When you consider the type of metal associated with Greece, your mind probably jumps to some of the more well known outfits like symphonic death giants Septicflesh or extreme metallers Rotting Christ. You’re not too far off here, Varathron not only shared members with Rotting Christ, but their early albums are considered cornerstones of the Hellenic black metal stage, alongside the releases of Necromantia and the other aforementioned leaders. This week saw the long-running black metal veterans fifth full-length landing up in the promo pile, and being that I somehow unwittingly ended up on a black metal hiatus, I attacked Untrodden Corridors of Hades with some gusto! What I discovered is that, despite the determination of ghoulish frontman and longest running member Stefan Necroabyssious, Varathron has been plagued by member turnover, label changes and an output lacking consistent identity, leaving some questions I’d like answered. Will Untrodden Corridors of Hades follow in the footsteps of a fan favourite like Walpurgisnacht with its hint at Gehenna / Taake-like rawness? Will it try to recapture the early 80’s Manilla Road proto doom feel of His Majesty at the Swamp? Or will Untrodden Corridors of Hades piggyback off Rotting Christ‘s sound and become yet another act merely copying that well travelled sound?
“Kabalistic Invocation of Solomon” opens up with the epic determination of a scene taken straight from Guillermo de Toro’s Pacific Rim. Picture it, Jaegers being dropped with controlled precision from helicopters, the behemoths landing with thundering force to take on the emerging monsterous Kaijus. The track has all the musical grandeur of Rotting Christ and hints to Samael, offset by nasty unhinged whisperings that come across as huge and dramatic, strangled and just downright sick. By the time it ends, it feels like a celebratory victory.
“Realm of Obscure” picks up the pace, kicking off with a lively melodic vibe and some roaring vocal theatrics. “Arcane Conjuring” is a return to the mid-paced dedication of the “Kabalistic Invocation of Solomon.” This, along with “Leprocious Lord” and “Death Chant” sound like a convincing blend of the mammoth offering Rotting Christ and Behemoth could deliver were they to collaborate. Untrodden Corridors of Hades holds everything from dramatic black metal vocals, contemplative melodies, militaristic and precise blasting, ramblings that would be at home in a world of suicide and depression, with it all reaching the absolute pinnacle of greatness in “Death Chant.” A track worthy of accompanying Sir Walter Scott’s poem the Death Chant, and more specifically, lines like “Then strange sympathies shall wake, the flesh shall thrill, the nerves shall quake, the wounds renew their clotter’d flood, and every drop cry blood for blood!”
My biggest gripes with the album are the overly clean production style, lack of actual grit and the need for extended time it needs to soak, ruminate and grow on you. On first glance, Untrodden Corridors of Hades brings to the table a lot of what’s already out there by bigger names, but given time and repeat plays, you’re hit a little harder with the vocal malice and other nuances that cement Varathron solidly in your subconscious. In addition to the time needed to grow, the album is packed with lengthy tracks (two in excess of eight minutes), with the two longest bookending the album. Hats off though to Varathron for keeping the album tightened down to just seven deadly, hellish layers. Any more and this would have diluted the experience.
Untrodden Corridors of Hades is dark and heavy, but melodic at the same time, a melting pot of anguish, seething anger and ultimately just pure evil. Despite some shortfalls and having lost the sound of their earlier releases, this feels like Varathron‘s biggest, most mature and ultimately triumphant offering yet.