Much has been made of the connection between veteran of evil-mindedness, Greek band Rotting Christ, and notorious English occultist Aleister Crowley of late. The translated title of the long-running Athens-based band’s eleventh and latest release, Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy, has been touted as a direct reference to Crowley’s ‘do what thou wilt’ maxim. However, as Rotting Christ has made clear in recent interviews, it’s more accurately translated as ‘true to your own spirit’. Still, Crowely’s advocation of sacrilegious incantations and self-determination has had an obvious influence on Rotting Christ’s explorations of the black arts—as it has for many a likeminded band, metal or otherwise—and the album’s contents certainly honor Crowley’s rationale.
If you didn’t know a thing about Rotting Christ, you’d be forgiven for presuming it indulged in lo-fidelity, blasphemous nastiness—which is partly true. The band’s career presents plenty of malevolent decorations to hang your crooked cross upon, but things are far more sonically sophisticated than the moniker would necessarily imply. Formed in 1987 by brothers Sakis and Themis Tolis (who have been the band’s core ever since), Rotting Christ played a mix of unvarnished blackened grindcore in its early years. However, while the band displayed ample enthusiasm for ungodly, filth-laden and distorted pursuits, it wasn’t until a decade into its career, when it began experimenting with its sound, that it found its own distinct personality.
In 2007, the band released Theogonia, an album that drew strong musical and lyrical inspiration from gothic climes and the band’s own Hellenic heritage. This release vastly increased Rotting Christ’s visibility in the global metal scene. The band then took its increasingly anthemic momentum to its zenith on 2010’s critically lauded follow-up, Aealo. However, where Aealo was a conceptual work filled with battles and warriors, Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy is a more multicultural and supernatural affair—mining extramundane stories from around the world for inspiration.
The new album includes a Sumerian epic (“Gilgameš”); an eerie Russian myth (”Русалка”); Incan hymns (“P’unchaw kachun – Tuta kachun”); Voodoo lore (“Iwa Voodoo”); blood-curdling Romanian fables (“Cine iubeşte şi lasă”); and Persian poetry (“Ahura Mazdā-Aŋra Mainiuu”). And of course it wouldn’t be Rotting Christ without a little desecration too: see “Grandis Spiritus Diavolos”. Matching that extra-grim Grimm Brothers collection, Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy continues Rotting Christ’s late-career predilection for catchy, spirited and thunderous tunes. It combines exhilarating riffing, tribal percussion, and folkloristic melodies with monastic chants, all manner of culturally specific and ancient instrumentation, and choral and female vocals.
Musically, that may seem like a long list of add-ons, but Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy is more about maximizing the minimalism. In recent years, Rotting Christ songs have been increasingly pared back to their essentials, while retaining a sense of ceremonial grandeur. Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy sees the band’s black metal attributes playing even less of a role, and while there are blast-beaten and pitch-black tremolo deluges within, melodic death metal features prominently and the bellicose drumming is often surrounded by the ice-cold crunch of industrially tinged guitars.
That’s not to say Rotting Christ have forgone any of black metal’s intent, because the determination is all still there. An overarching, spine-chilling atmosphere binds the album—no matter its narrative or musical breadth. The songs may be more listener-friendly than in the past (at least, for fans of polished extreme metal that is), but a heavy emphasis on bone-drilling percussion and chanted vocals perfectly showcases Rotting Christ’s bombastically ritualistic side. The hair-raising whispered vocals and glutinous grind that opens the album, on “In Yumen / Xibalba”, sets a fittingly theatrical mood before diving into an operatic gallop, and that velocity and temperament doesn’t cease till the album’s finale.
What matters most here is that Rotting Christ doesn’t slather on the ‘non-metal’ instrumentation in the hope of making the album more culturally authentic. That is a common misstep for many bands of a similar ilk, whose work ends up being a disjointed tumble of acoustics and electrics. Not so for Rotting Christ. Where the orchestration builds on Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy, so does the tremor in the chest, and that’s never more effective than on the stunning “Cine iubeşte şi lasă”. The haunting vocals of Suzana Vougioukli and delicate piano of Eleni Vougioukli set the Eastern European tenor, before Sakis’s baritone bark, gothic riffs and Themis’s pounding drums arrive to drive the mist-shrouded creepiness home. It’s in the song’s graceful arrangement that its evocative strength lies—and you can say the same for virtually every track here, no matter the overt aggression therein.
Whether pummeling and punching through “Kata Ton Daimona Eaftou” or “P’unchaw Kachun”, or delighting in the imposing (and hammering) impetus of “Grandis Spiritus Diavolos”, Rotting Christ never overplays its hand. That sense of balance ensures the songs never become overblown, even though plenty of grand thematic visions are unveiled. There’s a lot of dramatic movement as the band surges forth with symphonic spiritedness, and that ensures “Gilgameš” has all its scriptural temper rammed home and the evil psych-ridden stench of “Iwa Voodoo” is pervasive. However, there’s no melodramatic posturing to be found.
If Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy is defined by anything, it’s the chemistry between the brothers Tolis, and the recognition that the core of the song, and not the fripperies, is what matters most. Obviously, when a band is three decades into its career no one expects it to produce anything near its best or most vital work. Yet that’s exactly what Rotting Christ has done here. Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy shows a band committed to creative explorations, and given Sakis’s climactic soloing, harmonies and impassioned vocal performance, along with Themis’s fiery drumming, it would seem the band still has energy and imagination to draw upon.
Staying true to the band’s ‘own spirit’ was the aim for the album, and the nightmarish visions conjured up in inventive ways secure that objective. It seems we can be assured that ‘do what thou wilt’ will continue to ring loud in Rotting Christ’s sound and ethos.
// Notes from the Road
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