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Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Rotting Christ: Rituals

Greek outfit continues an evolution that doesn't betray its roots but also doesn't blindly play the party line.
Rotting Christ
Season of Mist

If you were sitting in front of your computer, spewing hateful predictions about Rotting Christ’s decline, hang on to your keyboard. That ain’t gonna happen any time soon.

Sakis Tolis’ vocals have never sounded better than they do here; they’re frightening and ferocious and yet, especially during “In Nomine Dei Nostri” and “Les Litanies De Satan (Fleurs del Mal)” his words ring with a clarity that seems almost entirely foreign to metal growlers. He also possesses an emotional conviction that’s rare among singers of any stripe. His performances are dramatic, cinematic and admirable on those pieces as well as the almost blues-y (relative terms here, mate) closer “The Four Horsemen”.

Tolis and fellow guitarist George Emmanuel offer moody, exciting guitar figures that never sacrifice the integrity of the established mood for unnecessary extremity. In fact, there are many times throughout where the guitars are supplanted by percussion and vocals, creating not only unique music but music that is more memorable for its lack of typical trappings. That’s the case on the ritualistic aural murder of “Apage Satana” (which should be on a film score somewhere) and “Devadevam”, which may or may not be an audio transcript of a board meeting in hell. All that said, there are doses of the familiar extreme metal maneuvers. “Elthe Kyrie” will satisfy anyone’s itch for black metal guitars and smacking rhythms as will most of “Tou Thanatou”.

Most often it’s Tolis’ voice and his brother Themis’ drumming that make for the most interesting listening across the 10 pieces here. The primitive rhythms and complex ones alike are a welcome change from the overly familiar patterns heard on black/death/experimental metal albums since time immemorial. There’s also a greater attention to the bass frequencies, allowing Vargelis Karzis’ contributions to occupy an important space between our ears and rumble our primitive souls.

Those elements, outgrowths of the group’s continued and seemingly tireless evolution over the last 25-plus years, are perfect examples of what happens when a group looks at playing the long game. One cranes his ears to listen to the nuances and to decipher the layers of musical complexity that reveal themselves slowly, then all at once. Were someone of broad enough mind they might begin to categorize Rotting Christ as one of the great contemporary progressive bands as there are undeniable elements of that musically liberal genre here, though the band never once betrays its commitment to this darkest of arts.

Rotting Christ has set a few templates for other bands to follow over the last few decades and the Greek gods seem intent on expanding their blackened empire for some time to come. In order to do that they’ll have to find extremity in some unexpected places and this recording, each moment of it, provides a guide to listeners as they wait for the full revelation of the quartet’s adventures.

Put in more plain language, it’s hard to think of something heavier or more extreme in our times than casting aside the very clichés that designate something as either. Kata ton daimona eaytoy indeed.

RATING 8 / 10