One of the more forgotten aspects of the early Second wave of black metal, before the Norwegian scene explosion of 93-94, was the diversity in sound and what different regions defined as “Black Metal”. How the bands that made up this movement and distinguished themselves was very different. For instance, Samael from Switzerland took the already doomy sounds of their national peers Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and slowed down the tempo significantly to produce a truly malevolent and primordial sound. Mystifier from Brazil, devout practitioners of the occult, played a mid-paced mixture of early black and death with ominous synths and whispered vocals. Mortuary Drape took the spooky and occult elements of early Italian doom such as Death SS and mixed it with the sounds Bathory/Venom. Master’s Hammer were experimenting with similar sounds, forging unorthodox takes on the early first wave sound.
None of the aforementioned bands obtained much popularity, at least in relation to Norwegian Black Metal. In the 90s, only Sweden and possibly Finland competed in overall popularity to the Norsk scene. In the midst of the Norwegian popularity, another country in Southern Europe was forging its own take of Black Metal. This country was Greece.
How was Greek black metal different from what was happening elsewhere? The Hellenic musicians had the same pool of influences as their Norwegian peers (Bathory, Hellhammer, Sarcofago, etc), but they were unafraid of infusing the raw sounds of the first wave with more traditional metal riffing, mid-tempo pacing, folk elements and a drum machine (this is so fundamental to the Greek scene, you have no idea). The end result is a very atmospheric, warm sounding version of black metal that makes you feel more like you’re right next to the Mediterranean Sea rather than in some freezing forest.
Like their non-Norwegian peers, Hellenic BM was and still is a niche style within the wider Black Metal sound. I originally wrote an article similar to this in 2015, yet very few bands were paying tribute to the style. Nearly 5 years later, more acts have appeared and thus it felt as if it was time for an update.
Given this growth of the genre, the following list will only deal with bands playing the original Hellenic style. Greece also has great BM acts such as Acrimonious, Nocternity, Thy Darkened Shade, etc that do not fall under the banner of Hellenic BM.
Use the playlist above to help you get oriented to the Hellenic Black Metal sound. We’ve included some of our favorite bands that you will read about below. This isn’t a comprehensive playlist, but rather one that will help you get acquainted with some of the genre’s best offerings from both older and newer bands.
Rotting Christ are the undisputed kings of the scene and the only band from this list to have achieved vast international fame. While they began as a grind band, their sound gradually became more black metal on their demo Satanas Tedeum and hinted at the direction they were going in with the follow-up, Passage to Arcturo.
Yet it was with the release of their debut, Thy Mighty Contract, that Rotting Christ really laid the foundation for the Hellenic Black Metal sound. From the beginning of “In the Sign of Evil Existence”, the band does what they do best – playing mid-paced melodic black metal with leads evoking the works of 80s traditional metal. Thy Might Contract conjures a completely unique atmosphere compared to the Norwegian works, with a “humid” sound that manages to sound just as malevolent as it is triumphant. For me, this stands as the magnum opus of the scene and one of the greatest black metal records of all time.
RC would follow up with Non Serviam, a commendable effort but lacking the punch the debut had. On this album, there was a sign that Rotting Christ were trying to push the Hellenic sound in a more gothic direction. While the marks were there, this vision would not be fulfilled until the release of Triarchy of the Lost Lovers. This record presented a musical departure from the first two, but still within the confines of the Hellenic sound. Triarchy is a record that melds together the national sound with a gothic sensibility, resulting in a very morose and beautiful take on the genre.
After this, Rotting Christ went in an eclectic route and pretty much abandoned the Hellenic sound – opting for a more gothic and ritualistic take on black metal. Nonetheless, their early demos and first three efforts remain some of the important works in the genre.
Recommended listening: Passage to Arcturo, Thy Mighty Contract, Non Serviam, Triarchy of the Lost Lovers
A band that a similar trajectory as Rotting Christ, although even during their demo days they were playing some form of the Hellas sound – albeit more aggressively. Yet like with Rotting Christ, they found their sound on the now cult split The Black Arts/The Everlasting Sins with fellow countrymen Necromantia. However, it came to be fully realized with the release of their debut, His Majesty at the Swamp. This album is stylistically similar to Thy Mighty Contract, but with some doomy nods akin to early Samael – giving it a suffocating feeling, as if being…deep in a swamp.
