Rotting Christ have been black metal stalwarts right from their inception, so it’s always interesting to hear anything new by them.
Playing a music normally associated with Scandinavia, it comes as a surprise to many to learn that this is a band which comes from the much warmer climate of Greece.
Formed by brothers Sakis and Themis Tolis, it was way back in the late eighties when the group, originally a grindcore band, altered direction to become one of the founding fathers of the embryonic black metal movement. Where the Nordic sound involves almost completely tearing up the rule book on song structure, their southern cousins have kept the feel of traditional heavy metal and death metal which makes for a less jarring listening experience – particularly those new to the genre. Thus the brothers Tolis have for a quarter of a century been a sort of gateway in to one of metal’s darkest and most controversial areas, one that even many fans of heavy music struggle to understand.
They say that for many, metal is more a religion than just music, and the feel of this latest album fits that thought well. There is a strong keyboard presence, and monastic chanting leads into several of the songs including the slightly psychedelic ‘In Yumen…Xibalba’ which manages to retain the essence of all things noir without stumbling into cliché territory. The thing with Rotting Christ that may well account for their longevity is the fact that their music has, taken at face value, not actually suggested people go and burn down churches. In fact the title of this latest album literally translated means something along the lines of ‘live by your own conscience, and not societies rules’ and actually appears in the original form on Jim Morrison’s tomb. So, not so much black metallers as quite dark hippies then.
The music is more infused with a hint of other genres than you’d expect to find, with a sense of the gothic never very far away. This comes to the fore on ‘Iwa Voodoo’ which has a slower pace thanks to the blast beat drums being given a rest. This results in a sort of ‘Fields Of The Nephilim in a bad mood’ sound. You can’t really fault the production, which perfectly balances the aggression with the mood and feel, bringing each instrument into its sharpest focus just when needed. Nothing overwhelms anything else, which on a pretty complex work is quite some achievement.
The real stand out track for me is the highly inventive Ahura Mazda – Anra Mainiuu which comes across as a sort of eastern-flavoured film theme, complete with wailing intro and a seriously deep, almost folk, rhythm. It’s a track that points to a band not short of ideas, even after being in the music making business for longer than some of their contemporaries have been alive.
I don’t profess to understand a single word of what Sakis is singing about – but like Rammstein, Kvelertak and many more it really doesn’t matter. If the music is good enough, then people will listen.
And here the music is more than good enough, as it seems to be a language all of its own.