WORDS: Perran Helyes
ROTTING CHRIST might have a name that to those outside of their usual sphere of influence may suggest the crass and the gruesome (it famously certainly did to Dave Mustaine), but really these mighty Greeks have always had a taste for the more measured and atmospheric right back to their pioneering use of ethereal keyboards on releases prior to even their first album like Passage to Arcturo. Certainly in their Season of Mist years over the last decade they’ve been developing a sound continued here on Rituals built upon far more judicious and fittingly ritualistic grounds, with cascading melodies orbiting around the consistent movement of the core.
It’s noteworthy for newcomers then that in this period when ROTTING CHRIST have made their best records, for a band so vast in sound they’re not the most immediate to click. In fact these albums are almost boring the first time around, the constant chugging rhythms feeling overly familiar and too similar to each other throughout the runtime and the further layers of the compositions not being able to instantly get a grip on the listener. When given the time to work their devilish magic though that couldn’t be further from the truth and Rituals is potentially the best example of this to date. Trying to name another band who manage to be simultaneously epic and hypnotic is a tricky job, but as the ceremonial chanting of In Nomine Dei Nostri begins it’s clear that ROTTING CHRIST don’t have too much to worry about from competitors.
It’s deceptively simple, founded on a very stable base of blasts and a lot of repetition that gradually begins to mesmerise. The aforementioned chanted vocals pop up frequently as the album truly lives up to its title, totally dominating tracks like Apage Satana which could almost be too much for the listener unprepared to partake. The occasional use of folk instruments adds a gorgeous other voice to the mix, the two tracks that could be most easily described as bona fide anthems Elthe Kyrie and especially Tou Thanatou benefiting hugely from this exotic flair in their melodic delivery, as well as releasing their pent up tension in hugely emotive guitar solos and sections of IRON MAIDEN-esque harmonies. The production is enormous especially in the percussion, giving the sense of a huge circle of tribal drummers all paying homage to a darker power. Komx Om Pax is the most imposing moment, not least because of what is surely a knowing nod to CELTIC FROST’s Innocence and Wrath in the intro as the Tolis brothers channel the grotesque and grandiose malevolence of Tom G. Warrior into their very own musical communion.
Rituals does require you to willingly step into ROTTING CHRIST’s world of roaring blackness, beckoning slowly rather than forcing you under, but once you take the plunge and delve ever further it becomes increasingly difficult to surface once again. There’s a sense of classiness and deep sophistication to what ROTTING CHRIST do, having forged their own unique place entirely on their own terms and without ever compromising the art, and it puts them in a whole other league than most extreme bands as an immersive and spiritual experience. Rituals is well worth that plunge.
Rituals is out now via Season of Mist.