Mystical. Archaic. Melodic. Militant. Triumphant. All words that could be used to describe Greek black metal, and all reasons why albums like Macabre Omen‘s Gods of War – At War and Rotting Christ‘s mid-00s material hold a special place in my blackened heart. Funeral Storm aren’t technically a new name on the scene, though you’d be forgiven for never having heard of them given they’ve released virtually nothing other than a few splits since their 2002 formation. Founding member and guitarist “Wampyrion” (who seems to have been involved in every Greek black metal band you’ve never heard of) finally started devoting more attention to the project in recent years, recruiting Varathron vocalist “Stefan Necroabyssious” and fellow Karkinos guitarist “Arcania” in the process. Arcane Mysteries is the trio’s debut album and it is nothing less than Hellenic black metal as it should be played.
Which is to say that it’s both pretty damn good and contains all the essential elements of the style. Low humming tremolos alternate between vivid melodic riffs, with everything propelled by mid-paced tempos and underlaid by the curdled rasps of Mr. Necroabyssious. The songwriting is straightforward and unassuming, with each riff given ample time in the spotlight and track times averaging around five minutes. Songs like “The Martyr of the Lake” and “Necromancer Part 2” add a bit of edge with their orchestral flourishes, the former using them to add tension and the latter using them to make things feel more glorious. Despite their aggressive moniker, Storm feel more majestic and mystical than anything else, less about charging into battle against the gods and more about conjuring spirits in the underworld. As such they remind me most of a simpler version of early Rotting Christ.
In the vein of Mystifier‘s newest, the best thing about Mysteries is the way it combines an engrossing atmosphere with great riffs. The two-part “Necromancer” is the album’s centerpiece and crown jewel, built from forlorn melodies that grow more powerful as the song progresses. Along with aforementioned “Martyr,” the track sounds like Greek metal black mixed with Katatonia‘s Dance of December Souls and is every bit as good as that description implies. “Funeral Storm” combines its own melodic riff with a cry of the track title to form the album’s most powerful hook, while “Martyr” heightens the atmosphere early with an acoustic intro that sounds like it’s played on a harp. Likewise, the instrumental “Wandering through the Abyss” conjures its own palpable atmosphere with pattering drums, dusty piano, and spooky ambiance. Though it comes a little too soon and is a bit too long, it’s a good track that makes you feel like you’re wandering around a haunted mansion.
Storm‘s melodic riffs are wondrously effective in their accessibility and evocative nature, but the band lean a little too hard on them sometimes. First proper track “Ego Sum Filius Draconis” is built from ideas that are just as strong as many of the other songs, but its main riff becomes a little too overplayed by the end. “Origins of Utter Evil” faces the same issue, though it redeems itself by reinventing its hefty and potent main riff in the song’s final passage. The only real misstep is the closing cover of Varathron‘s “The Flowers of My Youth,” whose high-register riffs and quick tempos clash with the other tracks. The song is hardly different than the original and as such it feels unnecessary and tacked on. Fortunately the production is great, with a somewhat modern feel that allows the melodies to shine while nurturing the dusty and ancient aura of the music.
In recent years I’ve come to realize that Greek black metal is one of the coolest strains of the genre. Arcane Mysteries feels like a loving ode to everything that’s good about the Hellenic scene and is perhaps the best album from it since Varathron‘s Patriarchs of Evil last year. While Mysteries is slower and more mystical, it’s structured incredibly well and features some of the most striking melodies I’ve heard this year. Listening to Mysteries, one gets the feeling that Wampyrion took the best ideas from years of writing and carefully crafted them into an album that works remarkably well from front to back. The result is sure to please any fan of melodic black metal and is almost certain to find a loving spot on my Top 10 list by year’s end.