February 11, 2019 Rotting Christ – The Heretics (Album Review)
For an Extreme Metal band, surviving from the 1980s is not the easiest thing to do, yet that is precisely what Greece’s most popular such export has managed to accomplish. Rotting Christ return to heat up winter’s chill with their thirteenth full-length album, entitled The Heretics, to be released on February 15th, 2019, on veteran label Season of Mist. The life’s work of brothers Sakis Tolis (guitars, vocals) and Themis Tolis (drums) has experienced its share of growth and experimentation, resulting in an adventurous atmosphere which surrounds their material. Once again appearing three years on from the release which preceded it, does The Heretics further implant these Greek titans into the annals of Extreme Metal stardom?
Such regimented productivity – they have released albums three years apart since 2004’s Sanctus Diavolos – can sometimes lead to stagnation or the resting upon of laurels. With Rotting Christ, the opposite has occurred. Exchanging the Hellenic Black Metal of old, and the gothic undertones of their silky middle period, Rotting Christ has instead touched upon quite a cinematic atmosphere instead. Since 2007’s mighty Theogonia album, the Tolis brothers have shown a willingness to delve into themed and rather massive productions featuring choruses, orchestral pieces, and a host of spoken word and gang-shouted orations of war.
On The Heretics, the band seems to be letting the music do all of the talking. The soundtrack quality is still there, but on a song such as “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” the band sets a mood of tension and readiness. Quite a simple tune really, a chorus chanting in the background and a slow, steady rhythm section delivers once more in a sort of visual fashion.
Rotting Christ makes a philosophical impact on “Heaven and Hell and Fire,” the opening statement calling to mind the tangled intent of religious authority over the minds of the faithful. Some high and open riffing reminiscent of Queensrÿche prefaces the staccato guitar style and heavy percussion we are used to from Sakis Tolis. It must be said that Themis Tolis’ drum sound is incredible on this album. Each strike is enunciated beautifully, and the album simply begs to be blasted. This song is definitely a highlight, featuring some impressive and gorgeous guitar soloing.
The Black Metal roots are never forgotten with Rotting Christ, as “Dies Irae” incorporates some blasts beneath a choral vocal arrangement worthy of cathedrals. For a Greek band as intellectual and psychological as Rotting Christ, growing up in the crucible of Western civilization has to have had a massive effect on their writing. The weight of ages of enlightenment seem to decorate their music, as though it is not far from their minds when they create it.
And yet, it is an Anglo writer they venerate on “The Raven,” paying homage to the great Edgar Allan Poe. The musical backdrop is apropos for the album, thoughtful leads placed over the simple backbeat. Rotting Christ know when to drop in a good break as well, turning simplicity into elegance quite adroitly. Some fans may wish for a bit more of the aural menace that Black Metal can provide from the long-standing Greek band. “The New Messiah” continues the theme of introspectiveness rampant throughout The Heretics. Subtleties reveal themselves with repeated listens, have no doubt, because at first glance the songs seem to follow a very repetitive formation.
The song “Vetry Zlye” is quite reminiscent of the late ’90s/early 2000s iteration of Rotting Christ. Some clean vocals provided by Irina Zybina create a very cool atmosphere. This is a very strong, triumphant tune. The steady blasting is underpinned by a healthy serving of those choral vocals; again, it’s the main fuselage of The Heretics. The Tolis brothers make it work though, smartly producing and honing their work until it shines.
The album features vocal contributions from famed journalist Dayal Patterson, as well as Melechesh Ashmedi (Melechesh) and, all told, the effort is a good one. The Heretics may not be as bombastic as 2016’s Rituals, nor as fast and harsh as Theogonia, but the cinematic and thought-provoking nature of the album will ensure that it sits comfortably alongside the rest of the vibrant discography of Rotting Christ. For these reasons Cryptic Rock gives The Heretics 4 out of 5 stars.