The sophomore, Walpurgisnacht, followed in the same vein but with a more melodic flair. Beyond this album, Varathron began to experiment and produced various albums of varying quality. The Lament of Gods was Hellenic sounding, but with a heavy symphonic/synth laden sound (as was custom in the late 90s). While plodding through the noughties, Varathron eventually made one of the most triumphant comebacks with Patriarchs of Evil. The album is a return to their Hellenic routes, but with a more bombastic and folky feel to it.
Recommended listening: The Black Arts/The Everlasting Sins, His Majesty at the Swamp, Walpurgisnacht, Patriarchs of Evil
Necromantia did not quite have the same sound as Rotting Christ/Varathron, but they were unique in their use of two eight-string bass guitars – only using guitars for solos. As bizarre as that might appear, the use of bass instead of guitar for rhythm helped Necromantia forge a unique and murky sound for their first full length, Crossing the Fiery Path.
While Crossing was a great effort, their sonic onslaught reached new heights with Scarlet Evil Witching Black. This album took the foundation of Crossing and improved on it in every single aspect – bringing elements like samples from Wagner, clean vocals and more prominent synth/piano work. What could have been a goofy experiment is instead one of the most theatrical and captivating works of Black Metal, one that engrosses you from the first note of “Devilskin” until the end of the epic closer, “Spiritdance”.
Recommended listening: Crossing the Fiery Path, Scarlet Evil Witching Black, Ancient Pride
The Old Guard
Zemial are one of the long-standing stalwarts in the Greek scene, starting with the now cult Sleeping Under Tartarus EP and properly debuting with For the Glory of Ur. What distinguished Zemial early on in their career was their thrashier take on the national sound– essentially a Hellenic Bathory. As time went on, Vorskaath began bring in more elements from 80s heavy metal and 70s prog rock into Zemial’s sound which became particularly audible with the release of In Monumentum.
For me, this album captures the essence of what makes Zemial so great. It’s thrashy black metal with a victorious feeling and a good dose of traditional metal soloing. Nykta explores Vorskaath’s adoration of prog further, one minute feeling like we’re knee deep in Under the Sign of the Black Mark only to then produce a jamming guitar session right out of the Kraut Rock playbook. One of the essential bands of the scene and a personal favourite of mine.
Recommended listening: Sleeping under Tartarus, For the Glory of Ur, In Monumentum, Nykta
Agatus was founded by brothers Eskath and Vorskaath (of Zemial fame) and followed somewhat of a similar trajectory to Zemial. One of the more bombastic of the early Greek bands, Agatus had no issues with cranking up the symphonic elements to create very mystical sounding BM on their debut, Dawn of Martyrdom. However, Agatus’s real moment would come with the release of The Weaving Fates, an album which can be best described as a black metal band emulating 80s heavy metal. As mentioned with Zemial, both brothers are ardent disciples of old school traditional metal (check out their side project, Alpha Centauri) which found its way into the musical equation of Zemial and Agatus.
Agatus did not stop there. After a long hiatus of nearly 15 years, The Eternalist was released. By this point, the black metal influence had practically vanished – only present from time to time in the form of the occasional raspy vocal or tremolo picked riff. If The Weaving Fates was black/trad, this was purely a traditional metal album with some nods to black metal and 70s prog. While this departure may have not been welcomed by a handful of people, The Eternalist remains one of the greatest traditional metal records of the past decade. Riff after riff, one can feel the passion that went into the long writing process of this album. The influences are everywhere, from early NWOBHM to American epic metal to Kraut Rock – all weaved together in a cauldron for a very unique concoction.
Recommended listening: Dawn of Martyrdom, The Weaving Fates, The Eternalist
Kawir began as a fairly ordinary Greek Black Metal act. In fact, Necroabyssious from Varathron was the original vocalist on their first two releases, the Eumenides EP and a split with the Japanese band Sigh. After his departure, Therthonax was keen on infusing Greek mythology and folk melodies into the bands brand of black metal to the point where he decided to sing in Ancient Greek.
