I’m not sure what the editorial party line/standing policy is here at Metal Injection when it comes to explicit knowledge of the background of the bands we’re assigned to review. I'm not entirely sure that, if when reviewing particular records, whether I’m supposed to present as a sentinel-like authority on the history of the outfit sitting on the carving block or not. Hey, cut me some slack motherfuckers! I’ve only been contributing to the site for a year-and-a-half, why would you think the powers that be would all me to be privy to any of this behind-the-scenes stuff?
I mention this in part to be a wise-ass, but primarily to point out that when it comes to Greece’s Rotting Christ, I admittedly am really only a fan of their last handful of releases. Say from about Aealo forward. That’s not to say I have no familiarity with their back catalogue previous to that 2010 beaut, it’s just that what I have heard going back to their Leprosy of Death demo – and yes, I’m old and rickety enough to have heard Leprosy of Death the first time around – never really did much for me. Having spent some time spinning last year’s career-spanning, double disc live extravaganza, Lucifer Over Athens only cemented the fact that the days that receive worship from basement altars don’t connect with me as much as their more recent stadium rock shit does. Sue me my poser ass and talk shit about me on the internet, if you will, but if you’re expecting a grandiose analysis of Rotting Christ’s way begone past and how it compares to the present, you’re shit out of luck. My interest in these Grecian overlords has only been piqued in the last few years, my ears are happy to report.
Rituals, their twelfth full-length, continues in the vein of the sound explored since Aealo, only they’ve taken that blueprint and added a more ritualistic (ugh, sorry!) sensibility, a timbre of menace, a tone somewhere between celebratory triumph and distraught funereality all executed from the most echoey corners of the Coliseum or Parthenon or whatever ancient marvel of architecture and construction is decaying at the hand of modern society’s polluting hand and "shared retail/condo space" developments.
Slinky curtain raiser, “In Nomnie Dei Nostri” kicks off sounding like the listener stumbled into a cave where a black mass is being held as a combination of Greco-Anglo chanting and spoken word summoning of the Prince of Darkness diverges and converges with the martial precision, militaristic riffing and lockstep drumming underneath it. The aura is one of tarnished souls, happy in their stead, making the most of the power bestowed upon them by history, solemnity and Mercyful Fate’s “Evil” to celebrate extinguished life and love via the medium of song. That these hymns come crashing at the confluence of a soundtrack for the future of space travel, picnics in Hades, angelic grandiosity, hypnotic tribalism and bombastic cock rock makes for an experience that’s almost as aching in its pretension as majestic in its sonic scope.
You can picture guitarist/vocalist Sakis Tolis standing atop Mount Olympus, his hair (both head and chest) cascading in the breeze as drooling demons battle dudes with obscenely large pecs and larger swords beneath him in a lake of fire and loincloths in “Ze Nigmar.” “Elthe Kyrie” imagines a primitive tribe speaking in tongues as they discover Neurosis' Souls at Zero and keyboard samplers, the bombast created by the waves and washes of reverb and chorus making the relative straight forward rhythmic ease that much more powerful. Then there’s “Komx Om Pax” in which early Celtic Frost grinds on 1985's gearshift. The impact created by the blackened power metal and high forehead chants of “Les Litanies de Satan (Les Fleurs du Mal)” generate an atmosphere that recalls a torture chamber in the king’s palace, witches burning in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory and the hum of a battle in the distance. The pacing and dynamics coalesce to make the song, and in turn Rituals as a whole, an intriguing listen, even if the underlying drone sometimes borders on bagpipe-like and could be construed as a lessening of the intensity.
In the eyes of the older traditionalist with a stunted view of musical growth and refusal to accept change, the Rotting Christ of today may pale in comparison to their origins. But as bombastic and pompous as the changes they've made may be, the truth of the matter is that what the Tolis brothers (Themis on drums), guitarist George Emmanuel and bassist Vagelis Karzis have stumbled upon and creatively executed is as singular and unique a contribution to the development of metal as anything on the table. The move from kids playing primordial and primitive blackened grind by any means necessary to characters verging on larger-than-life cranking out streamlined hits of arena sized black metal riffs backed by ancient sounds and instrumentation is wholly their own.
Of course, we’re not naive enough to assume the sounds comprising Rituals materialized from thin air; there are likely more than a few Greek folk musicians flagging down lawyers and hoping for publishing residuals, and Danai Katsameni ought to take Diamanda Galas out for lunch as a thank you (Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes, Rudra’s Kathir, Samael’s Vorph and George Zacharopolus of Necromantia/Thou Art Lord fame, all who contributed backing vocals, also might want to chip in on the bill, but that’s another story altogether and speaks to Galas’ talent and range more than anything), but if there’s a band picking metal up by the scruff of its dress shirt collars and suit jacket lapels and bringing metal kicking and screaming into the future in their own way, it’s Rotting Christ.