Varathron - Interview
With recently released superb album "The Crimson Temple" Greek black metal legends Varathron push the Greek-style black metal to new extremes (read reviews here). Varathron is now celebrating their 35th (!) anniversary, so I thought that it was the right time to interview the band and ask about their past, the actual album and of course about some plans for near future. Achilleas (bass, git.) and Stefan (voc.) were kind to answer my questions - enjoy reading!
Hails Stefan and Achilleas, how are you doing?
Hey brother, doing great!
With "The Crimson Temple" you celebrate your 35th band anniversary. Are you proud of what you've achieved in the worldwide black metal scene since the beginnings in the 80s?
Stefan: It was 1988 when I, Mutilator and Spyros gathered to rehearse and decided to create a new kind of band that would be darker, heavier and more evil than any other band in Greece back then! I'm proud not only because Varathron are the first black metal band coming from Greece but also of my passion and dedication to the band, sacrificing everything to keep the name alive through difficult times and countless lineup changes. I'm more than proud that today Varathron are thriving and after 35 years of existence we release our greatest works and perform live better than ever!
On the album you have a lot of Greek folklore sounds. How important is Greek culture and ancient inheritance for you?
Achilleas: Well, it's not only Greek folklore. It's a mixture of Middle Eastern and Greek elements. At times it's not even something specific. We use these elements and instruments to build a ritualistic and mystical atmosphere. For example, the intro of the album entitled 'Ascension' uses a much war driven traditional rhythm with a combination of instruments you wouldn't expect to find in any traditional music of this kind. It's a very cinematic approach. History and traditional culture is in our DNA and whether we want it or not these kinds of influences have always and will continue to be in our music.
Apart from folklore you have some traditional heavy metal influences like the opening riff in 'Cimmerian Priesthood' that reminds me pretty much of 'Fear Of The Dark' by Iron Maiden. Am I right with this suggestion?
Achilleas: Never thought of it that way but that's a very strong point and observation!
Stefan: Heavy metal is what I grew up with and it's in my blood! Our music is based on classic heavy metal all the way and we never denied that!
In this song you also deal with some ancient cultures. If I am not totally wrong the Cimmerians were horse people that threatened Greek cities in Anatolia. What is the connection (apart from Greek history) to black metal?
Stefan: This particular song refers to an Ancient Dark Brotherhood who worshiped the darkness. "CIMMERIAN" is a poetic term used by poets during the Victorian Era. It denotes the absolute black and dark abysmal feeling that dominates the souls of people. It is not related to the ancient Cimmerian race which is indeed a legendary historical race.
What would you describe as the most obvious musical influences that make out Varathron?
Stefan: From the first steps of founding the band our influences were BATHORY, VENOM, CELTIC FROST, HELLHAMMER, MORBID ANGEL, MERCYFUL FATE, DEATH, SARCOFAGO and more! They were the bands we listened to and covered their tracks in the rehearsals we did with the first bands we had.
What is the 'Crimson Temple' and Xnarth who is mentioned in 'The Sinners Of The Crimson Temple'?
Stefan: The concept of the album referred to as the purple temple is a temple – an altar of innocent souls at the altar of the Dark Abyssal God. It is this blood that flows and feeds the relentless demonic forms of the Underworld. As for Xnarth, it is a legendary city that belongs to other worlds and other dimensions beyond those of space-time, beyond the borders of the cognitive mind, where terror is the absolute stillness of the universe.
Do the stories you tell somehow belong together? Maybe you can go a little bit deeper into the matter?
Stefan: Well, not so much. The concept was created gradually in my mind. I glued all the elements and themes of the songs together through a vision I had. That vision was brought to life by Paolo Girardi who is responsible for the magnificent cover art. If someone observes the cover will understand that it presents a cosmos that contains elements and themes from all songs. For example, there's a reason that 'Sinners Of The Crimson Temple' is the 5th song. It is the center of that cosmos, and the centerpiece of the cover art!
With 'Swamp King' you have a title which seems to be a throwback to your first album. Is it a little homage to 'His Majesty At The Swamp' and the glorious days back in the early 90s?
Stefan: Indeed. I wanted this song to be a reference to the beginning of all. A new song that represents the legacy of Varathron. His Majesty At The Swamp is our first full length album and a debut is always important because it defines the band. 'Swamp King' is a new creation that declares not only how important are our roots but how we are still the leaders of Hellenic Black Metal.
Achilleas: In a way, Stefan is actually the Swamp King. He is the creator of this swamp monster called Varathron and the king of HBM since 1988.
In the latest edition of "Black Metal - Evolution Of The Cult" by Dayal Patterson the Greek black metal scene has a very interesting chapter. Unfortunately Varathron doesn't get mentioned as a subchapter. Nevertheless I guess that you've read the stuff. Do you also share the opinion that in the scene there is a lot of backstabbing, competition and bitching?
Achilleas: To be honest we've only read the first edition but we were informed by other people that there are no important -if any- mentions about Varathron in his second edition. At one point he contacted us with some questions but for some reason he stopped communicating and answering us. I don't know what happened and why he didn't give credit to one of the 3 most important extreme metal bands from Greece and historically, the first ever to play black metal from Greece. I would just like to know the reasons, nothing more.
Stefan: To answer the second part of your question: Yes, there was a lot of backstabbing happening back in the days. There were a lot of good things happening and a lot of support between the bands and the fans, but once in a while there were always some "friends" that would do stupid things for self profit.
On the first two albums you had a line-up consisting of three persons - in 2023 you had five people in Varathron. How much does the personnel extension have an influence on your music and live performances?
Stefan: In our first steps the band had a fixed line-up. Along the way, through many hardships, intrigues, personal situations and obligations of the various members, the band consisted of one key member, me. When I decided, in 2000, to move the band to my city in Ioannina, I started looking for permanent members. After a long struggle I managed in 2012 to be the strong five-member team that we are until now. Of course, it is the best thing that can happen to a band, that is, to have a stable line-up and this can be seen from the very good releases that exist. It also gives a very big advantage in live performances since the band goes on stage tight and gives their best.
Talking about live performances - I saw that you are going to play at the "Odyssey To Blasphemy" in Oberhausen on the 9thMarch. Are there any further touring plans for 2024 yet?
Stefan: Yes of course, we have already booked many tour dates which we haven't announced yet. Other than that, there's a big, magnificent tour coming up this Summer, in our favorite countries around South America.
Do you have some further plans with Varathron?
Stefan: At the moment the most crucial thing is to promote our new album and play some fucking gigs! There's already new music for the next album but that's not for now since we like to take our time and not rush things. Another thing is that we are working on a huge project for quite some time now which is a book about my life and Varathron. It will be very extensive and can't wait to share more details with you when the time comes, hopefully within 2024.
The final words belong to you!
Achilleas: Thanks for having us! All the best for you and MetalBite!
Stefan: Thank you for the support! I salute all the metalhead brothers there!!! Embrace our occult psalms and beware for ……the Sinners!!!!!!!
Cheers and thank you very much for the interview! I hope we can meet each other in March in Oberhausen!
The Crimson Temple
Glorification Under The Latin Moon
Duality Of The Unholy Existence
Patriarchs Of Evil
Untrodden Corridors Of Hades
Old Demons Rise (Varathron / Den Saakaldte)
Stygian Forces Of Scorn
The Lament Of Gods
Genesis Of Apocryphal Desire
His Majesty At The Swamp
One Step Beyond Dreams
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