While most bands tend to put out their best releases early in their career, Kawir began to really reach their potential with albums like Ophiolatreia and Isotheos – taking the Hellenic formula into more epic territory. The 2017 release of Exilasmos is the fruit of these efforts, arguably the best album Kawir has put out and one that would appeal to those who might find the Greek sound still too raw for their taste.
Recommended listening: To Cavirs, Ophiolatreia, Isotheos, Exilasmos
Thou Art Lord
A side project from Sakis (Rotting Christ) and Zacharopoulus of Necromantia fame. An excellent collaboration that brings the best of both bands. Their later material is more death/thrash – but the first demo, EP and full length are all well drenched in the Greek sound. The recent Regal Pulse of Lucifer brings back some of the Hellenic elements, including a great rendition of the Game of Thrones theme.
Recommended listening: The Cult of the Horned One, Eosforos, Regal Pulse of Lucifer
A short lived band that only managed to produce two demos before disappearing. Like Kawir, Tatir were one of the first Greek bands to begin incorporating more traditional folk instruments into their craft. In spite of the scarce output, the demo compilation is worth trying out.
Recommended listening: Cave of Ephyras… To the Infernal Fields
In spite of their obscurity, Mortify were actually one of the first bands playing Black Metal in Greece, or rather the sort of raw black/death fusion present in the early Rotting Christ/Varathron demos. They only went on to produce one more demo in 93 and a promo in 96, which adopted the more conventional Hellenic BM sound. The band’s evolution can be explored in the compilation, The Way of all Flesh.
Recommended listening: The Way of All Flesh
While different countries may have had their own brand of Black Metal, the insidious influence of Norwegian Black Metal could not be escaped. The impact those records had reverberated across the underground, even in Greece. While synths have always played a pertinent role in the Hellenic style, there was a small subset of bands such as Legion of Doom, Order of the Ebon Hand, and Deviser clearly influenced by the works of Emperor and other emerging symphonic Black Metal artists.
In this small niche, Deviser were arguably the most “Hellenic” of the aforementioned trio – mixing together regal sounding synths with impressive guitar leads that gave them a special chic in which to stand out from their field.
Recommended listening: Unspeakable Cults, Transmission to Chaos
Daemonia Nymphe is one of the most recognized Greek folk bands, paying tribute to the music of Ancient Greece through the use of faithful instrument replicas and theatrical performances. For a time in the mid 90s, they held a Black Metal side project deeply whose sound was deeply embedded in the sounds of their compatriots. Female vocals, strong use of synths and folk interludes and ambient sections are the hallmark of this oddball band – sounding somewhat similar to how Varathron did on Walpurgisnacht.
Recommended listening: Fiendish Nymph, Aeneon
Another small act from back in the day. After a series of rather mediocre demos, Nergal dropped The Wizard of Nerath, a competent first effort that sounded like a synthier take of Non Serviam before disappearing for over 10 years. They’ve been musically active lately, releasing an album in 2017.
Recommended listening: The Wizard of Nerath
One of the trademarks of the early Greek scene was the prevalent use of drum machines and it becomes very evident in the works of Darkest Oath. One of those demo only acts, the demo compilation showed how they began as a rather ordinary Hellenic BM act before incorporating more folkish and serene passages with their promo in 96. Not indispensable, but good for what they are.
Recommended listening: Libations to the Ancient Goat
Much more mid-paced from the rest, Disharmony released some interesting demos of solid, albeit somewhat unoriginal Hellenic BM. While not the best from the scene, they had a lot of potential. They’ve recently re-united, releasing a full length in 2017 titled Goddamn the Sun. While not my cup of tea, the album expresses some interesting ideas with its heavy metal influences that makes the album not just another rehash of old ideas.
Recommended listening: The Gates of Deeper Sleep, Goddamn the Sun
Emerging with a demo in excess of 50 minutes, Zephyrous provided more in one release alone what others in this list provided during their whole careers. Entrance and Wandering on the Seven Zones will keep content those who enjoy their Greek black metal with a heavy dose of synths and melody. After a split with Vorphalack (an okish act from Athens), Zephyrous drifted away from the style to play something completely different to their roots.
