Katavasia – Magnus Venator Review

Something in the warmth of Grecian waters has stirred a strange black metal beast. The devil writhes with a Dionysian disregard for evil and frost. In Greece, there’s a playfulness to the black metal of bands like Hail Spirit Noir, Aenaon and Varathron. Featuring members of the three bands, Katavasia is a blackened heavy metal monstrosity that channels Greek myth, Satan’s charms and Babylonian conspiracy. Interestingly, Aenaon vocalist Astrous steps back from the microphone, wielding the ol’ stringed riff-machine alongside fellow Aenaon bandmate Achilleas C, guitarist Demitris K and Hail Spirit Noir drummer Foivos. Overlord Necroabyssious of legends Varathron retains control of the microphone, a vocal veteran. Magnus Venator – their second release after a five year pause – unites the old school and the new.

Necroabyssious carries the record with grandiloquent monologues of contorted, frantic vocal fury. When listening, the image of a bearded wildman cursing into a throbbing crystal ball arises. Manic and mangled, there’s little in the way of restraint. Instead, Necroabyssious allows his pliant, possessed barks to unravel in a melodramatic but oddly engrossing manner that reveals a theatrical esotericism: a pillar of Hellenic black metal. Unlike black metal of the more serious northern European variety, Katavasia allows a playfulness to permeate. That’s not to say there isn’t a frosted spine here. The two elements meet – fire and ice in a tug of war. Mix wise, there is a warmth to the shimmer of guitars that is welcoming rather than cold and antagonistic. Similarly, the drums carry a hearty rolling thump that, again, feels friendly. The devil is on vacation. Nonetheless, this is still, at its heart, aggressive and forthright – a surging sunblast from the hordes of oblivion.

Magnus Venator is closer to the sound of Varathron’s 2018 release Patriarchs of Evil than Aenaon’s progressive strangeness and Hail Spirit Noir’s contemporary 80’s synth explorations. Katavasia take the heavy metal route, often constructing songs that build to simplistic stretches of groove that topple blackened pillars. Fireworks in the form of overindulgent soloing and synthetic synth usage – a Greek specialty – cast an effervescent glare over Magnus Venator. It’s an assault on the senses but fitting, especially with Necroabyssious’ accented vocals carrying the fiery pomposity like a dragon over a mythical battle. Opener “Daughters of Darkness” for example is a rip roaring, multifaceted gem that embeds equal measures of Mesopotamian melody and black-thrash fury, smoothly transitioning into “The Tyrant,” a pagan metal war epic that gallops and soars.

The opening half of the record flows strongly from one to the next, each track storming at roughly four to five minutes. Katavasia don’t fiddle with lengthy mid song breaks and interludes; there are no synth-led, spoken word marathons here. There are moments, fragments, of quirkiness but thankfully the riff leads the charge. “Blood Be My Crown” is the best example of this. Though simple riff-wise, Katavasia are focused on blackened fury first and electronic atmospheric silliness second. The tracks on Magnus Venator aren’t world beaters. They aren’t going to get you waking up at 3 AM yearning for their essence. But they’re solid, writhing melodic nuggets of Greek black metal played by some of the best. After a handful of listens it becomes apparent that Magnus Venator is top heavy. After the smooth, summery grooves – somehow successful – of sixth track “Triumphant Fate,” Katavasia’s manna puddles at their feet and seeps down the drain. Follow-up “Sinistral Covenant” is a slovenly re-hash of “Triumphant Fate,” fake choir chants distractingly weak and the heavy metal rhythms grooving like emaciated horses rather than muscular stallions. In a continuation, “Hordes of Oblivion” falls into the trap of being too simplistic at times. Heftier melodic hooks were lacking, especially as heavier riffs made way for a less furious attack. Closers are meant to provide a final blast but the seven minute “Babylon (Sammu-Rawat)” rattles on without a landing punch, its attempt at mystical vastness failing to strike at the heart.

Magnus Venator is a short record with a very strong first half and a less impressive second. Throughout there are impressive solos that whir and spin and attach themselves to a garbled, gargling vocal pounding from the eternal Necroabyssious. Alongside this, the core of the band are clearly more than technically proficient and there’s a solid thickness and clarity to the mix that suits the style. However, the impact peters off towards the end; the magic fades. This could have been a very good record. When distancing myself from my close scrutiny – and when thinking about the similar but superior Varathron release from 2018 and, heck, Walpurgisnacht from 1995 – I can’t picture myself revisiting the record as a whole that often. Individual tracks – the opening triumvirate particularly – will make the cut for sure, but the rest may be spending some time in Kur.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Floga Records
Websites: katavasia.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/katavasiaofficial
Releases Worldwide: September 4th, 2020

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