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Like their peers Rotting Christ and Septic Flesh, Zemial were yet another of those formative Greek extremities surrounding the creative efforts of a pair of brothers: Chris and Dimitrius Kokiousis, known here as Nocturnal and Necrosauron. Yes, there was an entire necro- club happening in this scene. However, Zemial is arguably the most qualified to bear the prefix, because while comparisons could be drawn to the earlier works of Rotting Christ, this is the act most closely related to the raw, rasping sounds coming from the northern European territories, or rather, the most intimately drawn from the influences of Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Bathory, and so forth that were prevalent during the 2nd wave's rise to prominence.
That said, Zemial were formed nearly as early on as their counterparts in Varathron and Rotting Christ, at the end of the 80s, and produced a handful of demos before getting a shot at their own 7" inauguration: Sleeping Under Tartarus. There are some passing similarities in these three tracks to those of Passage to Arcturo, in terms of tempo and composition, but the brothers focused more intently on open chords with a primal, sawing guitar tone and vocals more along the line of Quorthon than Sakis Tolis. Simple synthesizers are imbued to the simple riffing patterns in the title track, to create a haunting repetition. The drums are in general very basic, shuffled rock beats that rarely pick up in intensity outside of the occasional shift towards a mid paced acceleration, but in general they crash along as slowly as the rest of the writing.
Of the three tunes on the EP, I believe "Falling into the Absu" is the most appealing. The titular "Sleeping Under Tartarus" and raging closer "The Scourge of the Kingdom" both suffice as early examples of their genre, but "Falling..." has a more doomed sway to it, an eloquent exultation created through the severe, rasping drawl of the vocals and the guitar melodies, not to mention the drums are just more interesting through the groove and fills. When one considers just how many echoes the grueling and primitive Burzum, Hellhammer, Bathory and Darkthrone have created down through the decades, though, Zemial seemed fairly fresh and authentic, an obscure band of grim elder statesmen who, while not particularly innovative, were well ahead of the herd that followed. Sleeping Under Tartarus is about as interesting as Passage to Arcturo: not exactly overflowing with moments of musical magnificence, but evocative of that unshakable nostalgia and vile sincerity that stalks the earlier cults within the medium.
Sleeping Under Tartarus is the first official release from the Hellenic Black Metal band Zemial. This E.P. was released in 1992, by Torched Records. It was limited to only 1000 copies. Though being one of the earliest bands in the scene, Zemial joins the likes of Thou Art Lord, Legion of Doom, Agatus and others, in forming the second wave of Hellenic bands that I discovered, thanks to a good friend of mine in Larissa. Again, I had little idea of what I was to experience, as I first listened. All I could imagine was that I'd hear more of the standard Rotting Christ / Varathron rhythms. This one, of course, surprised me.
"Sleeping Under Tartarus" has, somewhat, of a slow build before it gets going. There is a faint hint of keyboards, but the song is driven by the fuzzy and distorted, mid-paced guitar riffs. The sounds is a bit on the necro side of things, though the playing is top-notch. There's a great lead solo, as the song nears the half-way point. The pacing is very reminiscent of classic Bathory, and could have just as easily come from Scandinavia as from Hellas. There are a decent amount of old school drum beats thrown in. In the latter half, there's a nice cold riff that doesn't truly send chills up your spine, only because of the 'warm' production. Still, the bitter cold feeling tried to fight through this warmth.
The next song is "Falling Into the Absu", which definitely has more of the Greek vibe. It's mid-paced with a lot of drum fills and a very memorable rhythm. The vocals, as with the previous song, are kind of buried in the fuzzy production, but they aren't too low, by any means. There's an epic feling to this piece, despite being relatively short. Again, the keyboards make a brief appearance, only to accentuate the atmosphere already being created by the rest of the instruments. The whispered vocals add some eerie feeling to the song, being done quite well.
This E.P. ends with "The Scourge of the Kingdom", which possesses a faster tempo than the last track. It consists of fairly fast drumming, that alternates from almost blasting to a more mid-paced feel. The guitars, naturally, go from the faster tremolo-picked riffs to more relaxed chords. Of course, the song is quite dynamic and flows back and forth, with ease. As with the other songs, some cold melodies attempt to break through the warm sound. While the freezing effect is never achieved, the riffs are memorable. Quite a feat for such a brief song.
With my lack of knowledge of this musical scene, it's impossible for me to say just how much of an impact Sleeping Under Tartarus had, but considering the quality of the material and the year it was released, I'd have to imagine that it had a decent impact back then. Seek this out, if at all possible.