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For the Glory of UR is the first full-length album from the Hellenic black metal band known as Zemial, coming four years after the Sleeping Under Tartarus E.P. Released by Hypervorea in 1996, this L.P. showcased a style of playing quite unlike the rest of their peers. The Greek sound, typified by the likes of Rotting Christ, Varathron and Necromantia, is absent here. In this case, the band's inspiration seems to have come from the north, as their approach is much more in line with Bathory and Darkthrone than with their own country mates.
The album starts with "The Blood Unbinds the Dragon", an intro that sounds like something from a horror movie. Even this instrumental is dynamic and features a decent amount of development as the moments of dread are interspersed with brief interludes of serenity.
"The Tears That Wet Gethsemane" is the first proper song, and it bursts forth with intensity. Musically, this keeps to the northern black metal style, featuring fast drumming, tremolo melodies and raspy vocals. The sound is rather thin, as well, which suits the material just fine. There are hints of Darkthrone and Celtic Frost influences, but nothing too transparent.
The next song witnesses a shift from the grim atmosphere of the first track to a more epic feeling, reminiscent of Viking-era Bathory. "Battle on the Norse Mountains" is more mid-paced and features lyrics about the Norse gods, which may seem strange for a Greek band. The vocals still retain the same harsh sound, which compliments the music. The song gets more epic as it progresses, with a slight touch of synth to accentuate the atmosphere, before finishing out with an old school rhythm.
"Gathering Under the Red Moon / Apophis - The Serpent Self" is a more straightforward track, consisting of raw and primitive thrash riffs, hearkening back to the ugliness of early Sodom. To hear a band still utilizing the old style of black metal, combined with the Second Wave sound, is quite pleasing. The song concludes with hypnotic tremolo riffs, followed by a decent guitar solo.
This is followed by "Sleeping Under Tartarus", which sounds exactly like the version on the 1992 E.P. The only difference is that it seems to have been remastered, eliminating some of the hissing and static from the master tape. If this is not the case, then they did an excellent job re-recording the song in such an accurate manner.
"The Scourge of the Kingdom" seems to be the same as the last track, simply lifted from the old E.P. and cleaned up a little bit. Strange that, after so many years, the band could only find time to write and re-cord four new songs.
Thankfully, the re-released version of this album contains a couple of extra tracks, "Nocturnal Witch" and a cover of Bathory's "Armageddon", both of which possessing an old school black / thrash feeling and fitting in well with the rest of the material.
Zemial is a bit of a disappointment, just for the lengthy periods of inactivity. A band with such a good grasp of what black metal is all about should have been recording a new album each year or so. As it regards For the Glory of UR, this is not necessarily the record for you if typical Hellenic black metal is what you seek. Nonetheless, this is pure and uncompromising black metal that mixes the approach of the ancient ones with the northern techniques, to create something memorable and worthy of anyone's collection.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Due to their involvement in other black metal projects like the lauded Agatus, the brothers of Zemial have not exactly made a prolific show of this project. In fact, For the Glory of UR is one of only two full-length releases the band has manifest in well over 20 years of on and off existence, and even though they had struck relatively early with their Sleeping Under Tartarus EP in 1992, they sort of missed the train in the ensuing years, while peers Varathron, Rotting Christ and Necromantia were releasing their most vital albums and broaching an international appeal. Redemption would arrive to some extent with this 1996 debut, but even here the band do not exhibit the typical traits of the Greek scene, and For the Glory of UR has ultimately wallowed in obscurity.
But that's not because it's a bad record. It's simply not all that distinct when compared to what else was happening on the European map. Like Agatus, Zemial bore a predisposition towards the Northern European sound, so you can hear clear traces of Mayhem, Burzum, Bathory and Darkthrone playing out through the black metal tracks. The compositional elements to these tracks are far more simple than Agatus, with a predictable and primitive flow through "The Tears That Wet Gethsemane" or "Gathering Under the Red Moon". However, what I enjoy here is the slight surge of traditional heavy/speed metal you can hear through a number of the tracks, like the fist raging "Battle on the Norse Mountains", or the ripping Bathory tones inherent to "The Scourge of the Kingdom" (taken from the EP), or the bonus track "Nocturnal Witch". Actually, if you've got the edition with the bonus tracks, they even turn in a half-decent rendition of the track "Armageddon" from the self-titled Bathory in 1984.
One distinction between this and the 1992 EP is that the use of keyboards is not so prevalent in most of the metal compositions. They've got a pretty sweet ambient intro "The Blood Unbinds the Dragon" with some cute, synthesized flutes that surge into a dark, brooding pomp, and they also appear once more through the mystique of "Apophis - The Serpent Self", but this time out they've chosen to let most of the guitars tear along without the backing support. This lends the album a little credibility for fans of the total guitar approach, even if the riffs themselves are pretty stripped down. The vocals here are also really nice, channeling a little Varg or Quorthon with the relevant drizzle of malevolence. For the Glory of UR might be your stock black metal record at the middle of the 90s, admittedly all-too-brief and basic, with no subtlety involved whatsoever, and a few redundancies (the track "Sleeping Under Tartarus" is also re-recorded here), but it still sounds sinister and sincere 15 years later.
What can really be said about this album? "It's greek black metal", pretty much sums it up right there. Oddly enough, these guys apparently moved to Australia for some reason or other from their native Helas. At any rate, this sounds very much Rotting Christ influenced, particularly in the ocasional use of atmosphere-bolstering synthesizers and the infrequent fast bits. There isn't the thrashiness that is clearly present in old RC's music though. Zemial go more for a straightly played approach, without all the palm muting and whatnot, and it works rather well. I guess this band no longer exists, and perhaps this is indicative of their lack of original ideas....but hell, this album is really short and manages to be enjoyable throughout. There is a certain intelligence present in greek black metal, coupled with constant reminders that metal is a musical style with a history and mythology, and did not begin with Scandinavia. The intro has a classy feel to it, reminding me, for some reason, of some of fellow Greek band Septic Flesh's neoclassical instrumentals. From this, one might be led to expect something a little more complex...but Zemial quickly get down to their simplistic but effective formula of black metal, with a guitar sawing between close chords in hypnotic yet sometimes powerful riffs. The only surprise among these short songs is the unexpected tribal drum and sitar (??) break in "Gathering Under the Red Moon", which is damn cool. Oh yes, and the guitar and drum sounds are great too....kind of thin in an 80s sort of way. The oldschool touches are what I think I like most about this album. "Nocturnal Witch" sounds like the first Bathory record (and they clearly love that album, as they also cover "Armageddon" on here) and my favourite song, "Sleeping Under Tartaros" starts with some midpaced, catchy metal riffing before leaping into some rapid single note picked melody. There is a genuine feeling to be tasted on this album, and its one that, should you be willing to explore it, reveals itself to be a musical exploration of something occult, mysterious and ancient....adjectives that are no doubt overused in black metal and its reviews, but which one shouldn't be able to help but apply with reference to Zemial's music. Fans of Rotting Christ and Varathron in particular should be interested in this. It's not the best greek BM release out there, but it is a fine addition to anyone who has been impressed with the work of the Helenic hordes.