cover, though. Musically, it’s not too far removed from rest of the songs here, as it’s been cleverly re-worked. But, of course, the wicked, tongue-in-cheek malefic streak is just too noticeable. I think everyone knows what C.U.N.T stands for but Mr Necroabyssious makes it just that little bit clearer to everyone by shouting it out in a typically enthusiastic manner. The guitar solo has been replaced by this fantastically kooky keyboard solo, too. A nice touch as although Varathron are great riff-writers their soloing skills probably wouldn’t stand up to Michael Denner’s (it’s not their fault, though, as he is one of the best soloists I’ve ever heard).
Basically, this is an ideal EP for me. It’s fresh and quite adventurous (which is something that the format lends itself well to). If you’re into black metal that strays of the beaten path: your Mortuary Drapes, Sabbats, Master’s Hammers and such then I can certainly recommend this to you. It’s mostly quite melancholic but with a strangely uplifting feel to it. A strange celebration of unexpected pain, indeed!
Varathron is my favorite of the Hellenic black metal bands. In my opinion they write the best songs and have some of the best melodies in the entire black metal scene. When I put on a Varathron album, I am transported to a primitive time of war and heroism. They just have this way of taking you to another place within their music.
The Lament of Gods was a release that I had skipped over in the past. I had already been well familiar with the masterpieces His Majesty at the Swamp and Walpurgisnacht, so I knew what to expect going into this. This release is a lot more keyboard based than the other 2 albums, and less atmospheric.
Varathron's basic sound is hard to describe. Think if Mercyful Fate was fronted by Abbath from Immortal, had much more elaborate keyboard work, and focused more on melodies than riffs. That is really the best I can do to describe Varathron.
This EP is short and pretty straight forward, nothing too flashy or atmospheric here. The production is well done and boasts a powerful drum sound. The keyboards are the loudest instrument by far, this can be a good thing and a bad thing. On a song like 'Forbidden Lust' its good to hear that keyboard melody at the front of the mix, but then again on a song like 'The World through Ancient Eyes', there's this repetitive ascending/descending keyboard run that plays throughout the entire song. It really is distracting.
The guitar work stays in the same vein as other Varathron releases, they are highly melodic and played with a good amount of skill. The drumming is very well done, Hungry Wolfen does a very good job of spicing up the songs behind the kit. As always, the vocals done by Stephan Necroabyssious are great. His vocals are pushed back in the mix and are loaded with echo. This is troublesome because it makes him hard to hear and understand.
The music stays mid paced the whole way through, 'Warrior's Nightmare' is probably the best song on here. It has a good driving rhythm and is more varied then the other songs. Oh, I almost forgot there is a cover of the Mercyful Fate classic Nuns Have no Fun included on this EP. It's a good cover but those keyboards are too goddamn loud! I like how they altered the beginning it sounds cool that way.
This isn't really the best starting point if your looking into getting some Varathron. I would definitely start with either His Majesty at the Swamp or Walpurgisnacht. Those are two of the best Varathron releases.
No, I am not familiar with the early days of the Greek scene … yes, I am a bit ignorant in this respect. So, the comparisons some might draw from this release to the early days of the Grecian black metal cannot be found in this discussion of Varathron’s The Lament of Gods. Accordingly, a different point of view is presented here.
Black metal would be the term used for the band as a descriptive element, but some might be astounded about how this is interpreted on this ep. Neo-classical characteristics combined with black metal might give an impression on what to expect and also in respect of the overall share in the art; I would also cite Oxiplegatz’ third output as a reference. Surprisingly small is the impact of the guitars and they find it quite difficult to break through the dense layers of the keyboards, especially as these tend to have some catchy motives at times -- The World Through Ancient Eyes. So, there is not much of aggressiveness in the concept and everything passes by like water of a river on a sunny day in spring. You can easily sit on the shore and let the melodies surround your soul, there would be nothing in them to disturb the peace of this setting.
Yes, the guitars are generally in the background, while the keyboards are often in the front, but as the production is not optimal, they tend to switch places at times. Nevertheless, when it comes to their riffs and ideas, then there is not much that would be worth mentioned or emphasizing, there are some neat ideas now and then, but as the keyboards as well as the vocals like to drown them a good deal, not much can be enjoyed of them. At times they are nothing more than a thin sound in the back… which is not the best thing in terms of a metal release.
Aside from the messed up production, also the drums with their sterile sound and play are not something I can thoroughly enjoy; especially the snare is a bit of annoying. Finally, a less of the vocals would have also be a neat thing … the balance with the share of the instruments is a bit out of proportion here.
Nuns Have No Fun (Mercyful Fate cover)
Compared with the original this version lacks a good amount of facets. The guitars as well the vocals are not able to stand up to the quality of the original, but the ideas towards the end are able to compensate the listener for this in some respect. Varathron’s version opens with Gregorian chants.
Final bits and bytes
In the 11th year of the band’s existence, this release saw the light of day and even though one has to acknowledge the quality of the musicianship, the song-writing and the production is by no means convincing. The keyboards drown everything and they leave the listener at the mercy of the motives performed by this instrument; an aspect which becomes confusing in The World Through Ancient Eyes due to the dominance as well as catchiness of the motives of the keys. It is really hard to focus on a facet as the production did not really gave the instruments a clear role and accordingly do the instruments switch in their level of impact. So, while there are neat melodies at times, some might find it difficult to actually get the idea behind this release and appreciate the performance. In some respect it remains unclear what the band wanted to express and what their style is all about. Some sort of a red line is missing… you can enjoy it, but do not expect an outstanding piece of art here.
Recommended tracks: Beyond the Grave
Note: written on the tape edition.
While I love it when underrated albums get high ratings by fellow fans, but I can't agree with the former reviewer. While "The Lament of Gods" is definitely very good, it doesn't hold a candle to "His Majesty at the Swamp" or even "Walpurgisnacht".
The only problem this EP has, is that the keyboards are too dominant. Don't get me wrong, it's not like Varathron decided to go all Children of Bodom, but the keys do often distract from the great guitars, which get pushed into the background. This problem can especially be heard in "The World Through Ancient Eyes".
That issue aside, there's lots of great riffage to be found, especially "Warrior's Nightmare" (the best song on the EP) features awesome, classic Greek BM riffing. Especially the riff after the middle break in this song is up to par with their older works. The bass can be heard, but it doesn't play a major role.
Another thing that just works on "The Lament of Gods" is the production. (Even though "The World Through Ancient Eyes" seems to have a worse production job than the others..but that might just be me) If "His Majesty at the Swamp" or "Walpurgisnacht" had a production like the one displayed on "The Lament of Gods", they might be even better today. It's the definition of a "warm" sound.
Necroabyssious' vocals are about the same as always, midranged, pretty well decipherable growls, but maybe with a bit less of an aggressive edge this time around.
So, how would I summarize "The Lament of Gods¡±?
Modern Greek Black Metal, with good atmosphere, nice vocals, some very nice riffs and a tad too much keyboard work.