Zaratus
In The Days of Whore

There are experts in Greek black metal.  I am not one of them.  But seeing In the Days of Whore pop up in promos I thought Zaratus could be a legitimate gateway into this corner of black metal, for myself and perhaps readers.  Zaratus is a great shortcut to entry because its two members are major ambassadors of the Greek region’s hallmark sound and style; Bill Zobolas performing all instruments, of Thou Art Lord since 2012, amongst other acts, and Stefan Necroabyssius, vocalist of respected regional high priests, Varathron.  That’s proof of quality before you ever hit the play button.

A rewarding trivia, when it comes to genres of music that become decentralized from their origin, eventually being represented throughout the world, is the geo-cultural specific micro variants that spawn and their unique differences, sometimes rather difficult to put one’s finger on.  A mystical brewing of production, chord progressions, tone, song writing, art, and harder-to-identify effects of style, can differentiate one city, region, or country from another. So then, what gives Greek black metal it’s metaphorical fingerprint?

Even as a novice of this style when I sampled a few tracks it was immediately noticeable.  Something about their Greek origin lends the sound a sense of authentic antiquity.  Greek production always sounds as if what you’re hearing was recorded in a limestone building, of a great age, turned studio.  From the outside, a weathered and long disused structure.  The rest which is hidden beneath a few meters of earth.  Traveling back more than 2,000 years the site is a temple and library containing artifacts that would fill a few gaps in modern contextual understanding of ancient Greek life. Greece at the time is the dominating culture of the Mediterranean, Lavant, and has a hold in Egypt.  Between them, a fascinating exchange of pre-Christian cultures representative in the painting used for the cover.  “A Christian Dirce” by Henryk Siemiradzki depicts Dirce, Queen of Thebes, being put to death.  Her body, tied to the horns and neck of a bull that kills her in its attempt to remove the burden from it’s crown. The precise synth string stabs introducing “Ceremonies Before Lights Existence” fitting for such a creatively violent spectacle.  Building into a definitively Greek style attack of riled programmed drums, dry serpentine guitar arrangement, pompous synth, and sand blasted straining of the throat.  High drama echoing up the stone auditorium collides with seething barbarism of foreign mercenaries.

This is also a time when gods played humanity like chess, for leisure.  From High society to common slave class, magic had a place.  The continuity of Greek cultural influence into modern times is singular.  Perhaps the most ancient with direct relevance today.  You hear this in Greek black metal.  That same through line to antiquity gives it a uniquely weathered sound.  Snare like nearby chiseling upon fresh stone columns.  Kick drum like thuds against dusty, taught goatskin.  Vocals that of a slave leading his fellows in offerings to a blended pantheon of gods and spirits under cover of night.  The whistle of winds driven off the Ionian Sea masking their congregation.  Fueled by resentment, against futility, offerings are made by the group in exchange for great hopes: the wellbeing of children not seen since being traded away, for the bloody end of traitors near, appeals for the healing of ripped heels, and lash marks. The riffs are as craggy and rugged as the rising landscape.  Weary as the gathered worshippers.  Momentary acoustic passages build like fire snarling in the dry salt air.  Melo-dramatic synth swells signify the presence of lower gods and djinn attracted by their call.

There’s an epic campiness to Zaratus’ music, and Greek black metal at large, which I think is naturally conflated due to the prominent, high arching synth and guitar melodies.  Although filled with synthetic instrumentation it misses any sword and sandal like corniness.  The group propels it’s melodramatic setting into something like that of an early 2000’s period film, closer to an underfunded Kingdom of Heaven would-be sequel in it’s production, than the overtly comic book exaggeration of CG box office hit 300.  Because, in fact, historical reality was both more incredible and terrible than fiction, once you dive into it.  As a follow up to ep The Descent the style is no different, but the production is wide screen, if you will.

At 48 minutes, the album is a bit long for my taste, but expected with historical epics.  However, where other albums feel like they drag on this album at least feels like it’s a complete musical arch with a well wrapped and exciting end in “Zoroastrian Priests”.  Arpeggio piano, and plinck-ed string accents spiral upward like fumes of burning acacia bush rising, encircled by robbed and painted priests, before finally lilting in the exhaustion of it’s frenzied appeal to the gods.  In the Days of Whore isn’t war metal, though it captures this sense of turn-of-the-first-millenium turmoil occurring throughout the exotic eastern Mediterranean.  Zaratus created an admirable record that successfully evokes  a time where human advancement gave way to great glory, and mystique but also great pain, and chaos.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Mars Budziszewski
May 5th, 2021

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