Having sated my thirst for Scandinavian black metal with a hefty and ever growing collection of albums from Emperor to Darkthrone to Tsjuder, I found myself drawn more and more to the US scene where Nachtmystium, Absu, Cobalt and latterly Cormorant were added to my now heaving shelves. An area I had yet to delve into was the Hellenic hordes so often deemed to be crowned by the marvellous Rotting Christ. Having seen the always knowledgeable Arthur Von Nagel (formerly of the mighty Cormorant) say “if you like RC you will love Varathron” I was firmly instructed to check out “Stygian Forces Of Scorn”.
A wise, if wallet-damaging, recommendation – as I was immediately compelled to purchase it and the rest of their back-catalogue such was its impact. With such a high bar set by that album and a lengthy wait for this release, my expectations are high.
25 years on from their “Procreation Of The Unaltered Evil” demo, Varathron have evolved their sound but not their message or motive. Remaining as dark, malodious and sinister as ever, the album opens with choral chants, eclectic percussion and then guitars ring out with slow discordant menace. ‘Kabalistic Invocation Of Solomon’ isn’t the barrage one would expect, but nevertheless it is a weighty and brooding welcome back into their hellish world. Reminiscent of hearing the initial few bars of ‘South Of Heaven’ when the last thing you’d heard from your favourite satanic thrashers was ‘Raining Blood’, it is wonderfully unsettling.There is less immediate ferocity here, but a new sense of dread and nausea.
As the dust settles on the first track, ‘Realm Of Obscure’ flickers into life like Karloff‘s Mummy and soon pursues you down torchlit corridors ready to claim your soul. Their familiar melodic black metal onslaught arrives in haste and I’m uncontrollably air-drumming like a man possessed. “Arcane Conjuring” slows the gallop to a canter but is staggeringly ugly and thunders along with all the grim intent one would expect from such masters of their craft.
The subtle touches on the album, from the background vocals to the intricate and occasionally jazzy drum fills, remind you that this hasn’t been chucked together. An enormous amount of work has gone into crafting songs that offer up new horrors and delights with repeated listens. Satisfyingly the band have nailed their colours to the mast (well, a black tattered rag) by not feeling the need to labour the point with a dozen tracks and bonus filler as seems to be so prevalent amongst their peers these days. Seven unholy invocations (all clocking in at between 5 and 9 minutes) that leave a mark, but never leave you reaching to fast forward or skip, are the mark of a truly great album.
A slick (but not overly pro-tooled) production with huge presence helps the drums fill out the soundscape without becoming overpowering and the dirty rumble of the bass especially on tracks such as ‘The Bright Trapezium’ and closer ‘Delve Into The Past’ are a reminder that they don’t have to be buried in the mix “And Justice For All…” style as is often the case in this genre.
Having been less than impressed with (or devoid of) recent offerings from stalwarts such as Dimmu, Cradle, and Mayhem, this is sure to satisfy your thirst for Luciferian majesty and unearthly fury. A quarter century into their career, Varathron have perfectly sublimated every element of their sound into an almost perfect work. Erupting with fountains of torment and hideous woe yet slathered in cacophonous beauty, “Untrodden Corridors Of Hades” is the album that’s been growing inside them like Rosemary’s Baby for so long. The incubus emerges at last and it’s a fine specimen.