Review: Ben Hosking
– Buy: Rotting Christ at iTunes
Rotting Christ is, for the uninitiated, a very strange beast upon first listen. Credited as being one of the progenitors of the second wave of Black Metal (BM) at the dawn of the 1990s, the band has amassed a sizeable and remarkable body of work spanning some 11 releases.
What sets Rotting Christ apart from their contemporaries is their ability to seamlessly inject their Greek heritage into the music. This is done largely within the accepted construct of the BM rule book and without a hint of cliché or pastiche.
This difference is immediately obvious as the opening seconds of their latest album, AEALO, ring clear into your ears. With the ritualistic wail of female vocals, as if partaking in some magical chant, the cacophony intensifies immediately, joined by a double-time wall of guitar noise. It’s a stylistic theme the band return a number of times throughout the album to great effect.
According to singer, guitarist and founding member Sakis Tolis, AEALO draws on its country’s ancient past, with inspiration taken from Homer, the Spartans, Alexander the Great and the brutality of the Roman legionnaires. Within the context of ancient Greek history and mythology, Rotting Christ is able to relate familiar tales of human despair, anger, grief and loneliness created by warfare – many of the regular metal themes.
AEALO marks a noticeable shift in style for the band, with the BM-standard tremolo picking gone, in favour of a simpler riff-based attack. Indeed, the entire album is more epic-sounding and expansive than anything else in their back catalogue as a result. This is no small feat given their incredible last album, Theogonia – a critical success that sewed the creative seeds for this, their eleventh release.
For the most part, AEALO is a slower, almost groovier listen than the band’s previous efforts. Sakis still sings with that classic raspy BM growl; however he’s regularly joined by alternate bouts of almost Viking-style male chants and haunting female laments. Additionally, the album makes good use of traditional Greek reed instruments and percussion.
This is most prevalent on the album’s closing track, a cover of ‘Orders from the Dead’, sung by guest vocalist Diamanda Galas who actually wrote the song. Greek-American performance artist Galas is a suitably unconventional choice, famous for her three-and-a-half octave vocal range and unusual howls and shrieks around subjects of suffering, despair, injustice and loss of dignity.
‘Orders…’ isn’t the only guest appearance on AEALO either. Primordial vocalist Alan Nemtheanga also makes an appearance (on ‘Thou Art Lord’) that Rotting Christ explains as being a result of the Irish band’s similar ‘individualist’ nature. Nemtheanga stated in a recent interview that his collaboration was, “to honour 20 years of great music and friendship”.
Overall, it’s an inspired performance by a group that is obviously comfortable within its own skin and willing to take risks and experiment with its sound. Fans are going to love this; however newcomers to the Rotting Christ altar would be best advised to check out earlier releases from the band before coming back to AEALO.