Anyone who hasn’t been following events with the mighty Varathron – shame on you. For anyone that has welcome back to the unholy mass that can only be modern day Varathron in all its Hellenic black metal glory. These Greek stalwarts are often mentioned alongside Rotting Christ and Necromantia as being originators of the now familiar Greek sound. They turned in two classics of the mid-nineties followed by a steady trickle of releases (including the underrated Crowsreign and the rightly respected Stygian Forces of Scorn) before the decadent but chaotic black metal ceremony that was 2014’s Untrodden Corridors of Hades which reaffirmed the band’s position at the top echelons of the Greek scene with an album that recharged the band’s sound. Rather than ploughing into a repeat of that arcane and atmospheric furrow, which could so easily have been done judging by album teaser Ouroboros Dweller, which lead most of us to believe we were heading for Untrodden Corridors part 2, it seems Varathron have spread their leathery black wings and taken flight into what can only be described as a journey into the very essence of Greek black metal.
Bring on the mournful, soaring guitar solos, Necroabyssious’s craggy and prophetic vocals and the distant choral sounds. Bring on grievous bass guitars, hellish riffs and atmospheres so dark they have their own gravitational pull. Patriarchs of Evil manages to unify not just Varathron’s back catalogue but parcels up the rest of Hellenic black metal while it’s at it into one 46 minute blast that leaves me thinking of mid-period Rotting Christ, Zemial and as well as more recent Greek fare – in particular Macabre Omen. But few achieve what Varathron can when the sacrificial fires are burning hot. First track Tenebrous is like a thundering hymn to dark forces returning from battle. Like most of the tracks, it has wonderfully catchy elements but resists the temptation to rest on such gaudy laurels as it almost immediately sheds the initial folk-infused riff for a violent and riotous chorus that casts an entirely different – and very Varathron – dimension to the track. It leaves us in an entirely different place when the track fades and is the perfect opening track to usher in the gothic assault that follows. The next seven tracks are a heady mix of triumphant uproar and vile ceremony as Varathron tear trough a sinister celebration like a band only just reaching its stride. Some tracks, notably Remnants of the Dark Testament, could have been lifted from Untrodden Corridors while others like Hellwitch (Witches Gathering) and Saturnian Sect erupt with dark adrenaline pumping power helping to produce an album which stands as both veneration to the past and devotion to the future.
Patriarchs of Evil is Varathron unleashed. And even though some of the tracks walk a delicate line between shifting black metal song structures and some forcefully delivered moments of simplicity, Necroabyssious and crew somehow manage to manufacture the calculating formula as if every moment of the album has been created by some iniquitous spell. Whereas too many albums these days can be criticised for being overlong, self indulgent or even just a bit dull, Patriarchs of Evil left me hungering for more. But it’s not that this not deliver. More that Varathron have conjured up the sound of an album so complete than could have continued on an on. All I can think is Christ-knows what was left on the cutting room floor. Otherwise I’d have to believe that this slab of Hellenic perfection was created, each and every note, in the image of its creators. Either would be a testament to a good band. A Luciferian Mystical Awakening indeed. All hail Varathron – pretenders to the Hellenic throne and still in the vanguard after 30 years.
(8.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)