Recommended listening: Entrance and Wandering on the Seven Zones
Keeping the Flame Alive
Macabre Omen released quite a few demos in the 90s, but the bulk of their work has come out in the past 15 years. The Ancient Returns was a thick and murky black metal debut, combining the more atmospheric sounds of early Burzum with the Greek touch. After this, Alexandros took a long time composing the follow-up; 10 years to be exact. There were many reasons, one of which being the tragic passing of his father in 2011. This led to many rewriting sessions, eventually culminating with the release of Gods of War – At War.
It’s difficult capturing in words the sheer magnitude of this album, one that engrosses the listener from beginning to end. Gods of War is not just any regular Greek black metal record, but one that fuses the epic nature of Bathory’s Viking era and embeds it within a Hellenic framework. This album is not just a love letter to its musical influences, but to the author’s land and his people. The feeling of the album is one that ebbs and flows between triumph and sadness. On one end, there is the moving ode to Alexandro’s father (From Son to Father) which quickly gives way to the victorious “Rhodian Pride, Lindian Might”. Gods of War is a complete success in what it seeks to achieve, and is easily one of the greatest metal albums of the past decade.
Recommended listening: The Ancient Returns, God of War – At War
Caedes Cruenta are one of the newer acts that straddle the line between the more traditional Norwegian Black Metal sound ala Darkthrone and their homegrown scene. For die hard Hellenic fans, Ερείπια ψυχών is possibly their most RC/Varathron-ish release. The new split with Cult of Eibon showcases a band pushing their songwriting prowess even further. Even though The Wizard of Yaddith provides us with only one new track from them – the synths are more ominous, the guitar melodies are more victorious sounding and the overall atmosphere matches their Lovecraftian themes very well. A band to continue looking out for in the future
Recommended listening: Ερείπια ψυχών, Recitation of the Abyssic Necropsalms, The Wizard of Yaddith / The Sleeper of R’Lyeh
Cult of Eibon
Of all the new Hellenic acts that have appeared in recent years, Cult of Eibon is one of the most promising ones. The decent Fullmoon Invocation EP gave way to Lycan Twilight Sorcery, one of the best showcases of the original Greek way. The first thing anyone will notice about this EP are the gorgeous guitar leads, taking cues from early Rotting Christ/Varathron which are accentuated by the strong production job – bringing them louder into the mix. Other hallmarks include a frantic drum machine, whispered vocals and deep Greek accents in the vocals. Cult of Eibon are a love letter to everything that made the original Hellenic scene so special. After their excellent split with Caedes Cruenta, I’m eager to hear more in the future.
Recommended listening: Lycan Twilight Sorcery, The Wizard of Yaddith/The Sleeper of R’Lyeh
With Varathron’s growing activity, Necroabyssious has branched out into other bands to continue spreading the fine gospel of Hellenic Black Metal. Katavasia was the first of these ventures, a star ensemble of old figures from the Greek scene seeking to play Black Metal the way the country did in the early 90s. Katavasia’s first full length, Sacrilegious Testament, does an excellent job of bringing the Hellenic approach to a modern setting. The album eschews the rawer works of its founders, opting for a more vibrant and grandiloquent version of it – with some of the most beautiful sounding leads one could hope for. While we still wait for a proper follow up, the 2017 EP Daemonic Offering gives a good taste of what is likely to come.
Recommended listening: Sacrilegious Testament, Daemonic Offering
Another project involving Necroabyssious. Funeral Storm are similar to Katavasia, in the sense that they opt for a more melodic variant of Hellenic black metal with a huge emphasis on synthwork. While most bands in this subgenre give off a fairly ominous and occult vibe, Funeral Storm has a more mournful and gloomy take that has a gothic sensibility – almost reminding the listener of Triarchy at times.
On their newly released debut full length, Arcane Mysteries, it feels that Necroabyssious toned down the more mournful and sullen tone of the split in favour of a more traditional and streamlined of the Greek subgenre. For those who are already fans of modern Varathron and Katavasia, this album will make a nice complimentary piece.
