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Sleeping Under Tartarus (1992)

Sleeping Under Tartarus is the first official release from the Hellenic black metal band Zemial. This E.P. was released in 1992, by Torched Records. It was limited to only 1000 copies. Though being one of the earliest bands in the scene, Zemial joins the likes of Thou Art Lord, Legion of Doom, Agatus and others, in forming the second wave of Hellenic bands that I discovered, thanks to a good friend of mine in Larissa. Again, I had little idea of what I was to experience, as I first listened. All I could imagine was that I'd hear more of the standard Rotting Christ / Varathron rhythms. This one, of course, surprised me.

"Sleeping Under Tartarus" has, somewhat, of a slow build before it gets going. There is a faint hint of keyboards, but the song is driven by the fuzzy and distorted, mid-paced guitar riffs. The sounds is a bit on the necro side of things, though the playing is top-notch. There's a great lead solo, as the song nears the half-way point. The pacing is very reminiscent of classic Bathory, and could have just as easily come from Scandinavia as from Hellas. There are a decent amount of old school drum beats thrown in. In the latter half, there's a nice cold riff that doesn't truly send chills up your spine, only because of the 'warm' production. Still, the bitter cold feeling tried to fight through this warmth.

The next song is "Falling Into the Absu", which definitely has more of the Greek vibe. It's mid-paced with a lot of drum fills and a very memorable rhythm. The vocals, as with the previous song, are kind of buried in the fuzzy production, but they aren't too low, by any means. There's an epic feeling to this piece, despite being relatively short. Again, the keyboards make a brief appearance, only to accentuate the atmosphere already being created by the rest of the instruments. The whispered vocals add some eerie sentiment to the song, being done quite well.

This E.P. ends with "The Scourge of the Kingdom", which possesses a faster tempo than the last track. It consists of fairly fast drumming, that alternates from almost blasting to a more mid-paced feel. The guitars, naturally, go from the faster tremolo-picked riffs to more relaxed chords. Of course, the song is quite dynamic and flows back and forth, with ease. As with the other songs, some cold melodies attempt to break through the warm sound. While the freezing effect is never achieved, the riffs are memorable. Quite a feat for such a brief song.

With my lack of knowledge of this musical scene, it's impossible for me to say just how much of an impact Sleeping Under Tartarus had, but considering the quality of the material and the year it was released, I'd have to imagine that it had a decent impact back then. Seek this out, if at all possible.
(18 Dec. 2009)


For the Glory of UR is the first full-length album from the Hellenic black metal band known as Zemial, coming four years after the Sleeping Under Tartarus E.P. Released by Hypervorea in 1996, this L.P. showcased a style of playing quite unlike the rest of their peers. The Greek sound, typified by the likes of Rotting Christ, Varathron and Necromantia, is absent here. In this case, the band's inspiration seems to have come from the north, as their approach is much more in line with Bathory and Darkthrone than with their own country mates.

The album starts with "The Blood Unbinds the Dragon", an intro that sounds like something from a horror movie. Even this instrumental is dynamic and features a decent amount of development as the moments of dread are interspersed with brief interludes of serenity.

"The Tears That Wet Gethsemane" is the first proper song, and it bursts forth with intensity. Musically, this keeps to the northern black metal style, featuring fast drumming, tremolo melodies and raspy vocals. The sound is rather thin, as well, which suits the material just fine. There are hints of Darkthrone and Celtic Frost influences, but nothing too transparent.

The next song witnesses a shift from the grim atmosphere of the first track to a more epic feeling, reminiscent of Viking-era Bathory. "Battle on the Norse Mountains" is more mid-paced and features lyrics about the Norse gods, which may seem strange for a Greek band. The vocals still retain the same harsh sound, which compliments the music. The song gets more epic as it progresses, with a slight touch of synth to accentuate the atmosphere, before finishing out with an old school rhythm.

"Gathering Under the Red Moon / Apophis - The Serpent Self" is a more straightforward track, consisting of raw and primitive Thrash riffs, hearkening back to the ugliness of early Sodom. To hear a band still utilizing the old style of black metal, combined with the Second Wave sound, is quite pleasing. The song concludes with hypnotic tremolo riffs, followed by a decent guitar solo.

This is followed by "Sleeping Under Tartarus", which sounds exactly like the version on the 1992 E.P. The only difference is that it seems to have been remastered, eliminating some of the hissing and static from the master tape. If this is not the case, then they did an excellent job re-recording the song in such an accurate manner.

"The Scourge of the Kingdom" seems to be the same as the last track, simply lifted from the old E.P. and cleaned up a little bit. Strange that, after so many years, the band could only find time to write and re-cord four new songs.

Thankfully, the re-released version of this album contains a couple of extra tracks, "Nocturnal Witch" and a cover of Bathory's "Armageddon", both of which possessing an old school Black / Thrash feeling and fitting in well with the rest of the material.

Zemial is a bit of a disappointment, just for the lengthy periods of inactivity. A band with such a good grasp of what black metal is all about should have been recording a new album each year or so. As it regards For the Glory of UR, this is not necessarily the record for you if typical Hellenic black metal is what you seek. Nonetheless, this is pure and uncompromising music that mixes the approach of the ancient ones with the northern techniques, to create something memorable and worthy of anyone's collection.
(6 Nov. 2011)

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