The phrase “Patriarchs of Evil” is as a cool album title as it is a nod to Varathron themselves. A band celebrating 30 years since their inception – and now over a decade now with a steady lineup – it’s really not much of a stretch to say that Varathron has reached the point where they have a somewhat institutional status in black metal. Sure, they may not have achieved the status of a group like Mayhem or Darkthrone or the cult-like following of Revenge or Enslaved, but their discography is, nevertheless, as much an important artifact in the history of black metal as those of any of the previous bands mentioned.
A strong part of this has to do with the crucial role they played in the development of Hellenic black metal. Along with Zemial, Necromantia, and Rotting Christ, Varathron pioneered a style of black metal that, along with the typical Norwegian sound, was one of the earliest regional scenes to develop. The Grecian black metal scene of the ’90s could be summed up in four primary characteristics: bands had a heavy metal-inspired style to their riffing, incorporated folk melodies of both Northern European and Mediterranean origin, used distinctly hazy and languid-sounding synthesizers, and played around with much slower tempos than their Scandinavian contemporaries. Although the developments of the Hellenic black metal scene were disseminated throughout the world and incorporated heavily into subgenres like atmospheric black metal and melodic black metal, making it tough to see today what might have been so special about these Greek black metal bands today, it’s very, very worth noting that Varathron and their Hellenic compatriots had a crucial role in diversifying and developing the black metal genre we know and love today.
This is all to get to one main point: Varathron have a big legacy to live up to on Patriarchs of Evil. And, well, not to point too fine a point on it, but they absolutely fucking do. Patriarchs of Evil is a perfect example of what made Hellenic black metal such a hypnotic, intoxicating sound in the first place: muscular, powerful heavy metal riffing meets the storm and fury of black metal, interlaced with beautifully atmospheric keyboards and a strong usage of folk melodies. Varathron use the 47-minute running time of this album to explore every facet of a sound they’ve spent the past three decades honing and perfecting, and while this may not end up being as much of a classic as their mid-90’s albums Walpurgisnacht and His Majesty at the Swamp, Patriarchs of Evil takes everything good about the genre while avoiding any possible stumbling points. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to label Patriarchs of Evil as the Hellenic black metal album, the ideal essence of the scene given form in a single release.
Now, it’s worth noting that for anyone who has no interest in Hellenic black metal (although I strongly urge you to reconsider this opinion), Patriarchs of Evil will do you absolutely no good. There is zero experimentation with form taken here, no novel approach presented; in their path to subgenre-conquering apotheosis, Varathron has thrown any desire to do anything other than what they’ve done for the past 30 years to the wind. However, if you’ve never experienced the Hellenic black metal subgenre before, this is as good a place to start as any, since it presents an extremely clear and lucid vision of exactly what sort of sound you’d be in for were you to pursue further exploration.
Patriarchs of Evil may not be the best Hellenic black metal album, it may not be the album that breathes mainstream life back into the Grecian black metal scene, and it certainly isn’t an album that’s going to convert detractors. But why even bother thinking about it that way, when it’s exactly the love letter to the genre that it’s trying to be? Varathron have successfully used their experience as a band to craft one of the most enjoyable black metal releases of 2018 in a subgenre that, frankly, could stand to use a lot more appreciation these days. And for that, Patriarchs of Evil deserves all the accolades it gets.
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Patriarchs of Evil is out now through Agonia Records. You can find the album and merch on their bandcamp, as well as on streaming services.