The first time I came across Rotting Christ was on a live compilation that I picked up on one of my first visits to Camden many years ago. Sandwiched between cuts from Sentenced and Crematory on Century Media’s “Out Of The Dark” compilation sat ‘The First Field Of The Battle’ and ‘King Of A Stellar War’ by a Greek band with a very bold name, a name that appealed to a mildly rebellious metal head teenager. And whilst they’ve never been one of my absolute favourites, I have been a fan of Rotting Christ ever since.
It is fair to say that Rotting Christ have explored many metal avenues since their formation at the back end of the 1980s by brothers Sakis and Themis Tolis. Beginning life as something akin to a death/grind band, they then experimented with a more melodic black metal sound on “Triarchy Of The Lost Lovers” from which the two aforementioned tracks were taken. Around the turn of the millennium, with “Sleep Of The Angels”, the quartet ventured into overtly Gothic realms but it was arguably 2007’s “Theogonia” that set them on the path that they are travelling today. And Rotting Christ anno 2013 are a force to be reckoned with based on the evidence of “Κατά τον Δαίμονον Εαυτού”, loosely translated as “Do What Thou Wilt”, a quote made famous by English occultist Aleister Crowley well over a century ago.
Largely, this latest opus picks up directly where “Aealo” ended but for my money, Rotting Christ have created an even better black metal record here. A hushed whisper coaxes ‘In Yumen – Xibalba’ into life, quickly pummelled by a crushing guitar note that is repeated slowly before being joined by a disturbing and creepy chant. The speed is increased massively once the intro has had time to work its magic, creating a frenetic sonic experience which remains satisfyingly melodic and accessible despite its apparent aggression. The chanting makes a return several times throughout the track and it is this that sends the shivers down my spine and keeps me coming back for repeated listens. It is demented and haunting but completely addictive, well placed and helps to create the album’s stand-out composition.
Having said that, the rest of the album pushes the opener close in terms of quality as there’s rarely a duff moment across the eleven tracks and 55 wonderfully glorious and atmospheric minutes that make up “Κατά τον Δαίμονον Εαυτού”. ‘P’unchaw kachun – Tuta kachun’ is mesmerizing, ‘Grandis Spiritus Diavolos’ offers an infectious chorus that curiously reminds me of latter day Dimmu Borgir and the title track is as about as brutal as Rotting Christ have been since the very early days, albeit in a more sophisticated and calculated manner.
What I particularly like about this album, aside from the upped melodic sensibilities, is the inclusion of ethnic influences and motifs that fit perfectly with the subject matter of the album, an album which further explores themes ranging from the ancient Persians (‘Ahura Mazda-Aŋra Mainiuu’) to the Incan civilization (‘P’unchaw kachun – Tuta kachun’) to name but two. The whole package, rounded out by a gargantuan production courtesy of Sakis himself, ably assisted by Jens Bogren of Fascination Street studios, demonstrates a unique band at their very best. Rotting Christ may not be the most overtly technical band in extreme metal realms but where some bands follow, Rotting Christ can genuinely be described as leaders.