The Crimson Temple
Review by Vladimir on November 17, 2023.
Hellenic black metal scene gave us a lot of amazing bands like Rotting Christ, Thou Art Lord, Zemial, Necromantia, Yoth Iria, Kawir, all of which still hold up to this day, including the band which I will be covering today, Varathron. The band has been active for a total of 35 years and has achieved a cult status among fans of Greek black metal, while also managing to stay relevant and still be regarded as highly influential. As of recently, they’ve announced that they are coming back with their seventh full-length album The Crimson Temple, which is due to be released on December 1st via Agonia Records. Without wasting any time, let us enter the crimson temple and see what awaits inside…
The album starts with an instrumental opener track 'Ascension', building up the tension with some Greek folk music that has a very spartan-like feel to it. Following up with the next track 'Hegemony Of Chaos' and onwards, their music is still rooted in the use of aggressive black metal with tremolo riffs, guitar melodies, wall breaking drums and shouting vocals by Stefan Necroabyssious. There seems to be a frequent use of guitar melodies on this album, which essentially gives the musical direction a very unusual and unexpected spin, going from barbarically aggressive to catchy and melodic. This well-executed transition and the overall use of melodies contribute a lot to the dynamics of the songs, giving the sharp edges of the riffs some power and magic to convey various emotions from one section to another. As previously mentioned, they incorporated some Greek folk music elements with acoustic instrumentation, along with some epic choir backing vocals and keyboards to widen the horizon of the world that the songs themselves create. This was put into use very well on the sixth track 'Immortalis Regnum Diaboli', which is in my opinion much more atmospheric than the rest of the album. The overall musical direction at first seems very simple and straightforward, but after a while it surprisingly turns out that it is much more well-thought and complex than expected, using so many epic elements that take the music to a whole new level. Varathron has always been great at creating a very powerful atmosphere in their music, and this album is certainly no exception, especially since the song structure is filled with these various ideas that make the entire output richer and stronger than anything they’ve previously done. It is very hard to describe the album in its entirety other than “otherworldly and powerful”, which is quite impressive for a veteran band such as Varathron to come out with something so grand and epic. Something that also contributes a lot to the atmosphere of this album and the overall imagination of what comes to one’s mind when listening to the music, is the hellish and apocalyptic cover art by Paolo Girardi that fits perfectly with the general feeling of The Crimson Temple. The album’s sound production done by the band’s guitarist Achilleas Κalantzis is very top notch with an excellent quality that keeps both the instrumentals and vocals on a high bar.
Although I was a bit skeptical at first, in the end I found myself left amazed with what Varathron delivered on this album. The Crimson Temple is an absolute blast of an album that completely blew me away and brought me back all the way back to the years when I was religiously listening to the great Greek black metal bands. There have been many other ambitious works of black metal that got such recognition from the dedicated fans of this genre, and The Crimson Temple definitely deserves its spot among those releases. After being left with such positive impression of Varathron’s newest output, I guess it’s safe to say that many great things are happening within the world of Hellenic black metal, especially since we are also patiently waiting for Rotting Christ to come out with their new album next year. By the time this album is released on December 1st, and you end up being one of many that dared to enter The Crimson Temple, then you have undoubtedly been mesmerized by the wonders that you have stumbled upon.
Rating: 9.2 out of 10903
Review by Michael on November 14, 2023.
Well, I think it is time to read some ancient Greek drama again. This was my first thought when I listened to The Crimson Temple for the first time. Starting with a really theatrical intro to summon the ancient spirits, Varathron creates a really intense lesson in classic Greek black metal.
On their already 7th long player they mix together all the trademarks that make black metal from Greece very special and outstanding. Stefan Necroabyssious' vocals sound as rough and sinister as are known from him although it is notable that he tries to sing along with the tunes a little bit more than on the previous albums. Sometimes the music is pretty harsh and fast, filled with some blast beats and tremolo-picked guitars but the main focus lies on more melodic stuff. So the guys always weave some catchy parts and huge surprises into the songs and make them appear like a trip on the Styx. Sometimes it is calm and dark, sometimes rough and foaming. A song like 'Crypt In The Mist' is a raging, fast-forwarding song which nevertheless has a majestic chorus and some epic riffs in it. 'Cimmerian Priesthood' (am I the only one who hears 'Fear Of The Dark' in the repetitive opening riff???) is another neck-breaking song with a fantastic vocal line which appears to be more a stage play than anything else. The riffing is really heavy and dense and these two elements make this song live. 'Immortalis Regnum Diaboli' is the most black metalish song on the album. Kicking off with some very fast drums and guitars they even would sound pretty much like orthodox black metal if the keyboards wouldn't underline it. Sometimes they even sound a little bit punkish and all that is very heavy for Varathron.
