This review of Kawir’s 20-year anniversary release Sacrificia Nocturna was originally written for a metal magazine that never ended up being published. With its cancellation, this review never saw the light of day until now. Seeing as it offers an overview of all of Kawir’s material up until the release of their brand-new album Father Sun Mother Moon, we offer this article as an introduction to and celebration of their entire oeuvre.
Kawir has been a part of the black metal scene for over two decades now. During most of these years, the band’s fame was overshadowed by that of other Greek acts. Though Kawir has still not accrued a reputation tantamount to the likes of Rotting Christ and Varathron, the albums Arai (2005), Ophiolatreia (2008) and Isotheos (2012) did see the band cultivate its own niche. Over the past ten years, Kawir developed a unique sound that contrasts the ’80s-oriented tendencies of the Hellenic old school. Guitarist and band leader Therthonax executes his tremolo riffing with a folk-like playfulness, resulting in songs which transmit the celestial energy of the Hellenic gods to whom they are devoted. With lyrics inspired by Antiquity and sung in Ancient Greek, Kawir champions an aesthetic that, while not corresponding on all levels to the Greek black metal tradition, is profoundly rooted in the band’s native culture.
To commemorate Kawir’s ascension to the mastery of its own alcove within the crowded Hellenic underground, Those Opposed Records put together a celebratory double CD titled Νυχτός τελετήσιν (Sacrificia Nocturna). The release provides an overview of the band’s career thus far by means of a collection of rarities, as well as a recording of the band’s rehearsal session before its anniversary gig in Athens.
Already on the first disc it becomes clear that Sacrificia Nocturna is oriented primarily towards listeners who are familiar with the band. Different recordings and rawer mixes of songs such as “Poseidon”, “Ares” (both from Ophiolatreia) and “Sword of Dardanus” (from To Uranus) shed an alternate light on these fantastic compositions, and a huge part of the enjoyment is derived from the knowledge of what these songs would eventually turn into.
A few new, unreleased tracks also made it onto the album, as have a couple of songs that were previously only available on limited split LPs. “Prometheus” is a definite highlight, for it is on par with Kawir’s stellar Isotheos album; it may in fact be a song recorded during that same session. Meanwhile, the new track “Io Pan”* sees the band explore its folk metal side further, relying heavily on a joyous motif set out by a flute. It’s songs like these that put into question whether Sacrifica Nocturna is an appropriate title with which to summarise Kawir’s work, as they burst with solar vitality that is sure to keep Hades well within his eponymous realm.
Though great the selected rarities may be, the bread and butter of this release is principally provided by its second disc, which contains a superb rehearsal session that sees Kawir grind through its career highlights with such dedication that it is much like listening to a live concert album sans an elated audience. Even material from the early days, represented by songs such as “Sinn (The Blazing Queen)”, “Cosmic Verve” and “Hermes”, is recreated so tastefully that it can now match the allure of the tracks from Kawir’s paramount recent releases. It’s all the more confirmation that Kawir’s rather lukewarm early albums To Cavirs (1997) and Epoptia (1999) were brought down by production and vocal performance rather than the lack of an appealing repertoire.
While this 20th-anniversary release does an outstanding job at summarising Kawir’s career thus far, it is still recommended that newcomers at least familiarise themselves with the band’s output from the past decade to realise just what these heroic Hellenes are capable of. Conversely, Kawir veterans simply cannot permit themselves to miss out on an album that offers both excellent new material and an extensive veneration of the band’s past recordings. With an expert audience in mind, the only thing this release can be criticised for is including some old songs which were already featured as bonus tracks on several other albums and EPs. For instance, the first three tracks of disc 1 can also be found on the still widely available To Uranus EP, rendering their presence on Sacrificia Nocturna obsolete.
Still, the fraction of filler that Sacrificia Nocturna is guilty of including hardly puts a dent in the 2.5 hours(!) of largely unheard and wholly satisfactory music that Kawir pumps into your ears. By now, these black metal hoplites have amassed an oeuvre that simply cannot be ignored.
*That’s a capital i, so this song sadly is not about Big Trouble in Little China.