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Zemial is a band that has not quite sat still through the sparse schedule of releases they've produced over two decades, each representing a slight shift towards or away from the primal black metal aesthetics that first inspired them. So it's not a big surprise that the I Am the Dark EP sounds little like its predecessor, the majestic In Monumentum full-length, which was as much an epic heavy metal record as anything else. No, the two tracks present here probe back into the annals of time, to drag forth a raw, pumping, black thrash & roll element which seems like a cross-strain of Hellhammer, Bathory, Venom and perhaps even a bit of Mr. Kilminster. Then again, even between this pair of creations, there is a distinct variation...
"I Am the Dark" is pretty much what I described, a straight laced, black rocker with groovy blues rhythms. There's a nice, dark atmosphere here created by the reverb in the growling, carnal vocals, not to mention the thick guitar tone, but ultimately the chorus feels a bit 'common' and predictable like any given NWOBHM or archaic power metal piece. "Words from the Temple of Shadows", on the other hand, is a dirty, blunt speed/thrasher which is saved by its addictive use of samples and effects after the strong lead sequence, and the ensuing barrage of melodic percussion. Otherwise, it too might have suffered from a streak of familiarity that would hardly compel any further listening.
All told, though, it's not a bad mutation. Zemial has always grasped back into the depths of extreme metal's past for their inspiration, and even though this is not so glorious or keyboard laden as In Monumentum or their debut EP Sleeping Under Tartarus, it rocks just enough to maintain the attention span. Too bad that there wasn't just...'more' of it, and thus I Am the Dark becomes another collector piece more than something most will turn to in need of their Greek black fix. But it's nice that Archon Vorskaath cares enough about this band to keep updating it from time to time, even with such a short amount of output.
I remember the old Iron Maiden website containing a list with 100 Iron Maiden-themed jokes that made fun of all kinds of laws, clichés and other truths about metal. One of these funnies proclaimed the most improbable thing for a drummer to say would be “hey guys, let’s try one of my riffs!” Because clearly, drummers can’t write music for shit. Leave that to the charismatic guitar players and vocalists of this world. Drummers only do what other people tell them to do. The lemmings of metal, so to speak.
Apart from Darkthrone, there is not a single black metal band that provides better evidence of the above statement being total nonsense than Zemial. This may not be a completely fair example, as nearly every task in this band, be it the drums, the string work or the vocals, is taken care of by multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Dimitrius “Vorskaath” Dorian Kokiousis. Only his brother Chris (aka “Eskarth”) occasionally helps out with some additional string work and songwriting. Still, Vorskaath is above all a, dare I say, brilliant percussionist, and yet he has been writing some mighty fine music since the early 90s. Vorskaath has never attempted to hide his limitless admiration for Bathory, and a considerable chunk of Zemial’s work thus far was intended as a homage to this legendary Swedish project.
According to Vorskaath, however, his 2009 release I Am The Dark is supposed to be the final chapter in this long period of blatant but nonetheless awesome Bathory worshipping. The EP only contains two songs, I Am The Dark and Words From The Temple Of Shadows, the former of which is the most clearly influenced by Bathory. The rugget thrashy main riff and the comfortably loud drums are an obvious reference to Bathory’s earlier work, in which Quorthon mainly played raw, rancid and lo-fi thrash/black metal that would become a great inspirational factor for the Norwegian black metal scene of the early nineties. As such, the approach of I Am The Dark (the song) is not wholly surprising given the fact that it was apparently a track written by Eskarth for Zemial’s 2006 full-length Bathory ode In Monumentum which didn’t make the final cut. With its heavy old-school influence, the track doesn’t sound too original or revolutionary, but it’s still a joy to be thrown back to a far past, when black metal was still raw and pure, and the musicians didn’t try to cover up mediocre guitar riffs with slightly homo-erotic symphonic intervals and endless double bass drums that, as a result of noobtrigger overkill, sound more like a Down’s syndrome kid banging two marbels together during a seizure. (I trust you’re smart enough to figure this reference out by yourself.)
The second song, Words From The Temple Of Shadows, is special because it was originally a drum solo for which Vorskaath later wrote guitar riffs. This is still very noticeable, because contrarily to the rather elemental first track, Vorskaath shows off his skills as a percussionist throughout the entire song. Another interesting aspect of this composition is its focus on rhythm over melody, something which is not too common in the genre seeing as even metal drummers often start with composing the guitar riffs when they write a song (such as Fenriz Holy Fenriz). That being said, Words From The Temple Of Shadows does have some very solid riffs, with the bass guitar in particular sticking out due to the excellent production.
Even though it’s kind of a given for an EP, the biggest problem of I Am The Dark is its length. I don’t recall exactly how much money I paid for this record, but it would have been around 10 euros, not counting the undoubtedly high shipping and insurance costs that are an obligatory aspect of online mailorders. The release does come with a fancy picture LP, a poster and a truly beautiful packaging with all kinds of interesting information, but clocking in at just over 7 minutes of music, it’s debatable whether this was the best way of spending such an amount of money. I nevertheless think that Zemial fans will not want to pass up on this LP. Especially Words From The Temple Of Shadows might very well be the best song of the band to date, and the EP in general is yet another step into the right direction after this Greek powerhouse already delivered the noteworthy full-length In Monumentum in 2006. Not to mention that beauty always comes at a price.
(originally written for https://degtyarov.wordpress.com/)