Recommended listening: Funeral Rite (check out the Celestial Rite side of the split too, good stuff), Arcane Mysteries
This band came to my attention after the release of their album Perennial Fire. From the start, the thing that will strike listeners the most about Primal Cult is their predilection for creating beautiful and soaring melodies that never cease during the whole duration of the debut. The inclusion of more mellow or acoustic sections does not affect the quality of the release at all. In fact, Primal Cult’s songwriting prowess is such that embedding these passages does not affect the overall quality at all. This release seemingly came out of nowhere and was one of my favourite albums of 2018. I highly endorse it.
Recommended listening: Perennial Fire
Wampyrinacht is technically not a new band as they have some demos from the 90s and their only album was mostly written in the same epoch before being released in 2017. The album sounds like a project of its time; one that is still within the Hellenic style but weaves into the Norwegian Symphonic Black Metal fabric that was popular in those days. We Will Be Watching: Les cultes de Satan et les mystères de la mort can draw some comparison to Scarlet Evil Witching Black as well, in its desire to present itself as theatrical and a bit over the top. Not everything from the past is a gem, but this one is.
Recommended listening: Les cultes de Satan et les mystères de la mort
A side band from the duo behind Caedes Cruenta, eager to play a very raw yet melodic variant of Hellenic Black Metal that sounds somewhere in between Passage to Arcturo and Thy Mighty Contract. This is pure arcane Black Metal of high quality, with a good Lovecraftian theme to it.
Recommended listening: Initiations to Obscure Mysteries, The Black Mass Sabbath Pulse
With just two demos under their belts, Hierophant’s Descent have affirmed themselves as loyal disciples of the arcane Greek ways. All the defining traits of the Hellenic path are here; whether it is the mid-paced tremolo picked riffs, the eerie synths and the fast drumming to give us the feeling of being trapped in a crypt deep beneath the surface. There has been little activity from the band since their last EP, but here’s to hoping more comes along.
Recommended listening: The Apocalypse of Evil
Goat Synagogue take Hellenic Black Metal back to its rawer roots circa 91/92, sounding like demo era Rotting Christ/Varathron. For those who feel some of the bands here are too saccharine for their taste.
Recommended listening: Inheritors of the Morbid Arts, Enter the Feast
Empire of the Moon
While they’ve been around for quite a while, Empire of the Moon only recently released a full length after years of inactivity. With ex-members of Tatir, they write a very melodic and symphonic brand of Greek black metal coupled with lyrics about mysticism and occultism.
Recommended listening: Πανσέληνος
Hell Poemer take the foundations laid by Kawir and amplify it even further. By this I mean the band is dedicated to crafting intricate songs with stunning melodies and memorable folk sections. They are one of the more unknown bands of the past years, seeking to take the style along its more melodic and epic territory.
Recommended listening: Arcane Mysteries of Dead Ancestors
Dizziness are one of those bands that infuse the Hellenic sound with more pagan/folkish sounds to pay tribute to the mythology of Ancient Greece. This band will appeal to those who have enjoyed the works of Kawir and Hell Poemer or just enjoy the more epic breed of the Greek sound. There is even a Varathron cover with Necroabyssious on vocals on the last full length.
Recommended listening: Offermort Heritage, Bound by Strength
With one 4 track demo, Synteleia managed to attract the attention of Hell’s Headbangers and sign them for a full length. As a rehearsal demo, Astral Blasphemies, does what it’s meant to: showcase a promising band with good songwriting abilities and providing good, no-thrills Greek Black Metal. The recent sample from their upcoming album sounds encouraging and one worth looking out for this year.
Recommended listening: Astral Blasphemies
Sarvari’s first efforts lay somewhere between the Norwegian sounds of Darkthrone/Burzum and their national peers Rotting Christ/Varathron. On Arxaiolatria, Granath has skewed the band more towards the latter while still retaining the rawness in their music. Truthfully, the raw production in this album might be its biggest detriment as it doesn’t do the melodies and synths much of a favour. Still, the album is enjoyable for those who simply can’t get enough of Greek Black Metal.
