Album Premiere and Review
There is little doubt Necroabyssious is one of the most important figures in the Hellenic Black Metal scene. While Varathron have always been commercially in the shadow of Rotting Christ, their ability to retain their core sound and not straying significantly throughout a span of three decades is nothing short of admirable – keeping the flame of the old Greek sound from becoming cinder. Since roughly 2014, he has not only continued to put out commendable work with Varathron (Patriarchs of Evil being one of the best comeback albums in recent memory) but has spread the gospel of Hellenic black metal through other side projects such as Funeral Storm, Zaratus and the subject of this feature, Katavasia.
Katavasia is the birth child of guitarists Achilleas and Astrous – both from progressive black metallers Aeneon. They invited Necroabyssious onboard for vocal duties and lyrical themes as well as drummer Foivos from the very experimental Hail Serpent Noir to unleash a debut in 2015, Sacrilegious Intent – an album which paid homage and explored further the sounds of Hellenic black metal. For those not familiar with the Greek black metal sound, this guide should provide a good explanation as well as the acts involved.
While the Greek sound remained largely dormant since the mid-90s, there has been resurgence in the past decade – old scene veterans and new bands alike trying to push the scene into new frontiers. Katavasia’s brand of Hellenic black metal is similar to the newer Varathron records, a much more melodic variant that abandons the murkier edge of the early 90s record in favour for a more expansive and vibrant approach that is not purely mid-paced and is unafraid to push the percussive elements that the old school records usually lacked (due to the presence of a drum machine). As in Hail Serpent Noir, the drummer Foivos is adept at utilizing the double bass to its limit and employing a wide array of unconventional techniques.
Another element that features more prominently is the presence of folky melodies and instruments. The presence of traditional folk melodies had already been explored in some capacity by the forefathers of the genre and other smaller, obscure acts (Tatir, Fiendish Nymph) – but they are a mainstay of many modern Greek acts. Whereas some utilize them to forge a more epic and dynamic sound (Kawir, Hell Poemer, Dizziness), bands like Katavasia are more keen to employ them to give a ritualistic vibe to compliment the general themes of occultism and dark matters explored in their lyrics.
All these fundamentals give a record like Magnus Venator a similar, yet distinct feeling from the records that came out in the nascent days of the Greek scene. Whereas His Majesty at the Swamp or Thy Mighty Contract were warm and murky albums that advanced at a menacing, slow pace – this record feels different. There is a feeling of openness as the listener is bombarbed over and over with a stream of luscious and dazzling melodies. The guitarists, Astrous and Achilleas, bring their years of expertise into the fray. While the song structures are more streamlined than with Aeneon, the riffing is varied and the guitar harmonies always have a ritualistic touch – never becoming saccharine at any point in the record. All of this guided of course by Necroabyssious’ piercing and identifiable shrieks as a hierophant preaching to his choir.
While the whole album is rife with highlights, the album single “Chtonic Oracle” serves as a great template for everything previously described and how much the Hellenic sound has come forward. With no preamble or introduction or any kind, the song just bursts into a furious frenzy of double bass, pinch harmonics and Necroabyssious’ bellowed screams. Despite the intensity, the song is rife with sudden scale changes and the incorporation of choir-like vocals in the background which heighten the occult sensation. Nothing feels out of place, all carefully curated together to create pure black metal majesty.
If you’re a fan of Hellenic black metal, then I don’t think I need to tell you that Magnus Venator is a worthy addition to the Black Metal catalogue and a good example of how the style has evolved since the early days. If you’re unfamiliar to the Greek Black Metal sound, Magnus Venator is a good jumping point – even if having actual drumming isn’t canonical.
Magnus Venator comes out officially on 4th of September, 2020 by Floga Records. Now you can hear it, an exercise in modern Hellenic black metal, in its entirety here as a Ride Into Glory exclusive and read an interview with the band’s guitarist Astrous below.
