The Crimson Temple by Varathron

Release date: December 1, 2023
Label: Agonia Records

A question frequently asked of bands with a 35-year history is this: do they have anything left in the tank? On The Crimson Temple, Varathron provides a resounding answer in the affirmative. Through 46 minutes of rousing Hellenic black metal, often soaring in scope and solidly melodic throughout, listeners are reminded why the Greek masters are still packing venues across the globe, as they demonstrated on the recent ‘Incursion of Chaos in America tour in 2023. Their seventh full-length release (the first in 5 years) serves up just the right blend of melody, blasting drums, chaotic riffs, and the hallmark growl of the band’s founding member and vocalist, Stefan Necroabyssious.

The album opens with the instrumental piece ‘Ascension’, meant to set a mood and orient the listener, taking on a rich and epic scope. While such intro pieces can be tedious on occasion, here the band crafts a piece striking a nice balance between atmospherics and indulgence. In many ways, the opener recalls how their first full-length, His Majesty at the Swamp (1993), started with an instrumental. But whereas that initial full-length then turned toward the midtempo majesty of ‘Son of the Moon (Act II)’, the new album dives headlong into ferocity with the blast-beats that mark ‘Hegemony of Chaos’. The song displays the melodic elements frequently found in Varathron’s classics, such as ‘Cassiopeia’s Ode’. The track also incorporates traditional instrumentation in its midsection to great effect. The band uses some interesting changes throughout, keeping the song from becoming repetitive but never so complex as to lose a central driving flow. It’s a great example of how keyboards can be effectively incorporated into extreme metal (as the band has been showing us for decades). Exploring themes of chaos, darkness, and evil, the song is an excellent addition to the band’s catalog.

‘Crypts in the Mist’, the album’s third song, is one of the catchiest black metal pieces I’ve heard in some time, including a chorus that stuck with me for days and I expect will be chanted by crowds at many upcoming festivals. With lyrics that speak of summoning forbidden gods and the spread of chaos and disease, we are trodding on the familiar ground of black metal lore. The song also contains some interesting lead work at the very conclusion, showing a subtle mastery by guitarist Achilleas (one gets the sense he could easily rip off Vai-esque solos if they fit the song). ‘Cimmerian Priesthood’ is a song centring on dark rituals and the worship of malevolent entities. Another driving composition, it’s an excellent showcase of the contrast between Necroabyssious’s classic snarl and a driving and memorable melodic guitar line at the heart of the song, in true Varathron style.

 

‘Sinners of the Crimson Temple’ is a mid-tempo banger that leans on more solid and restrained lead work to drive the song forward. The song speaks of a kingdom of night ruled by a devourer, bringing tremors, demises, and unbearable realisations to life. The overall atmosphere is one of darkness, perversion, and impending doom. The song concludes with a fading-out keyboard, as if providing the listener with a slight pause to catch one’s breath before ‘Immortalis Regnum Diaboli’. This song’s start is freneticism defined, picking up the pace of the album considerably. The song also contains another chorus worthy of chanting along to live: “Sworn to Him, Sworn Within”. What’s more, the song contains an interesting melodic section incorporating a beautiful female voice to act like a siren calling one to the rocks of despair.

‘To the Gods of Yore’ is a wonderful down-tempo song with an almost doomy feeling (honestly, I could almost picture Candlemass playing the opening section). Again, this song shows off some nice lead work throughout that emphasises feel and melody over speed. It also continues Varathron’s employment of a broader range of instrumentation, including the use of varied percussion and keyboards, to help paint an overall atmosphere of dread. ‘Shrouds of the Miasmic Winds’ picks up the pace while still firmly rooted in a strong melodic sensibility. Here we get a sense of defiance against the ancient gods, with a focus on chaos and grief. The chorus section is almost cinematic in its scope and feel and highlights the excellent bass playing of Stratis.

‘Swamp King’ is, simply put, driving mid-tempo awesomeness defined! Feeling somehow more punchy than the other tracks, it still manages to contain one of the most mesmerising and interesting melodic sections of the album. It also contains another chorus that will undoubtedly be chanted along to during live performances. This song is, in some ways, Varathron recognising and paying respects to its own history (just look at the song’s title and think about it). ‘Constellation of the Archons’ is the longest and most epic song on the album, providing a perfect conclusion to a sonic journey. A beautiful section with acoustic guitars and keyboards provides a wonderful counterpoint to the exploration of darkness, chaos, and the arcane provided by Necroabyssious. More subtle and well-crafted lead work runs throughout the song, enriched by Gregorian chanting and orchestration.

The Crimson Temple is a solid release from one of the founders of Hellenic black metal. This is not the stripped-down/DIY approach of their initial masterworks, His Majesty at the Swamp and Walpirgisnacht (1995) (why merely ape one’s past after all?). The songs may seem embellished, for some, with sections more about creating atmospherics through melodic flourishes than serving to propel the song in some formulaic “raw” black metal direction. However, it has always been Varathron’s willingness to blend the chaotic and the melodic that helped define its sound from its inception. Seen in this light, the album can be understood as a logical progression from its predecessor, Patriarchs of Evil. It roots itself in the power and intensity of black metal while seeking to incorporate novel instrumentation and song structures/melodies.  It is, in essence, true Varathron, through and through.

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