“Hellenic black metal” could be misunderstood as simply a geographic descriptor, nothing more than a reference to black metal bands located in Greece. And if you were to survey music released over the last five years by the many fine black metal bands practicing their art from that ancient country, simply encompassing them in a straight-forward geographic category might be understandable, because that music displays considerable stylistic diversity.
But “Hellenic black metal” isn’t merely a geographic reference point. The phrase has another meaning, which refers to a distinctive combination of musical ingredients, and a certain undaunted spirit, reflected in the classic early releases of such bands as Varathron, Rotting Christ, and Necromantia. Last summer, Bandcamp Daily published a primer captioned “A Brief Guide to Hellenic Black Metal”, which included this description:
“Hellenic black metal,” as it’s often called, became a force in the cradle of Western civilization around the same time as the most infamous happenings in the Norwegian scene. Yet the bands associated with Hellenic black metal were worlds apart from the church-burning hordes—not just aesthetically, but also sonically and philosophically. The Hellenic sound was defined by an embrace of traditional heavy metal riffing, elements of Greek folk music, a reverence for epic stories rooted in the country’s history and mythology, and a sun-dappled atmosphere that places the music firmly next to the Mediterranean Sea rather than a freezing fjord”.
That’s not an exhaustive description (it fails to make reference, for example, to the blasphemous presence of the occult and of Satanic spirituality that were key features of many of Hellenic black metal’s foundational recordings), and one might be a bit confused by the reference to “sun-dappled atmosphere”, but it does identify some of the most distinctive elements of the classic style.
Those elements have been honored and channeled with renewed vitality in the music of Synteleia, a relatively new band but one composed of devoted followers of the Greek black metal scene for more than 20 years. On their debut album, Ending of the Unknown Path, they draw upon the traditions established by the three bands mentioned above, as well as the likes of Horrified, Thou Art Lord, and early Septic Flesh, but powerfully demonstrate their own songwriting prowess.
The track from the new album that we’re premiering today, “Ithaqua, Thy Mighty Storm“, is a great example of that prowess. As the title itself forecasts, the song has an often ominous and occult atmosphere. It also has a classic sound — an “epic” sound defined in part by trad-metal stylings — and is as powerfully head-moving as it is magical and magisterial.
The song moves forward in phases. Following an intro of thunder and rain, the music is mid-paced at first, and mystical, with exotic leads flickering over heavy chords that sound both gloomy and grand. A brittle, rapidly jabbing riff and pulsing bass enter into this stately stomp, setting another magical hook, while the vocalist’s harsh barks give the music a venomous bite. The drum beat gradually becomes more energetic, gradually pushing the pace with rocking cadences and boisterous fills. And after another crack of thunder, there’s one more change.
The riffing becoming more feverish and violent, the drumming more chaotic, and operatic female vocals come in, alternating with the harsh vocals, which are more savage and rapid-fire than before. This dynamic track ends in a bracing race, and finally, with the haunting tones of the female vocalist.
Ending of the Unknown Path will be released on August 30 by Hells Headbangers Records, on CD and vinyl LP formats. You’ll find a pre-order link below, and we’ve also included streams of two previously released tracks (“Daemonica Infernalium” and “Missioner of Sorrow”), in addition to our premiere of “Ithaqua, Thy Mighty Storm”.