It has been five years since the release of “Sacrilegious Testament” (and three since “Daemonic Offering”). As a band, how do you feel the songwriting process has evolved since then? What new ideas have surged from the incorporation of Dimitris from MELAN SELAS?
I think the main vision still remains the same. We are dedicated to the Hellenic black metal sound exploring some different aspects and aesthetics with each song. As for the process of the songwritting, it is always a puzzle of riffs. We built new ideas on some raw tunes achieving the final sound. However we needed a refresh with the line up, so Dimitris was the x factor for this album. He filled the blank space, and Magnus Venator become reality.
Besides the obvious VARATHRON connection, KATAVASIA includes members from HAIL SPIRIT NOIR and AENAON – both recognized bands in the Greek underground and with a more experimental and progressive sound compared to the old Hellenic classics. Do you bring in any musical elements from those bands when composing tracks for KATAVASIA or is a different mindset necessary?
It’s something completely different. If I could mentioned a common thing it would be the love for what we are doing, but with Aenaon and Hail Spirit Noir we surpass our limits as musicians and individuals. On the other hand Katavasia is a celebration for us. We celebrate our roots and we honor the past.
Greek Black Metal has always explored a myriad of occult themes in their lyrics. Your own band name, KATAVASIA, is a reference to the Orthodox hymn chanted during morning prayers. What topics do you cover in “Magnus Venator”?
Stefan Necroabyssious is in charge for the lyrics. His majesty travels through mystical dimensions. He creates occult stories and translates ancient myths into lyrics. Magic and old God worships are the main Katavasia lyrical themes. All these are wrapped with the Greek culture and tradition, from the ancient times till the Byzantine Empire. We grew up into a christian orthodox society. This breastfeed had us all having a slightly different way of view about Satan, Demons and Evil in general. Our Demons are abyssic creatures, with all nature’s colors, not a just a dark figure hidden in the shadows.
Since your debut five years ago, it seems Hellenic black metal has seen a resurgence with new bands paying their tributes or trying to expand the sound. How do you see KATAVASIA within this space? In what ways do you think the band is pushing the envelope on the Hellenic sound?
I believe our sound is quite unique. We salute and worship the greek black metal essense for sure, but we offer something completely refreshed and new. Of course you can mention similar musical patterns that defined the greek bm sound, but the entire atmofear brings new soundscapes, more melodic and yet mystical.
Related to the previous question, one of the big features that defined the early Hellenic black metal scene was the presence of a drum machine. As important as it was, many bands playing Hellenic black metal nowadays prefer an actual drummer. Do you feel that both approaches are valid or is the drum machine limiting for pushing the original sound further?
Back in time, drum machine was used as a fast and cheaper method to record an album. Nowadays this is not an issue. We have great musicians that adds a great feeling with their performance. In fact, at Magnus Venator, we avoid editing minor mistakes as well just to make the album more alive and vibrant.
Even though there is a local scene/sound, Greek black metal bands usually work with a range of international labels (NWN!, HHB, Agonia…) KATAVASIA have always been with Floga Records for the releases including the upcoming “Magnus Venator”. Do you think working with a local or an international label affects the authentic sound of the bands in any way?
No, not all. However Giorgos from Floga Records is doing great job with all of his releases. We know him more than a decade and we trust him. We are completely satisfied from this alliance, so there is no reason to search another “home”.
For the song lyrics KATAVASIA draw from mythology, occultism, or magic. Is there any literature, paintings, or any other art that you would consider a direct non-musical influence for the band? Would you recommend any reading for the listeners?
I wish I could dive on Necroabyssious dark mind, but unfortunately I can’t. However I know that Stefan is always in search of occult books and he admires the inquisition years and medieval art. But as I already mentioned our greek heritage and greek culture are embodied within our ideology and mind.
Any final words you would like to add about KATAVASIA, “Magnus Venator”, or otherwise for the readers / fans who will hear the new album for the first time?
Buy the album. Take a few spins of it and face your own demons!