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Largely content with the style they achieved on their debut His Majesty at the Swamp, Varathron set out for more of the same with the follow-up Walpurgisnacht. Most of the differences here come from the cleaner production. The album sounds nowhere near as dry as its predecessor, and there is a margin more depth to the actual songwriting, with a more varied range and more pronounced atmospheric passages in several of the tracks. That said, though, they still sound quite similar to their countrymen Rotting Christ, and nowhere near as vile or memorable as Necromantia, whose own sophomore album Scarlet Evil Witching Black was perhaps the hottest and most hellish album the Greek scene ever produced.
But Walpurgisnacht has its place, and I found myself content with the dynamics here, from the tranquil Gothic metal inflections of "The Dark Hills" and its whispered prose, to the harrowing thunder of "Birthrise of the Graven Image" and its incessant charge towards a glory riff in the bridge that wouldn't have been out of place on Non Serviam or Thy Mighty Contract. Where the band goes all out atmosphere, like the majority of "Mestigoth"'s militant bombast or the elegant, soothing seductions of "Somewhere Beyond Seas", or the piano ("Redeunt Saturnia Regina") or acoustic ("Sic Transit Gloria Mundi") interludes, they show a seasoned depth that many bands in the black metal genre of the early to mid 90s would have been afraid to explore, transcending well beyond the boundaries of the medium. But the balance is best channeled into "Under the Sight of Horus", a tune which ranges from lush vistas of forsaken paradise (synths and clean guitars) to thunder and momentum.
There are a few guest solos here from Sotiris of the equally atmospheric Septic Flesh, a trait that further cements the unity these core Greek bands held with one another. I also really enjoy the freakish cover art: biblical, bestial, symbolic and mysterious all at once. From a production perspective, it sounds better than anything else the album ever released until Stygian Forces of Scorn, many years later. Fans of Rotting Christ up to and including Triarchy of the Lost Lovers would do well to check it out, and even through Walpurgisnacht is hardly Greek royalty, its a potent enough successor to one of the scene's cult favorites.
The years 1993 - 1996 were extremely productive if you take a look at the Hellenic bands around that time. Nowadays it takes Varathron several years to record new material (between this and "Crowsreign" there happens to be a 9 year gap).
Anyway, many of those who read this review probably know their highly acclaimed debut effort "His Majesty at the Swamp". It's general opinion that their debut is their greatest work to date, but today, I'm absolutely sure that I have to disagree.
"Walpurgisnacht" is definitely superior in terms of atmosphere. While the debut was without a doubt better produced, it also lost quite a bit of intensity on its way. "Walpurgisnacht" is one of those few albums, which just oozes atmosphere. The razor-sharp production on the guitars, the reverbed vocals and the thick bass provide soundscapes, which are seldom heard elsewhere.
Necroabyssious' vocals are at their rawest on here, he's spitting his guts out and simply delivers. He might not be the most diverse vocalist out there, but his vocal work is simply a must for Varathron's music.
The amount of riffs has lessened a bit, though. Prime example for this is probably "Cassiopeia's Ode" which has around 4 riffs, but is a whole 8 minutes long. The guitar work in the song is great and for me, the lack of many different riffs is not a major problem, but people with short attention spans might get bored pretty early on.
The Dark Hills" and "Mestigoth" are two slower, calmer songs with good atmosphere and some nice clean interludes. Especially the former manages to amaze in terms of atmosphere and euphony. "Birthrise of the Graven Image" is probably the most "brutal" track on the whole album, featuring a great guitar solo by Sotiris of Septic Flesh and some amazing riff-craft throughout. Necroabyssios' vocals shine too, as he unleashes some of his ugliest screams (BIRTHRISE!!) in his entire career.
"Redeunt Saturnia Regnae" is a change of pace, as it is a song based on piano and synth only. The melodies are rather simple but in company with the synth they really manage to capture a sinister feeling. "Under the Sign of Horus" is another excellent track, filled with melancholic and heavy metal tinged riffs, which again show the enormous creativity of Varathron's music.
