Review: Rotting Christ / Varathron ”Duality of the UnholyExistence” split [Hells Headbangers Records]

Review: Rotting Christ / Varathron ”Duality of the UnholyExistence” split [Hells Headbangers Records]

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A conspicious showcase of the featured bands’ vital signs.

It’s 2019 and FINALLY, after all these years, the two Greek masters and originators of Hellenic black metal decided to do a collaboration and unleash a split release upon the world.

For a genre fan like me, this is a revelation and something that should have happened a lot earlier, considering the similarities and reputation of the respective bands. But let me tell you, my friends, there is also an element of uncertainty these days, since the last string of releases from these two bands show a largely contradictory curve in terms of creativity and quality.

This leads me to right the most glaring negative point on here, which is – and it hurts me to say this – the rather lackluster track presented by my once-favourite band of the Hellenic circle – Rotting Christ.

“Spiritus Sancti” is not a band song per se, but it encompasses everything wrong with modern-day Rotting Christ in a mere 5 minutes. It’s a blatant rehash of the opening track duo off 2007’s very last masterpiece record Theogonia (“The Sign of Prime Creation”/”Keravnos Kivernitos”). It features an extremely similar riff-set, with just a little touch of the (by now totally worn-out) ritualistic formulae presented on the 2010-onward albums. It’s gotten so lukewarm, it feels a bit like Ozzy Osbourne doing an extended 3-years farewell tour with all the classics halfheartedly performed to please a drunk crowd – put on an album. The creative spark of this once mighty band has diminished so much, that regurgitating past and more successful efforts seems about the only way to go.

So if you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade or you are just a big, nostalgic fan of the Tolis brothers, you might find something to like on “Spiritus Sancti”, even though it can’t hold a candle to anything written by them between 1992 and 2007.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve got Varathron who have been the goddamn leaders of the Hellenic scene for the last 5-or-so years, completely re-establishing themselves after nearly a decade of recording absence. Their latest opus Patriarchs of Evil is one of the modern cornerstones of this genre and about everything that sole original member and boss of the band Stefan “Necroabyssious” has touched in the last half of the decade has been pure gold (check out Katavasia’s discography for an excellent honoring of the Hellenic past!) and he continues to do so with the Varathron side of this split.

“Shaytan” feels like the direct continuation of the previous record, delivering a pompous, Mediterranean sound, flowing through various rhythmic shifts, multi-faceted tremolo-pickings and slight keyboard touches, then climaxing in a stylistic-trademark heavy metal bridge section with a highly melodic, dreamlike guitar solo towering above a somewhat unusual – but perfectly fitting – offbeat drumbeat. Necroabyssious’ vocals haven’t lost the slightest bit of aggression and force in the last 3(!) decades of this outfit’s unholy existence. Presented in a magnificent production clothing, with lively, pronounced drums and lots of headroom allowing every instrument and Stefan himself to shine through in an perfect balance there really is nothing to complain about here.

For Varathron’s side alone, this split is worth buying, but be warned that you’ll skip that first track pretty soon after your purchase. Varathron’s track irradiates a sense of rejuvenation while Rotting Christ provide you with a mere walking stick towards the(ir?) grave.

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