Less than 12 months after the release of last year’s mighty black dirge Untrodden Corridors of Hades it’s difficult to imagine what little unfinished business Varathron might have at this point in time. Particularly with the band’s sixth full-length on the horizon. But in what is turning out to be an increasingly characteristic bout of creativity – Varathron’s habit of firing out splits in recent years has clearly become one the band is finding hard to break – this EP contains four live tracks and three new ones. Strike while the iron is hot I suppose. Untrodden Corridors was a release that’s proving to be a bit of a landmark for the band and perhaps this surge of activity may yet see these perennial underground stalwarts shambling further into the light.
The new tracks on Confessional of the Black Penitents could very easily have been lifted from last year’s release so fans of that should be happy. The title track more or less serves as an intro with some building, tribal drums and ominous guitar picking which more or less then bleeds into the next track. Sinister Recollections stands shoulder to shoulder with anything on Untrodden Corridors with its surging, steady pace and undulating riffs. Stefan Necroabyssious’ rough vocals compete nicely with soaring solos and the picked guitar melody ebbs in an out of the track creating that feeling of poised threat that was one of the defining elements of Untrodden Corridors. The third track – appropriately called Utter Blackness – begins at pace and then plays out like one of Necroabyssious’s familiar black sermons, heading off down even darker paths to display the band at its bleakest, blackest best.
In case you were wondering whether the studio tracks or the live tracks are what is providing the filler here – well, neither is the truth. You could argue that after the three decent new tracks the live tracks feel a little superfluous. But they’re a nice EP bonus and the driving riffs of Unholy Funeral (from debut His Majesty at the Swamp) had me kicking myself for missing the band on its last London visit. The other three live tracks, two of which are from other early 90s releases and the other from Untrodden Corridors of Hades, are all solid and show the glint of Varathron’s razor sharp live edge even if they’re not entirely essential listening.
I’d like to be able to advise you to save your money and wait for the next full length. But this is a band on excellent form shrugging off its past glories to find battles anew. Varathron is busy at the moment and forging anew its distinctive, evocative sound that rolls forth like an eerie mist through a black mass. Anyone who wants to come along for the ride won’t want to miss this.
(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)