Rotting Christ are considered the fathers of Grecian black metal or at least the first band to break out playing that style. With such a name one would automatically think they play black or death metal, but the group has never confined themselves to a single description. They started playing grind, switched to black metal, then to gothic metal and melodic black metal. The grind element was buried by time and dust, but all those other descriptions hold true on The Heretics.
Past Rotting Christ albums shared themes of their ancient Greek heritage, often capturing the essence of battle. Their albums are authentically Greek in that the group often incorporate the Greek language into their lyrics and titles. This doesn’t seem to be the case on The Heretics.
The Greek history/mythology takes a back seat to religious ideas, which one would expect from a band of that name. It is a very “churchy” album. Just like the vocals at the end of Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, choral arrangements sound monastic or priestly. There passages are heavenly, yet dark and melancholy. Being burned at the stake seemed wonderful to cleanse the village of Satan-worshipping witches, but not so much to the people burned.
The band repeats many of those notes, creating memorable, even trance-like musical and vocal segments. The guitars, keys and vocals all mesh together well to paint an atmospheric picture. “I Believe” moves in true black metal fashion. Long keyboard notes and tremolo-picked guitar notes mix together like noxious gases. Sakis Tolis’ raspy, Grecian-sung vocals make this one of the more malevolent songs. He also gets help through guest vocalists Irina Zybina (“Vetry zlye (Ветры злые)”) and Ashmedi from Melechesh on “The Voice of the Universe.”
Many notes are on repeat, but don’t expect a static album. Clunky, pounding rhythms clash like Templar steel with awe-inspiring atmosphere. They make that clear from the start with “In The Name of God.” There is a short intro with the type of monastic singing found throughout the album, which leads to beefy chords and then back to atmosphere. The choral parts, again, make the song remarkable—a key facet of the album. “The Time has Come” features big, tribal drums, but falls back on European, gothic melodies.
Finding original bands is hard in the age of information, so an album like Rotting Christ’s The Heretics is exciting because the band adheres to its own vision. The Heretics works not just because Rotting Christ aren’t afraid to embrace many sounds, but because it’s composed well.
The atmosphere works with the theme, and even though it doesn’t appear to be a concept album, each song seems connected. Simple, repeated lyrics tell each story through simple imagery, while the music dramatizes these ideas. The Heretics goes beyond the average black metal album to make something much more epic.
(released February 15, 2019 on Season Of Mist)
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Listen To Rotting Christ – “Fire, God and Fear”