But, let’s not dwell on those crazy Scandinavian bastards for now, as black metal reaches further afield than that, and one of the genre’s most prominent bands can actually be found in Greece. Yes, today we’re going to be focusing on ROTTING CHRIST. Formed in the late 80’s, they were one of the first black metal bands to form out of the Mediterranean region and have been an iconic and influential force for many an underground band ever since, and 2019 sees them release their brand new studio album “The Heretics”, Their first in three years. Let’s all skip church together and find out what the Greek’s have got in store on album number thirteen…no I said SKIP church not set fire to….never mind…
The album opens up with “In The Name Of God” and its spoken word intro is incredibly damning and profound, pointing out the overall hypocrisy of mankind. While many of us today denounce the idea of any religion, the very concept seems archaic while we create our own miracles; yet we still are able to pick and choose our own deities as they suit us…war and death in the name of God not out of true belief, but out of convenience. Musically the track has a rigid, militant tone which suits the aura of the track completely and it’s an intense start. The album then to its credit just keeps getting better and better…”Vetry Zlye” manages to balance pummeling percussion and Sakis scorching metal vocals with some beautifully melodic guitar, along with the sweet, cleaner vocal notes of Russian singer Irena Zybina. The two complement each other brilliantly and it’s an infectious piece of metal! Speaking of infectious, “Heaven And Hell And Fire”, despite it’s obvious metal aesthetics carries a great guitar hook layered within another up-tempo melodic metal offering, this is all very good stuff!
This is further backed up by album highlights “Fire God And Fear” and “The Sons Of Hell”…the former starts with another spoken word piece amidst the quaint chirping of birds, like it’s the introduction to one of the levels on “Dungeon Keeper”, but swiftly descends into a wall of blackened metal riffage, and THAT solo? It’s superbly executed and slicker than a bowl of extra virgin olive oil! The latter embraces a more traditional heavy metal style, evident in the wailing guitar notes and more methodical approach instrumentally, before “The Raven” utilises more soaring guitar harmonies while Sakis recites the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
There are some minor hiccups mid-album…such as “I Believe”, which combines a spoken-word Greek monologue with an unrelenting wall of noise as the frantic guitars are played on loop in the background, and it gives you a little bit of a headache before it fades out, while “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, although commanding and ominous in tone, does suffer from a case of repetition. Although to be fair, these flaws are minor in the grand scheme of things. “The Heretics” has showcased Rotting Christ’s ability to incorporate melody and an accessibility into their otherwise crushing sound, something which was lacking on “Rituals”, resulting in a wonderfully smooth listen. Putting aside the gimmicked elements of early Catholicism with the ritualistic or ceremonial chanting emitting from the backing vocal samples, this is a really strong blackened metal concept album and if you’re unsure of making the jump from traditional metal into something more dramatic and intense, then this is actually a brilliant segue record. It’s as easy-listening as extreme metal can get but it loses none of its credibility. Forget rotting, Christ sounds fresher than ever.