I have a unique history with Greek black metal institution Rotting Christ. As a youngin’, I was first introduced to them via (what else?) Metal Maniacs Magazine. They were hyped up as a great second-wave black metal band with interesting melodies and a unique cultural viewpoint. So on a whim, I went out and purchased 1997’s A Dead Poem… and was subsequently bored to tears, swearing to never listen to them again. A full decade later, I happened upon a video for “Enuma Elish,” and by the time the chorus hit, I became a full-fledged convert to their army. That year, Theogonia rarely left the CD player in my car, and it’s follow-up, 2010’s Aealo, was equally potent and rage-inducing. However, 2013’s Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy, while not bad, was a bit worrying in terms of fluctuating quality. And so, we now have Rituals. Have the Gods and Goddesses smiled upon us once more?
Well, in many ways, Rituals is the sound of a band coming full-circle with their blend of Hellenic black metal and rich, native instrumentation. Sadly, they’ve come full-circle in other ways too because, with the exception of a few songs, Rituals ended up boring me to tears again. Grunts, chanting, and marching opens up “In Nomine Dei Nostri” before launching into Sakis Tolis’s trademark riffs and screams, his brother Themis’s blasts and military-esque cadences, and some rather well-placed usages of ambient marching noises. However, it’s former keyboardist Magus (Necromantia) handling the majority of the verses. The song, while not mindblowing, does a good job setting up the album.
So what seems to be the hold-up? When I first heard Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy three years ago, I was at first incredibly happy with how the album was written. Looking back, it felt more like Sakis was trying to create a soundtrack to the long-lost sequel to 300 than crafting a great, epic black metal album. Once again, Rituals continues disturbingly on this path, and the results range from good (moody closer “The Four Horsemen”) to okay (“Konx Om Pax,” the Nick Holmes -narrated “For A Voice Like Thunder,”) to completely unnecessary and completely out-of-place (“देवदेवं (Devadevam)).” In fact, “Apage Satana,” with its looping chant of “Apage! (APAGE!) Satana! (SATANA!)” drove me to fits of annoyance and rage after just a couple of minutes.
But the most annoying thing happens to be just how gloriously freaking EPIC “Elthe Kyrie” is. Yes, you may have heard this song already (or conveniently scrolled down to check it out), but in case you haven’t, please do so. I’ll wait. May we continue? Blasts, well-constructed riffs, a great solo by George Emmanuel, guest vocalist Danai Katsameni of the National Hellenic Theater providing very passionate spoken-word verses, and a nice, brief breather so when the chorus hits at roughly :59, this here reviewer became Kratos of the God of War games, feeling like I could rip wings off of harpies, and cleave through gods with no effort.1 Folks, that is the Rotting Christ we know and love. When they’re hitting on all cylinders, their ability to make anyone feel like a warrior who can take on the world is without peer, and that’s sadly lacking on Rituals. The loud, brickwalled production by Jens Bogren (Amorphis, Moonspell) doesn’t help matters any. While Themis’ drums are heavy, powerful, and driving, the guitars take a major backseat to all the sound effects, samples, and cultural instruments, and the bass is practically non-existent.
I was chomping at the bit to review this album, because I love me some glorious battle metal of epic proportions. Instead, Rituals left me sad and heartbroken, as only the first three songs get any play after listening to the album for weeks. As someone who has enjoyed their recent output and seen them live (and even scored a guitar pick from Sakis himself at their Bedford, New Hampshire show during their Theogonia tour!), I sincerely hope this isn’t a sign of things to come, because Rotting Christ are more than capable of inciting ungodly passion within all who listen to their battle hymns. I’m going to go cry now, and pray that this is just a misstep [There’s no crying in…SPARTA! – Steel Druhm].