Sotiris unleashes another great melodic solo on "Somewhere Beyond Seas", reminding (again) of his own band origins in Septic Flesh. Definitely the highlight of the last full song on this album. "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi" is a short and simple, but effective closer, based solely on a simple acoustic guitar lick.
Some people tend to say that "Walpurgisnacht" shows a lack of coherent songwriting, but if you listen closely, you'll realize that "Walpurgisnacht" is only different and a bit harder to digest than "His Majesty at the Swamp".
It took me many months until this album fully embraced me, but as of today, I rate "Walpurgisnacht" two points higher than their infernal debut opus.
A must-have for Hellenic black metal fans and traditionalists alike.
Varathron is one of the main bands from the Greek black metal scene, which rose in the early nineties with a great amount of creativity and originality, and left behind a bunch of outstanding albums. Together with Necromantia, Rotting Christ, Zemial/Agatus and other minor acts, those musicians, strongly influenced by the brand-new norwegian bands, turned over traditional heavy metal sound, although the final result owes much more to primaeval death metal than to the regular norsecore sound.
Production is a bit poor, but it is a good thing that slow distorted guitars are not spoiled by an excessively clean sounding. Voice and drums are also quite obscure, which is possitive in the first case but not so in the last. Bass is practically inexistent, as songs are based on plain guitar swinging, but its absence is balanced by a strong use of keyboards that enhance the whole structure, being fortunately always kept aside and never the main element, as in most of modern so-called “melodic black metal” stuff.
Varathron’s music is simple but steadily built, usually with mid-paced phrasing and slow riffing. Added keyboard ambience and growling vocals provide a lushful background of colourful resonances, that is probably not so neat in earlier material. The main songs are still strongly heavy metal-based, although Varathron allows some variation in others, that sound almost “gothic” in the sense of early Moonspell or ambient-like, with an effective envelopping keyboard wall, over which singer Necroabyssious does an odd clean vocal performance never tried before.
The best feature here is Varathron delivering regular death metal-like blasting discharges that structure the songs in alternance with the mentioned gradual riffing soundscapes, a usual method also employed in earlier recordings. The vocals deploy there in full aggressiveness. In those cases, but also in the whole album, the drum patterns are utterly simple and should be played more randomly and imaginatively in order not to seem boring as they sometimes do. But the overall contrast between the fast charging and the usual rhythmic patience of the guitars, as well as the majestic luxury of the ambience makes you forget about the drums and appreciate Varathron are extremely varied and definitely very attractive.
This album offers an awesome listening experience, where good and conscientiously done black metal melts with inspiration, poetry and romanticist exotism, as well in the music as in the concept. Those men pay homage to their land as a meeting point for neoclassical tradition and eastern full-colour sumptuousness with this beautifully raised monument. Darkened by the significance of earlier works, this superb masterwork is worth to be rediscovered, just like the words of an ancient scroll that tells about mysterious places and legendary facts.
Spanish version: http://www.inicia.es/de/wanker/varathron-1995-walpurgisnacht.htm
Together with Rotting Christ and Necromantia, Varathron compose the "Holy Triad" of Hellenic Black metal and are possibly the band that is the most characteristic of that genre. Having passed from of a period of Slayerish mystical thrash metal (Genesis of Apocryphal Desires), Varathron reach their peak with this "His Majesty at the Swamp" and this very album.
Varathron's sound could be described as Melodic Black Metal, or more accurately Heavy Metal with growling vocals and Thrash/Black outbursts. The music is based on strong trance-like melodies and powerful riffs, while droning epic synths (long before the Enthrone Darkness trend) and clean guitars fill the acoustic canvas. Along with Septic Flesh (whose guitarist, Sotiris, contributes a great guitar solo on "Somewhere beyond Seas") Varathron are one of a few bands that manage to convey a feeling of travelling to unheard and forgotten ancient places, like those that are mentioned in the lyrics of the album. Still agression is not overlooked and Varathron do not lose the chance to remind you of their backround when needed, with crunchy thrash riffs and melodic black metal phrases in the vein of the Norwegian scene. Unfortunatly the album's production suffers from the typical sloppy production of the Storm studio, the drum machine cannot replace a real drummer (it is too "sparsely" programmed, same thing happens with early Septic Flesh and Necromantia releases) and the guitars should have a stronger sound. However this should not discourage a possible buyer, the music of the album is too good for someone to ignore; plus it is one of the few samples of real Melodic Black Metal before this genre degenerated into gay looking Iron-Maiden-with-Screams rock star wanabee bands.