Recommended listening: Arxaiolatria
Bands Outside of Greece
With Greek Black Metal becoming more popular over the past years, most of the attention has concentrated on the more melodic and swampy sound of early Rotting Christ/Varathron. The brief output Necromantic Worship put out (RIP) was more concerned with exploring a more cryptic, obscure and dark path reminiscent of early Necromantia. These fruits gave us two demos before the band disappeared, leaving us wondering what could have been.
Recommended listening: Spirit of the Entrance Unto Death…, The Calling…
Daemonlord/Goatprayer is better known for his work with Witchcraft and Black Feast, bands which harken back to the original black/death Finnish sound of Beherit and Archgoat. On Ceremonial Torture, he decided to pay tribute to the old Hellenic scene. Given his other projects, it’s no surprise Ceremonial Torture sounds rawer and coarser than most of the bands mentioned here. The influence of Necromantia is evident in the heavy use of bass. In spite of its primal sound, the demo Majestic Dragon Moon incorporates a vast amount of tasteful melodies and synthwork that help it forge the dim atmosphere it seeks to create. Hard to obtain (had to get my demo through tape trading), but worth the effort.
Recommended listening: Majestic Dragon Moon
A side project from one of the members of Apochryphal Revelation, what we have here is unabashed Rotting Christ/Varathron/Necromantia worship in their rawer demo eras. Regardless of how unoriginal it may be, the songwriting is good enough to not feel like just a faceless clone.
Recommended listening: Night of the Goat
The lead singer of Prosanctus Inferi and drummer from Encoffination came together to produce one demo paying tribute to the early Greek Black Metal scene. The vocals are much raspier, sounding closer to Beherit/Demoncy than anything that came from the aforementioned country.
Recommended listening: Pylons to Thanatos
Hailing from Kentucky, calling Apochryphal Revelation a purely Hellenic band is a stretch since they blend in elements of other early Black Metal pioneers (think Master’s Hammer and Mortuary Drape). Nevetheless, Reverence for the Kings of Hell could easily be mistaken for a grittier and folkier take on Thy Mighty Contract.
Recommended listening: Reverence for the Kings of Hell
Putrefied Remains are a Malaysian band with a deep seated passion for writing Greek Black Metal. In fact, in the insert for their album Novus Ordo Seclorum, they explicitly mention what songs from Rotting Christ/Varathron/Necromantia inspired them during the songwriting process. Listening to both of their albums, you can even play a “match the riff” game with your friends as they wear their influences proudly on their sleeves. Rather than chastising Putrefied Remains for this, one should celebrate the fact the band has managed to follow this approach to songwriting yet somehow remain fresh and distinct. Every song sounds familiar, but never enough to classify them as a rip-off of any particular band.
Recommended listening: Novus Ordo Seclorum, The Enthronement
The early Greek scene was largely confined to its national enclosure, although the widespread nature of tape trading ensured it reached and influenced bands from all over the world. Such acts include Nebiros from Colombia, Xantotol from Poland, Vulga from Malaysia and Algaion in Sweden. None of these bands are strictly Hellenic, but the presence of the the mid-paced palm muted riff is undeniable.
The influence of Greek Black Metal is not just limited to the bands I’ve already described. In fact, many have taken their adoration of the early innovators to create music which may not sound purely “Hellenic” – but still has an obvious nod. Among these is Sacriphyx, an Australian band that takes the palm muted riffs of Rotting Christ, Varathron, etc. to create mid-paced death metal that conjure the feeling of desperation of war.
Other examples exist like Omen Filth (combining Teutonic Thrash with Hellenic riffs), Moenen of Xezbeth (a modern Xantotol), Draghkar (Hellenic Black Metal meets Finnish Death Metal), and Vanum (Mgla with riffs from Triarchy).
The future would appear to be bright for Hellenic Black Metal. With upcoming releases from Omenfilth, Synteleia, and Katavasia – there is a lot to look forward to this year. While the subgenre is likely to remain just a small niche within the wider Black Metal umbrella, there is a new generation of people eager to explore other sounds beyond those pioneered by Norway.