REVIEW: ROTTING CHRIST – “The Heretics”
Rotting Christ is probably the most prominent name in the history of the Greek metal scene. Having been around for more than 30 years, Themis and Sakis Tolis shaped and reformed their sound from a second wave of black metal to a more modern, melodic and folky sound in a smooth, yet constant transition since their early works, gathering ranks upon ranks of metalheads thirsty for a sip of Hellenic extreme music. This time around, the brothers deliver in ‘The Heretics’ a similar experience to that of ‘Rituals’ (2015) and the band’s latest entries, by being more experimental and bold.
Achieving a songwriting peak in terms of mixing their unique form of melodic black metal with heavy focus on native instrumental in their last few works – especially the already mentioned ‘Rituals’ – the band once again bets on blending aggressive with ethereal, brutal with atmospheric.
The warlike veneer provided by the competent drumming of Themis Tolis and the quasi-Gregorian chants in the background illustrate this from the beginning with “In the Name of God”, a songs that feels like an introduction to a more deep, denser story. It is not, however, as the constant uses of rhythmic pace and instrumental repetition seen here are also present throughout the whole record.
When the brothers are at their evilest, which is when the band is more aggressive and raw like in “Vetry zlye (Ветры злые)” and “Dies Irae”, is when the band is at its best. The heavy riffs and the characteristic drumming intertwine together with the profane atmosphere and will definitely please the black metal purists. These are the moments where the old Rotting Christ surfaces and show glimpses of their initial nature, similar to that of fellow countrymen Varathron and Thou Art Lord.
Tracks like “Heaven and Hell and Fire” and “Fire God and Fear” – both released as lyric videos – transpire with a sorrowful, almost monastic atmosphere which will surely reach those who enjoy spectacular and epic moments. Those moments are too sugary for a black metal act, however, and with the melodic approach added to that, it becomes rather annoying in some moments; Rotting Christ have been doing this for a while now, so this doesn’t come as a surprise, but I’ll always expect more cruelty and less cheesiness in my daily black metal dose.
Glorious, pompous chants are also present, like the slow-tempo, operatic “Hallowed be Thy Name” and the more lively “I Believe (Πιστεύω)”. Both continue the band’s trend of being empowering and serious and fit well with the album’s proposal. The similarly pompous “The Voice of the Universe” – featuring guest vocals from Melechesh’s mastermind Melechesh Ashmedi – is one of the best moments here, as Themis’ army-like pounding and Sakis’ constant riffs make for an awesome cataclysmic climate.
The best part of the album, for that matter, is the end portion with the aforementioned “The Voice of the Universe”, follow-up “The New Messiah” and the magnificent closer “The Raven”. These feel like denser, more destructive versions of a Moonspell of Amorphis song, especially closer “The Raven”. With wonderful vocal lines and guitar leads, the rich, layered sound and the choice of songwriting are the perfect fit to end the album.
The artwork made by Maximos Manolis and the stellar mixing by Jens Bogren (who has worked with bands such as Enslaved, Amorphis, Ihsahn, Katatonia and Kreator) are all pieces of the puzzle and combine for a very competent final product of aesthetics, instrumental and character. It feels clear that they’re satisfied with this new approach to music, and execute it organically.
The tribal, ready-for-battle aura and the need to sound forever epic that surround Rotting Christ are both their strongest weapon and their Achilles heel. While the band strives in those moments where the iron is hot and their inner savagery combines perfectly with the operatic ideal, the constant urge to deliver the most grandiose experience possible tends to get bothersome and repetitive.
All in all, ‘The Heretics’ is once again a good album by the Hellenic masters, but – as it is with most of their works from the past years on – it’s an acquired taste. As Greek gods never lose their touch, though, Rotting Christ continues to prove here why they are one of the most revered and awaited bands when it comes to releasing new material; recommended.