Album review: ROTTING CHRIST – Κατά τον Δαίμονα Εαυτού

Season Of Mist – Out Now.

Rotting Christ is a band that I have always admired, not only for their musically daring and impressive material but, most importantly, for the honesty and ethos that has accompanied them throughout their twenty five year career. As with most bands from the late 80s/early 90s extreme Metal scene, these noisy Athenians have experienced many highs and lows but most will agree that since finding a ‘home’ with French label Season Of Mist, Christ have found a renewed energy and inspiration.

So, how did Sakis Tolis, founding member and undoubtable leader of this fine troupe, opt to  follow up albums like the amazing “Theogonia” (2007) and the highly-accomplished “Aealo” (2010)? By releasing one of the most innovative, musically varied and, perhaps, most impressive albums of his career – the eleven (if you count the bonus track in the limited edition version)  track opus “Κατά τον Δαίμονα Εαυτού”.

Though ethnic elements and strong cultural references were incorporated in the band’s material in many of his previous works, it was in this album’s predecessor, namely “Aealo”, that Sakis’ experimental tendencies were really unleashed and, though the end result was pretty impressive, it was not universally embraced.

On the back of that experience, Sakis began working on compositions where male chants, folk instruments, female vocals and eerie keyboard themes continue to play a significant role but, crucially, ensure that such ideas are incorporated in such a way that his trademark riffs and Themis’ pounding drum beats are left enough room to breathe and manifest their energy and urgency. The end result? A perfectly balanced album whose flamboyant and confident composition operate perfectly both on an individual and collective level – a musical feast of gargantuan proportions!

The role of the opening track for the album was justifiably assigned to “In Yumen – Xibalba” and I say justifiably as I don’t believe that there will be a single fan of extreme Metal that will not be impressed by the aggression and energy of this song’s sublime up-tempo riff! Slower in pace but heavier in sound, “Punchaw Kachun – Tuta Kachun” starts as a dark piece focusing on choral chants and eerie vocals but soon starts flirting with guitar melodies of Maiden-esque appeal.

If there is one band that understands what constitutes a mid-tempo head-banging riff that band is certainly Rotting Christ and the amazing sing-along opus “Grandis Spiritus Diavolus” is clear proof of this, while the same-title “Κατά τον Δαίμονα Εαυτού” finds the band cleverly combining unrelenting blast beats with the sounds of the Greek Tsabouna (Bag pipe).

Last time Sakis employed the services of a female vocalist (Diamanda Galas) the end result (“Orders From The Dead”) was a standout contribution. Similarly, his collaboration with the Vougioukli sisters in “Cine Iubeste Si Lasa” gave birth to one of the most dramatic and soul-haunting compositions in the band’s career – a composition adorned with sinister piano melodies, choral male chants and a dramatic vocal duet between Sakis and the sisters.

Creating even a decent follow-up to such an amazing composition could be seen as impossible, but both the groove-infused “Iwa Voodoo” and the rhythmically aggressive “Gilgames” are a real treat for the ears, while the duet “Rusalka” / “Ahura Mazda – Adra Mainiuu” offer, though the prism of the band, an insight into the cultures of Russia and Arabia respectively.

We have all seen Sakis sporting a “ΧΞΣ” t-shirt over the years and most of us are aware of its association with the Book of Revelations but these associations become even clearer through the song bearing the same name on the album. This six minute piece based on an Ancient Greek narration of the most important parts of said book which is accompanied by tremendous lead melodies, eerie keys and some of Sakis’ most unearthly vocal performances to date.

If you opt for the limited edition of this album, which I hope you will, you will treat yourselves to “Welcome To Hel” – a harmonic themed piece filled with clever leads and melodies which give a beautiful ending to this amazing release and provide further proof of how much Sakis has matured as both guitarist and composer these last few years.

My belief in and support of Sakis Tolis’ musical vision was forged many, many years ago and the bond that has been created as a result of that is growing stronger with every new Rotting Christ release. Any fears that you might have that the Athenian outfit had perhaps reached its artistic peak with “Theogonia” and “Aealo” will forever be dashed the moment you start listening to “Κατά τον Δαίμονα Εαυτού” – an album of unique beauty and unrivalled quality.

What we have here, my friends, is not just the most likely winner of the ‘album of the year’ but also one of the best albums ever written by this iconic band! Go, then, buy yourselves a copy of this great release – just make sure to handle with care once you have it – it may bewitch you!

John Stefanis

Rating: ***** (5.0/5.0)

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