In recent years Greek black metal has become one of my favorite strains of the genre. To me, the scene excels because it rejects rote riffing and instead embraces a style that’s at once militant, melodic, and mystical. The Greek sound has existed for a while and often the bands that embody it are either older acts (Rotting Christ, Varathron) or have scene veterans in their ranks (Funeral Storm). In this regard, Synteleia are an anomaly. The Greek quartet formed in 2015 and by my research none of the members1 have been involved in any other metal bands. Thus their Ending of the Unknown Path debut is a pleasant surprise, an album that has the songwriting and maturity of an older act with the inspiration and ample riffs of fresh young blood.
Synteleia do a great job embodying the traits of their forebears. Most of these nine songs are lurching mid-paced marches, complete with crunchy riffs, occasional choral embellishments, and leads which gleam with archaic mystery. The band use a lot of melodic tremolos but what really sets them apart is how complex some of their riffing can be. Often these riffs whirl and wind with an intricacy and elegance that rarely distills itself into the hummable simplicity of something like Funeral Storm or later Rotting Christ. The songwriting is rarely that direct either, with songs often fusing many ideas into dynamic structures that refrain from overt hooks. Opener “Daemonica Infernalium” is a prime example, beginning with galloping drums and melodic tremolos that soon give way to wonky melodies before incorporating a potent stop-start riff. It’s an enjoyable start that reminds me a lot of Necromantia and Varathron. Early highlight “Ithaqua, Thy Mighty Storm” is an equally successful track, beginning with sluggish verses that blend oceanic leads and rhythmic riffing before building into a speedier ending that’s embellished by female singing.
The band has a knack for writing good riffs and I love the mysterious and ancient atmosphere they conjure. The biggest downside is that many of these tracks spend a good portion of their runtimes ambling along at the same mid-paced tempo. It’s fine for the first half of the album, but by the time sixth track “Celephais” hits, things start to feel redundant. Aforementioned “Infernalium” is really the only “fast” track here and incorporating a similar song in the album’s second half would have really gone a long way in making things feel more varied.
Fortunately, Synteleia mitigate this issue by incorporating little twists in the second half to keep things interesting. “Celephais” features a prominent vocal hook and while its riffing sounds familiar, that’s almost entirely forgiven by the slick melody that snakes around its verses. “The Black Goat Rites” mixes things up with use of piano and feels a bit like an old Mystifier song, which certainly isn’t a bad thing. The only track that doesn’t feel totally essential is “Missioner of Sorrow,” but even that features a nice elegant and fluttery guitar solo that I’d be sad to see go. Through it all the vocalist belts out the Lovecraftian lyrics with a gruff rasp that harbors a characteristically Hellenic inflection and suits the music well. The production is also a good fit, with a warm and hearty sound that does a great job fostering the olde atmosphere.
In today’s globalized scene, it’s amazing that one country can maintain such a distinct sound, especially when it comes to newer bands. If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed Synteleia were a Greek black metal supergroup, an attempt by veterans to reconnect with the majesty of their scene’s formative years. The fact that this band is comprised of (apparently) total newbies is both surprising and promising. Ending of the Unknown Path sits alongside Funeral Storm‘s debut as not just a highly enjoyable Greek black metal album, but one of my favorite black metal albums of 2019 so far. There are a lot of good ideas here and songs I wanted to highlight but wasn’t able to neatly fit into this review.2 While they still have some kinks to work out when it comes to variety, this is nonetheless sure to please fans of the Hellenic scene or even anyone looking for a more melodic and grandiose Mystifier. Who said you had to be olde to be successful?
- Except for their live drummer. ↩
- So I guess I’ll throw them into a footnote, because why not. “Dark Summoner of Yog-Sothoth,” which features a slow militant pace akin to old Rotting Christ before speeding up and incorporating high-register riffing. The looming horror of the opening of “Three Oaths to Dagon,” which later gives way to frantic tremolos. The marching riff of the title track, which infuses streaming tremolos into its rhythms. All great stuff. ↩