Rotting Christ is a band that, quite simply, I have completely overlooked over the years. And I mean completely. Unless I heard a track somewhere down the line by accident, my experience with the Greek extreme metal group has been virtually nil. Which is a shame given their prominence in the genre’s early days in that region (going back to the late 1980s). Yet, after listening to Rituals the first few times, I came to realize that I had been doing myself a great disservice in failing to discover the impressiveness that is Rotting Christ. Their sound has evolved significantly over the years, and Rituals is a black metal album rooted firmly among gothic doom influences, coming together to form a sound as unique as it is massive.
The first aspect of Rituals that is sure to stand out is the diversity… on all levels. The vocal strategies implemented include, but are not limited to, spoken passages, deep bellowing growls, Sakis Tolis’ signature dry barks, and immensely dense chants. In fact, in a lot of ways, this is a sound heavily driven by the vocal performance, and it’s something worth appreciating. Sure, the music follows suit nicely. From the opening track “In Nomine Dei Nostri” through the subsequent “Ze Nigmar”, we are met with a variety of paces that are at times penetrating in how heavy each note bears down on an audience. But at the same time these elements are nestled cleanly into sections of more upbeat, and at times galloping, black metal cadences. The highlight track to this effect, and perhaps on the album in general, is “Elthe Kyrie”, which opens with a blistering percussive cadence coupled with agonizing (in a good way) female semi-spoken lyrics. But where this particular track grabs your attention is the chorus, which is so massively symphonic it is near impossible to not chant along with. Either way, each track within Rituals showcases an impressive fusion of styles, from black metal to symphonic or melodic doom.
The one thing I want to really take a moment to focus in on is just how massive this sound is. Yes, tasteful guitar leads can be found on any given track, with a number of captivating solos. But there are points in every song where, usually assisted by a well-implemented orchestral element, the sound elevates and pours over us in wave after wave of power. A prime example of this is “Tou Thanatou” and the subsequent “For A Voice Like Thunder”, which both open innocently enough with whispered or spoken lyrics and hollow, rhythmic instrumentals, before emerging consistently through powerful symphonics, bellowing clean vocals, and a similar, but denser, percussive cadence. Yet at no point do these moments ever come across as overly cheesy or ridiculous. The ambitious interplay between all these elements that bring the grandiosity of Rituals’ sound to this point is both commendable and well-executed. And this is aspect of Rotting Christ’s sound is a tribute to how effectively they layer the wide range of instrumentals at work.
Of course, with all these primal elements — the chanting, the power, the orchestration, etc — there are definitely points that take getting used to. The dry chants of the aforemention opener and “Apage Santana” can be hard to take seriously. This doesn’t mean these elements aren’t executed well, they are perhaps just too over the top, especially when these vocals are isolated or not backed up by enough instrumentation. Either way, it is an aspect of Rituals that’s almost too far out there, but certainly does not take away from the immensely epic atmosphere of the album as a whole.
Rituals is unquestionably an impressive release from Rotting Christ, and one of my favorites in 2016 so far. With everything the album is aspiring to be, and all the varying extreme metal styles working together to create this sound, it delivers. Yes, there are times where it is perhaps excessive in some of the individual elements at work, but that should not take away from how enjoyable the atmosphere and energy of this album is. The 13th full-length release from Rotting Christ is certainly one worth getting lost in. And from the outset, it becomes quite easy to do so.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”