Review Summary: It's all Greek to me!
The early Greek black metal scene is hailed by many as being unique and consistently impressive, having produced bands with a dark atmosphere that maintained their early metal roots unlike the cavalcade of Scandinavian trendies who took black metal to mean never diverging from tremolo picking in 4/4 time on open chords. While it is true that pioneers like Varathron, Rotting Christ, Necromantia and Zemial produced undeniably dark material with heavy riffing and a unique atmosphere to boot, it's always been difficult for me to appreciate or even stomach the majority of their material. I find that their thrashing and heavy riffs and cliched and frequently disappoint and that something about the "signature Greek sound" just seems lame and unsatisfying. Now, I'm not going to indict that whole scene (or maybe I will!). For now I'll set my focus on Varathron's collection of demo and unreleased material: Genesis of Apocryphal Desire.
Varathron were one of the first black metal bands to arise in the Greek scene, forming all the way back in 1988 and releasing their first demo "Procreation of the Unaltered Evil" in '89. Of course at this point death metal was still the trend just about everywhere else, and black metal as we know it today was in its infancy. As can be expected, the earliest Varathron material was strongly aligned with thrash metal. However, it was unmistakably early black metal in that it used midpaced repetitious dark sounding riffs as well as delivering healthy portions of thrashing. Now this sounds like a good combination so far. And as far as their first demo is concerned I had few problems. The production was quite poor and the music sounded very sparse, but that all worked into the strangeness and eerie atmosphere I was expecting. The mid-paced to slow riffs loomed along and all was pretty cool. Perhaps if I had stopped at their 10 minute long debut demo I'd be pleased. Unfortunately, by 1991 Varathron had undergone some changes and decided to stick to a more bland thrashing sound with little skill in songwriting and really annoyingly juvenile riffs. For the middle section of this album, which is the "Genesis of Apocryphal Desire" demo, I began to quickly lose interest. I could barely sit through a song of riff after riff with nothing good to latch onto. Even the production just seemed amateur and unacceptable with the poor riffage. And things got worse with the unreleased tracks from the mid 90s. The song structures more closely resembled rock than black metal, the riffs were totally aimless, and they couldn't seem to produce anything but the kind of worthless trash one would expect from a band of know-nothing teenagers. The first two or three tracks acted as a hook, and once they reeled me in I was disgusted with all that followed.
While there are aspects of Varathron's sound I'm drawn to, it seems that they can't consistently execute a desirable style. Admittedly, basing this view on demo material isn't really the same as giving the band a complete analysis. But as far as their earliest material is concerned (which many refer to as the backbone of their sound) it's just not very good. I have investigated their highly praised debut (which I may at some point come to an apreciation of, as it often takes me many listens to crack an album open and get to its delicious innards) but I'm not sure about Varathron or early Greek black metal in general. Many a respectable metal reviewer and fan have praised them, and since I have been in agreement with the taste of said people (for the most part) I went along and searched this stuff out. Maybe they're all just dingdongs and my taste in black metal is better. Or maybe there's just some inborn quality in me that says "no Greek *** for me". Who knows. All I can do is deliver this delightfully cheesy pun: "It's all Greek to me!"