But there are also some slower, more atmospheric songs like 'Sinners Of The Crimson Temple'. On this song they sound pretty similar to their countrymen Rotting Christ when they released their last really fully convincing album “Triarchy Of The Lost Lovers”. Fantastic guitar solos and some catchy melodies let you dive deep into the story and create this special atmosphere that only Greek bands can create. Another very epic song that lives from its keyboard arrangements is 'Shroud Of The Miasmic Winds'. Not slow but very atmospheric and rousing they composed some very hypnotic and partly repetitive melodies that will haunt you. Sometimes the riffing is so brutal it almost could be classified as death metal, also the 'Satanas' grunts match really well with these lower tuned guitars. Well, but there is also one song, namely the closer of the album – 'Constellation Of The Archons' – which became a little bit too long and not too exciting in my opinion. The song is a slow creeping one with a nice acoustic intermezzo but before and after that, almost nothing happens. The melodies are repetitive and monotonous and I am sorry to say that but this is pretty uninspired.
Nevertheless Varathron has created a very strong album with The Crimson Temple at least I have pretty much fun listening to the album. Nocte Obducta served us figs and dark beer on their latest album, Varathron served greek honey and ouzo.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10903
Review by Fernando on November 13, 2023.
Varathron needs very little introduction, one of the big three of Hellenic black metal alongside Rotting Christ and the late great Necromantia. The band’s story is well known, and for over 30 years, frontman Stefan Necroabyssious has kept this cult going strong. Near the end of 2023, the band will unleash their seventh opus The Crimson Temple, and with this, they continue to prove their standing and secure their legacy in the pantheon of Greek metal forevermore.
If you know Varathron, then you know what to expect of their brand of Hellenic black metal greatness. Triumphant riffing, epic atmospheres, melodies that evoke the classicism of the great Greek composers, and a strong reverence for the likes of Iron Maiden, Manowar, as well the great progressive and psychedelic Greek bands. On that note, this record is the band’s most epic and progressive yet. The melodies and use of keyboards and Gregorian styled choirs give the album that distinct Greek vibe and sound, but it also pushes the album into grandiose lengths, all the while the band still sound as dark and gritty as they did in 1993, albeit with a production that enriches and empowers their music.
While Necroabyssious is still the main man in the band, with his distinct demonic sermon like growls, a lot of praise has to be given to his bandmates and their longest running contributors guitarist and keyboardist Achilleas C. (who also produced the record) and the brothers guitarist Sotiris and drummer Haris, and alongside bassist since 2012, Stratos Kountouras. This lineup is as important to the band as Necroabyssious and this is the lineup responsible for the band’s best period since the early 90’s, and The Crimson Temple, alongside their 2018 masterpiece Patriarchs Of Evil, can easily stand alongside the monuments that are His Majesty At The Swamp and Walpurgisnacht.
And speaking of the band’s lineup, to say their individual skills on their instruments are excellent would be to undersell them, so instead I’ll talk about what may be the album’s most striking moments, their use of traditional Hellenic instruments and elements. The intro track ‘Ascension’ is a very good first teaser of the album’s folk instrumentation, but then the band surprise you with the strings on ‘Hegemony Of Chaos’ and later on the instrumental folk breakdowns on ‘Immortalis Regnum Diaboli’ and ‘To The Gods Of Yore’ which are maddeningly danceable and catchy without betraying the band’s heaviness and darkness. The second to last track ‘Swamp King’ does that same folk breakdown but, instead of being danceable it sound mystical and contemplative. All that to say that the band masterfully incorporated traditional Hellenic music into their black metal, and do so seamlessly and perfectly in line with the rest of the music, and the track where all of it comes together in a glorious conclusion with more atmospheric flourishes is the closing track ‘Constellation Of The Archons’, a seven and a half minute masterpiece of a song that perfectly encapsulates all of the album’s best moments, their folkish instrumentation, the classic metal riffing and solos, the arcane atmospheres and progressive leanings.
By the way, if all those eclectic elements sound a bit far fetched, the band still manage to have classic Hellenic black metal the way they do best and without bells and whistles to satisfy anyone in the black metal underground, so there’s no need to fret as the band expertly covered all their bases. And as such, there’s very little to nothing to complain here, Varathron are simply one of a kind, and are one of the very few bands that can take black metal and make it widescreen and don’t fail in the process.
Rating: 10 out of 10903