Varathron are very much a greek sounding black metal band, having that distinctive hellenic magical feeling and both a clearly intelligent approach to songs and an obvious homage to good ole heavy metal. Unfortunately, this release is painful in the sense that it is very clear that Varathron have far from achieved their total potential. While the music on display here is ideologically more advanced than the "His Majesty At the Swamp" recording, the sound is worse...the guitars sounding muddy during the fast sections, the obviously computerized drums all but inaudible and the vocals distant and lifeless. There is a very smart sense of arrangement here, which makes the songs initially quite attractive, especially with all the clean guitar and synth intros, which are among the best written in the genre. "Casseopia's Ode" is the longest song here, and also one of the best..starting with a great slow clean guitar riff that builds tension, until suddenly a great and truly metal riff issues forth, and continues thus for a good part of the song. It's reppetitive, but it works, and will have you headbanging and contemplating mystic powers of old simultaneously, if that makes sense. Other powerful moments are liberally spiced through the album. However, I can't escape thinking that something here is missing..that Varathron have somehow been cheated of reaching the fullness they were aiming for. Perhaps it's the less than stellar sound, or something to do with the song writing, which although very intelligent, can tend to be cloyingly repetitive. Or perhaps I merely understand that Varathron have far greater capabilities and haven't at this point been able to realize them. Still, this is quite enjoyable...the ability these riffs possess to be both "metal as fuck" and very introspective and thoughtful simultaneously is quite impressive. The more I listen to this, too, the more depth I seem to see in it. There is clearly a huge amount of talent present in Varathron, a juggernaut that's waiting around the corner to surface. I haven't heard anything from them from a date later than this recording though, so it's entirely possible that they no longer exist. Ah well....this is decidedly interesting and a very trademark "greek" album of black metal with lots of catchy, midpaced riffs harkening to much older bands, plenty of quiet, striking interludes and a tastefulness that undermines much of the theatrical drivel that passes for intelligence in black metal.
Anyone who thinks black metal is nothing but static and noise would cry if they heard Varathron. The melodic structure of the band's music transcends any such nonsensical tags - this is pure atmospheric darkness set to a traditional heavy metal framework and topped off with deep, hoarse growled/whispered vocals. The riffwork is simultaneously flowing yet wickedly sharp, alternating between lurching, stabbing groove and liquid chord progressions over relentless drumming. A dark, gloomy feel permeates the entire album, accentuated by occasional subtle synth melodies and acoustic breaks.
"Tleilaxu (The Unborn Child) and the 8-minute epic "Cassiopeia's Ode" set things off to a fine start - the former being a pure statement of intent, with a main riff that will stick in your head for days. The second is somewhat slower, proceeding at the pace of a funeral march. The guitar work contains plenty of tasty accents and string-bends, offset by well-timed tempo changes. The gloomy feel never lets up, giving the album a noticable aspect of doom-metal influence amidst the overall blackness. Other highlights include the blistering "Under The Sight Of Horus", which is possibly the centrepiece of this disc. "Birthrise Of The Graven Image" is no slouch either, and provides an extra dose of aggression. Overall, there's 7 epic black metal tunes and 2 atmospheric instrumentals ("Redeunt Saturnia Regna" and "Sic transit Gloria Mundi" which provide coda's for "Birthrise..." and "Somewhere Beyond Seas".
Extra mention should be given to the lyics, which are far from being the conceived norm of "Satan, rape Jesus in the arse, bring forth legions of hell" that several bands which will remain unnamed have convinced many are the staple lyrical formula for this genre. The stories (yes, stories) told in these songs are taken from various sources of ancient mythology - Mediterranean, mostly, but also touching on Egyptian tales and apocalyptic themes. Unfortunately, the album is completely out of print as far as I know, but if you happen to see it anywhere, don't hesitate to pick it up. It's well worth the investment.